It’s All About The Music

It seems like only yesterday that I walked out of Total Entertainment here in Daytona Beach, Florida with my starter Yamaha acoustic guitar, but a few years have passed since then and I’ve made fairly good progress in this late-in-life career change.  I’ve now performed at three of the highly-regarded Folk Festivals in our area, been the opening act for Rob Lytle and for Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen on their tour stops here in central Florida.  I am also playing monthly at the Sleeping Moon Cafe in Winter Park, Florida. (check the Performance Schedule on the right of this page) and have garnered some much-appreciated gigs locally here on the coast.

At this point I can easily perform three 45-minute sets without repeating a single song, all from out of my head with no book of tabs.  My personal philosophy is that if I don’t know a song by heart, I shouldn’t be performing it publicly for any audience.  I don’t play the everyday stuff in my repertoire.  There may be a song or two you recognize, but mostly you will be exposed to a rich tapestry of beautiful songs written by some of the finest songwriters of the past fifty years in Americana music.  I hope you will consider me as a choice for your entertainment venue.

I have been reaching out to some coffeehouse venues in the Carolinas and in Tennessee and hope to do some touring in the next year.  I’m looking forward to a day when Social Security kicks in and perhaps I can devote myself full-time to this wonderfully gratifying endeavor.

What follows is the narrative of just how I ended up where I am today.

The Early Years

Music has been a part of my life since I was child, hearing my mother singing as she did housework and hearing the songs coming over the AM radio on the kitchen table. Elvis Presley, The Kingston Trio (and others from, as Roy Book Binder calls it “the great folk music scare of the early ’60s”), Johnny Cash, Ray Price, and so many more.

My mother had what I refer to a a “Jim Neighbors” sort of voice. When she spoke, her voice was not distinctive or exceptional, but when she sang, you’d think, “Whoa, who is that??” It was like she shifted into a different gear completely when she sang.

When I was thirteen a family friend gave me a guitar and tried to teach me, but I was too undisciplined and unfocused to succeed at it. (Starting off trying to teach me barre chords didn’t help much, either…)

I did much better with choir in Junior High, starting as a truly awful beginner in 7th grade and finishing the 9th grade as one of the core members of the bass section. (I still have the little “Most Improved 9th Grader” trophy I was awarded the spring of that final year. My teacher began the award by saying, “When this student arrived in my class three years ago, I ask ‘Why me, Lord?’, but he has become a critical part of our choir.”) I had inherited my mother’s good singing voice, but I did not know how to use it before then.

During this time period, two albums were released and I encountered them both during my junior year of High School. They were to have a profound effect on my life although I did not realize it at the time. The first was “Crosby, Stills, & Nash” and the second was “Pure Prairie League – Bustin’ Out”. Only two years out of choir, I was blown away by the use of rich harmonies in popular and country-influenced rock music.

A Young Adult

Out of public school and with a year of college under my belt, I ended up in southern California in 1974 with an entry-level job in the burgeoning computer industry there. This would have a tremendous influence on my career choices going forward as I took the time to get training as a recording engineer and dabbled in auto racing, but I never could commit to either because, right or wrong, the money was just too good and too easy in the computer business. I had the good fortune to meet and work with some big names in rock music then, but it was only a casual foray into the business and only from a technical perspective, not creative. I loved the music, but I just couldn’t step off the gravy train and “pay my dues” to follow that career.

During this period, two very critical things happened, the first was meeting and befriending Steve Gillette when he was playing the Cask & Cleaver in Orange, California on Friday and Saturday nights. The second was meeting a very special woman who introduced me to (among other things) the music of John Stewart, Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, J.D. Crowe, and The Seldom Scene.

I was transformed over that period from a casual consumer of popular music to a hard-core lover of classic folk, bluegrass, and “Texas Folk” songwriters. Later in life I discovered Nanci Griffith and added her to that list of magnificent songwriters.

The Middle Years

Not much changed in that aspect of my life through the 80s and 90s save that I lost touch with Steve Gillette and then reconnected with him in the late 1990s when he and his wife, Cindy Mangsen, came through Florida giving house concerts.

Seeing Steve again triggered something in me. I was startled at how much we had aged, frankly. It just didn’t seem like that much time could have possibly passed so quickly.

Then Townes Van Zandt passed away unexpectedly on New Year’s Day 1997. His songs have always resonated deeply within me and played such a role in a magical time of my life. It added to a growing concern of mine that these wonderful songwriters were slipping gradually away from us and so few were aware of their contributions.

Finally, in February of 2008, we lost John Stewart to a sudden stroke. I was developing a strong “itch” that I really couldn’t see how I could scratch then.

Towards A Resolution

Sometime in January, 2009, my wife, Carole, was out one Saturday doing a demo at a Publix Supermarket about 20 miles north of our home. Around midday, Carole called me during her lunch break and told me that she was tired of all work and no play and that I should figure out something fun to do by the time she returned home in the early afternoon.

Because of that “itch” I mentioned, I had casually investigated folk music in the Daytona Beach area and was aware of some resources. I hit the Internet and found a newsletter stating that there was going to be a Roy Book Binder house concert that very evening in Ormond Beach, just a couple communities north of our home.

I called about the concert, got the specifics and confirmed we would attend. I then called Carole. When she got home she changed clothes and off we went!

We made it up to the address of the house concert with time to spare and met Chuck and Pat Spano for the very first time. After dropping the requested donation in the bowl provided, I took a moment to put my contact info down to get on their email newsletter list.

Roy’s performance was everythng you would expect from someone of his reputation. A gifted musician and charming performer, the sound of acoustic guitar, skillfully played by a noteworthy musician reminded me strongly of the great times I’d spent listening to my friend Steve Gillette play in lounges long ago in California and later, in the few performances Carole and I had caught ten years prior in his South Florida house concerts.

Roy’s concert was the catalyst that crystalized within me that day the resolve to do something about sharing the music that I loved with others and it was clear to me that to do so I was going to have to once more attempt to learn to play the guitar in some fashion. The difference, perhaps, would be than now I had the discipline and focus of an adult. I also had an unambiguous purpose for learning to play.

A Journey Begun

I do not respond well to traditional educational methods and knew that learning to play the guitar was going to be a contextual learning experience. It this case, the “ooh, shiny thing!” form where I would gradually build technique and repertoire by learning one song and it’s chords, then leverage that chord knowledge to learn other songs I liked and gradually accrue more chords I could play.

From previous forays onto the Internet to seek out the folk scene here, I was aware of a local coffee shop called “The HotSpot Coffee Shoppe” which had recently closed, but the owners had elected to unlock the doors and turn on the lights and A/C once a week for two hours of what they referred to as a “Slow Pitch Jam for Beginners”. I double checked the info and my wife, Carole, and I elected to reconnoiter the place and see if it might provide the sort of contextual environment I needed to learn in.

We attended at least two weeks worth of jams at The HotSpot and I concluded that it was certainly the best opportunity for me to become immersed to playing the guitar in a fairly unstructured, relaxed, and supportive environment. With this decision made, the next logical step was to purchase a guitar with which to learn. A couple hours of scanning the racks at the local pawn shop and in the acoustic guitar room at Total Entertainment lead me to choose a Yamaha GigMaker package containing a F325 guitar and accessories. I remember very well the date: March 28, 2009.

I attended one or two more jams without the guitar. I had collected a couple of songs from the jam book that I liked, plus looked up the lyrics and chords to a couple more, so I spent the time between buying the guitar and bringing it to the jam beginning to learn the basic “C” “G” and “D” chords. I had concluded that I could avoid looking like a total fool in public if I at least had the most rudimentary ability to make a couple basic chords. The Yamaha GigMaker package came with a very nice instructional DVD as well. For $160, it really was a decent deal.

I played every Tuesday evening at the HotSpot while hunting down the chords and lyrics to the songs I’d loved for so many, many years. My very first song was John Stewart and John Phillips “Chilly Winds”, a fairly simple four chord song that is well known to folk musicians as it was popularized by The Kingston Trio while John Stewart was a member (replacing Dave Guard).