John Rhys/John Braheny chat about the late Joe South etc.

When I heard recently that The great Joe South ( Games People Play, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Hush, etc) had recently passed away I remembered that my friend John Rhys (Eddins  if you know him by that last name) had told me about the first time he’d met Joe in Atlanta in the early ‘60s. – a life changing event for him. John is a hit producer/songwriter and proprietor of my favorite blues website, bluepower.com. We got together over his kitchen table and reminisced.

As it often happens, we don’t realize at the time, how a single conversation or event could alter our lives. This is approximately 12 minutes of conversation about that and other stuff. Enjoy!    bluepower.com/media/brahenyrhys.mp3

 

 

 

 

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The “December Dream” Saga

This was the body of a letter I sent to Ben Edmonds who was writing a story about the reclusive writer/artist Fred Neil for Mojo Magazine (Feb. 2000) after the EMI  release of a CD collection, The Many Sides of Fred Neil, in 1999, which included unreleased masters including my song which was uncredited on the album. The re-release producers apparently assuming Fred wrote it.

Richie Unterberger, in his liner notes, wrote: “The undoubted highlight of this batch of previously unreleased tracks is “December’s Dream,” with its gorgeous melody (which somewhat resembles Dino Valente’s classic”Get Together” in the verses.) and seductive, languorous sadness. It’s difficult to fathom why this went unused; it would have made a particularly appropriate addition to the Fred Neil album, assuming that it was cut around that era. The ending finds bohemian, goof-off Fred in an uncommonly serious and direct frame of mind as he solemnly croons — with the authority of one who has lived the lyrics  — “Love for any time at all is worth the price you pay to fall.” Truer words were never sung.”

Writing “December Dream” (They called it “December’s Dream” on Fred’s “The Many Sides of Fred Neil” CD) was a pivotal event in my life for many reasons. In about 1964 I was living in Cambridge Massachusetts , working days at Fanny Farmer Candy Company and singing in Boston’s Charles St. clubs at night. During that time I met Pete Childs, a great guitar player and singer who was also working the folk clubs there. I was mostly singing traditional folk music but had just started writing songs. December Dream was the second song I had ever written. I was going through a rough time after a breakup with my girlfriend who had had a fling with another guy that just destroyed me. I put it all into this song. That year there was an event in Cambridge, the first annual Freedom Folk Festival. As part of the event they held a songwriting competition that I entered and won, after which “December Dream,” as part of the prize, was published in SingOut Magazine. Ironically, one of the judges, Len Chandler, was to become, in 1971, my partner for 23 years in founding and running the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase.

Sometime in 1965, I believe, I sublet Pete Childs’ apartment in Cambridge when he went on the road but prior to that, I had taught him the song because he really liked it. Now we fast forward to 1967 after I had gone back to Vancouver, BC where I had lived on and off previous to moving to Cambridge. That year I had gotten off the road as a folksinger and joined a blues band, The Fantastic Sensations, playing in front of acid crazed audiences and light shows. Later that year I got a letter via my parents in Elgin Illinois, from a music publisher (Third Story Music) who said that a group called the Stone Poneys, featuring Linda Ronstadt (who I had never heard of) had recorded “December Dream” on their Evergreen #2 album. Enclosed was a contract and a $200 advance. As a result, I signed the contract and moved to L.A., figuring it would be a good idea to follow up on this success. It WAS a good idea. Changed my life. I recorded the song myself later on Pete Records, an indie label I signed with about a year later.

My understanding of how the song got recorded, from what producer (the late) Nik Venet told me, was that they needed more songs on the Stone Ponies sessions at Capitol and asked the musicians on the session, including Pete Childs, if they had any songs. Pete played them “December Dream,” they liked it and cut it. Pete had also played on the Fred Neil sessions and taught him the song too. When I met Venet later he told me about it and even later, Howard Solomon, who had been Freddy’s manager, came to the songwriters Showcase one night at Gios on Sunset and presented me with three different takes of Freddy singing my song. Major thrill! After singing Freddy’s “That’s The Bag I’m In.” and “The Other Side of This Life” for years in my solo folk gigs and even with the Fantastic Sensations, I was honored that he’d want to record a song of mine.

I have no idea why they picked that particular take for the unreleased songs on this new compilation. Howard and I also liked the one that ended right after the last line but they used the one in which he continued to play guitar. Since I loved his voice and style so much, it really didn’t matter that much to me. It also didn’t matter that he took some liberties with the melody.

I think I actually met Freddy only once (I have a vague recollection though, that I may have attended one of his recording sessions in L.A.). Bruce Langhorne, Bruce’s then girlfriend Noreen Eck and I drove down from White Plains NY to Coconut Grove where Bruce had a gig playing guitar for Odetta (I think at the Gaslight South). This was at least two years before he cut my song and I don’t even know if he remembered or put the name together later. He was gigging occasionally down there, sometimes with Vince Martin. He was a longtime legend down there. I think I first heard about him from David Crosby back in ’62. At that time David taught me a song he had learned from Freddy, a sweet bluesy ballad called “Willie Jean.” David and I met in Omaha when he, his brother Chip and (I think) Mike Clough, were headed out to the West Coast to join the Les Baxter Balladeers. My time might be off on that because I also remember him from the Chicago scene. Anyway, David spent a lot of time on that Coconut Grove scene and was a friend of Freddy’s.

In retrospect. In my incarnations as songwriting teacher, music publisher etc., I never would have given the song a shot at being recorded. No real hook, no “commercial” structure, no repeated chorus, a title that doesn’t show up in the song, not even a bridge. Sometimes emotional honesty, sincerity, a little poetry and a pretty melody win. Who knew?

We’re fortunate to have Fred’s recordings as a reminder of his spirit and that great voice and I’m honored that he chose to record my song.

John Braheny

john@johnbraheny.com

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Lyric Writing:Common Challenges

There are many aspects to writing lyrics that may not immediately come to mind when you’re “in the zone” and the ideas are flowing. By all means, don’t stop the flow, just try not to get it hung up trying to find rhymes or correct phrasing at this point. Explore the “what if” ideas if anything and just let it roll. After that first draft, though, here are some things to consider.

Getting trapped by precision. Writers who write exclusively lyrics and those who start songs by writing lyrics before writing melodies can suffer from getting into a lyric meter pattern in the first section they write and carrying the same pattern through every section. Those of you on the fringe’s of obsessive compulsive disorder are also going to tend to make sure that each lyric meter is precisely the same in each verse and even in the chorus. Consequently much of their lyric will feel forced, stiff and un-conversational. Remember, you’re not writing a Haiku poem here (precisely 17 syllables), you’re writing a conversation and seldom does a conversation come out precisely the same, verse after verse. I’ll hasten to add that there are certainly successful songs that are more “poetic” than others and not as conversational as they are artful. However, the artfulness is not as much about the precision of meter as choice of words, metaphors and images. In other words, not as much in the artifice as is in the content itself.

The solution to this problem is to re-write what you think is a chorus with a totally fresh construction, lyric meter and rhyme scheme, making use of repetition of the title. Even if you’re not quite sure what you want the title to be and your initial draft of the song has the ‘”too precise and predictable” problem, always know that it’s a first draft and if the chorus is something you discover as you go, return to it for a rewrite before you nail down a melody. (See “Chorus Construction” P 93 The Craft and Business of Songwriting 3rd Ed.) For additional verses, loosen up. All you need is to make the vocal phrasing work smoothly with the first verse melody and if it means you need to make a slight adjustment in subsequent verse melodies to accommodate the lyric, it’s not really such a big deal. The content of the lyric is more important. This can be more difficult, however, if you write only lyrics without having a melody in your head to act as a matrix.

Writing to express yourself vs. writing to communicate. Sometimes you DO communicate when you express yourself. The problem is mainly making it interesting to the listener. We’ve all had long conversations with people who want to talk to us about every nuance of their personal history or problems. At some point during an unstoppable interlude like that you find yourself thinking about whether your car is due for an oil change. However, some people are natural story-tellers who offer fascinating details, descriptions and build a story in a way that keeps you asking “Then what happened?” and you’re hanging onto every word. Chances are they’ve re-told the story (re-written it) enough times to have added a little fascinating detail along the way as they felt their listeners’ attention drifting. We never tire of hearing the same story and end up saying to friends, “Have him tell you the story about _____.” When you look at your lyric, try to put yourself in the place of a listener and imagine listening to this story. Would it hold your attention?

Tell us the story. Don’t tell us about the story. The specific always stays with listeners longer than the general.

(1) “She left me last year and I’m not over her yet.

So many things about her I still can’t forget”

Interesting? No. Too general – not enough detail to be engaging.

(2) “We fought about money, I could never make enough.

Part of me’s glad the nagging’s gone and the other part knows I’m still in love”.

Better – you’re still letting us know she’s gone but you’re adding it in the context of why she left and how you feel about it. You’ve got substantially more info in #2. Money represents very common source of marital conflict, so you’re tapping into that audience. (Yes I know the 2 versions don’t scan the same but I’m making the point about content.)

So what did we gain? As a listener, I don’t really care when she left. I’m much more interested in why she left, and what there is about her, he can’t forget. So unless you begin to answer the question raised immediately, you’re courting boredom in your listener.

Build an interesting context.

Scenario 1 – Boy takes his girl home after a date – leans over to kiss her goodnight at her doorway and she turns her head away. Anyone who’s been there recognizes the major sign that something’s wrong.

Scenario 2 – Boy is standing with four pals on the sidewalk after school. His girlfriend comes over to the group and the boy tries to kiss her. She turns away. The scene is much more intense because he’s also publicly embarrassed and now they all know something’s wrong.

In scenario 2 the same action is intensified by a more emotionally loaded context. The drama is heightened considerably and sets up an even more volatile scene. Explore other contextual elements you could use to enhance the color and drama in your songs. Where is the action taking place? Who else is present? How do those factors relate to the action? It’s a good exercise to map out the scenarios in prose or like a movie script as I did above in as much detail as possible, describing what you see in your imagination, even if you don’t end up using all the details in your lyric.

———————————————-                                                                                                                                              Excerpted and updated from John Braheny’s The Craft and Business of Songwriting (3rd Ed)

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face font-family:"Times New Roman"; panose-1:0 2 2 6 3 5 4 5 2 3; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:50331648 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";} table.MsoNormalTable mso-style-parent:""; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 page:Section1;} -There are many aspects to writing lyrics that may not immediately come to mind when you're "in the zone" and the ideas are flowing. By all means, don't stop the flow, just try not to get it hung up trying to find rhymes or correct phrasing at this point. Explore the “what if” ideas if anything and just let it roll. After that first draft, though, here are some things to consider.

Getting trapped by precision. Writers who write exclusively lyrics and those who start songs by writing lyrics before writing melodies can suffer from getting into a lyric meter pattern in the first section they write and carrying the same pattern through every section. Those of you on the fringe’s of obsessive compulsive disorder are also going to tend to make sure that each lyric meter is precisely the same in each verse and even in the chorus. Consequently much of their lyric will feel forced, stiff and un-conversational. Remember, you’re not writing a Haiku poem here (precisely 17 syllables), you’re writing a conversation and seldom does a conversation come out precisely the same, verse after verse. I’ll hasten to add that there are certainly successful songs that are more “poetic” than others and not as conversational as they are artful. However, the artfulness is not as much about the precision of meter as choice of words, metaphors and images. In other words, not as much in the artifice as is in the content itself.

The solution to this problem is to re-write what you think is a chorus with a totally fresh construction, lyric meter and rhyme scheme, making use of repetition of the title. Even if you’re not quite sure what you want the title to be and your initial draft of the song has                                                                                          the ‘”too precise and predictable” problem, always know that it’s a first draft and if the chorus is something you discover as you go, return to it for a rewrite before you nail down a melody. (See “Chorus Construction” P 93 The Craft and Business of Songwriting 3rd Ed.) For additional verses, loosen up. All you need is to make the vocal phrasing work smoothly with the first verse melody and if it means you need to make a slight adjustment in subsequent verse melodies to accommodate the lyric, it’s not really such a big deal. The content of the lyric is more important. This can be more difficult, however, if you write only lyrics without having a melody in your head to act as a matrix.

Writing to express yourself vs. writing to communicate. Sometimes you DO communicate when you express yourself. The problem is mainly making it interesting to the listener. We’ve all had long conversations with people who want to talk to us about every nuance of their personal history or problems. At some point during an unstoppable interlude like that you find yourself thinking about whether your car is due for an oil change. However, some people are natural story-tellers who offer fascinating details, descriptions and build a story in a way that keeps you asking “Then what happened?” and you’re hanging onto every word. Chances are they’ve re-told the story (re-written it) enough times to have added a little fascinating detail along the way as they felt their listeners’ attention drifting. We never tire of hearing the same story and end up saying to friends, “Have him tell you the story about _____.” When you look at your lyric, try to put yourself in the place of a listener and imagine listening to this story. Would it hold your attention?

Tell us the story. Don’t tell us about the story. In film industry vernacular, “Don’t write a treatment (plot summary), write a script.”

(1) “She left me last year and I’m not over her yet.

So many things about her I still can’t forget”

Interesting? No. Too general – not enough detail to be engaging.

(2) “We fought about money, I could never make enough.

Part of me’s glad the nagging’s gone and the other part knows I’m still in love”.

Better – you’re still letting us know she’s gone but you’re adding it in the context of why she left and how you feel about it. You’ve got substantially more info in #2. Money represents very common source of marital conflict, so you’re tapping into that audience. (Yes I know the 2 versions don’t scan the same but I’m making the point about content.)

So what did we gain? As a listener, I don’t really care when she left. I’m much more interested in why she left, and what there is about her, he can’t forget. So unless you begin to answer the question raised immediately, you’re courting boredom in your listener.

Build an interesting context.

Scenario 1 – Boy takes his girl home after a date – leans over to kiss her goodnight at her doorway and she turns her head away. Anyone who’s been there recognizes the major sign that something’s wrong.

Scenario 2 – Boy is standing with four pals on the sidewalk after school. His girlfriend comes over to the group and the boy tries to kiss her. She turns away. The scene is much more intense because he’s also publicly embarrassed and now they all know something’s wrong.

In scenario 2 the same action is intensified by a more emotionally loaded context. The drama is heightened considerably and sets up an even more volatile scene. Explore other contextual elements you could use to enhance the color and drama in your songs. Where is the action taking place? Who else is present? How do those factors relate to the action? It’s a good exercise to map out the scenarios in prose or like a movie script as I did above in as much detail as possible, describing what you see in your imagination, even if you don’t end up using all the details in your lyric.

Excerpted and updated from John Braheny’s The Craft and Business of Songwriting (3rd Ed)

–>

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Songbook Errors – Proof ’em 1st

When noted lyricist, K. Lawrence Dunham (aka Kaye L. Dunham) told me the story of the wrong version of his lyric to a jazz classic ending up in a songbook and another artist recording that wrong version, I felt there was a lesson to be learned. I asked him if he’d allow me to post the story. Thanks, Kaye.

John

———————————————————————-

December 17, 2009

Re: “Don’t Look Back”

Lyrics by K. Lawrence Dunham

Music by Johnny Mandel

Dear John,

Thank you for offering to post my story about the song “Don’t Look Back”. I agree that is has teaching value. However posting it also offers me the opportunity to somewhat resolve the situation for myself although there is no feasible avenue for me to change the outcome.

This is a song which I, as a lyricist, co-wrote with Johnny Mandel. It was first recorded in the Seventies by legendary jazz vocal artist Irene Kral on the vinyl album, “Where Is Love”which only featured Kral with the fine piano accompaniment of Alan Broadbent. The album became a critical hit internationally in the world of traditional vocal jazz. It was nominated for a Grammy in 1976 and was later formatted to a CD version. “Don’t Look Back’ has had more than a few covers and is still an active copyright.

Here is the situation. Several years back I re-acquired my publishing rights for the song and became the co-publisher. In the latest edition of the Johnny Mandel Song Book, published by Alfred Publishing Company in 2006 Mr. Mandel included “Don’t Look Back(It was not included in the first edition.) I was delighted when he informed me of his intention while he was working on the project. When the book came out this was a high point for me as a writer.

Now three years later, it has come to my attention that there is a error in one line of the lyrics as printed in the book. That in itself is unfortunate in terms of the record for posterity. Added to this is the ongoing possibility of singers performing and even recording the song incorrectly based on the book. This is actually is how I found out about the error. A singer who recently recorded the song sent me a reference copy and I was shocked to hear the lyric change. When I emailed him about it he told me that learned the song from the Mandel songbook. I must say that the singer kindly agreed to sing the correct lyric in live performance now that he knows what it is.

The lesson here is that when Mr Mandel informed me of the pending publication, in my role as co-publisher I did not request a copy of the arrangement for proofing. True, one was never sent to me as a routine matter of procedure, but the responsibility was mine. Even when I got a copy of the book, I was so enthralled by it. I never looked carefully at the lyrics, and this is something I routinely do keenly in my role as a lyricist when it comes to lead sheets or lyric sheets

Here is the incorrect line:

“Who cares to feel what went on before, as far as love’s concerned

All those dreams will disappear and never will return.”

The correct line is:

“Who cares to feel what went on before, as far as love’s concerned

All those dreams have disappeared and never will return.”

Thanks again so much. John.

K. Lawrence Dunham

a.k.a Kaye L. Dunham

email: klawdee@gmail.com

__________________________________________________________________

FOLLOWUP

I referred Kaye to Ronny Schiff, my book agent and print music expert. She told him Alfred Music Publishing was a highly respected and conscientious company and he should write to them directly and request a correction. He did send the request and received back a very gracious personal letter from Bryan Bradley, Alfred Music Publishing’s COO, promising to make the correction on the next printing. Kaye thanked Ronny for encouraging him to follow up and in her note back to him she said, “The print companies (the few that are left) are ALL dedicated to accuracy. That’s why they’ve survived. They also are there to serve the songwriter. Without you, there would be no music business that brings us such joy.” Well said, Ronny.

Glad this worked out for everyone.

John

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Cautionary Tales of TV Song Rip-Offs

“No cue sheets, no pay.” That’s the mantra you need to remember when you’re dealing with film/TV music. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. When  my friend, topical songwriter Smokey MilesSmokey Miles (aka Count Smokula) started to tell me the story of his “Balloon Boy” song and it’s use on TV surrounding that hoax, I though it was something you should hear about. It turned out to be an even more valuable lesson than I thought after he got deeper into his experiences with other TV projects he’d written for and companies he got screwed by. You’ll be glad you listened to this!

2

Letter To My Father

30 years ago, my late father, William Barry Braheny, retired from the Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul and Pacific Railroad. I thought I’d bring back an old letter I’d written to him on that occasion to let him know how his job, and trains in general, had impacted my life. After he’d passed away in ’93, my mother told me he’d always cherished that letter. Though re-reading it made me say “I could write that better today,” I resisted a re-write. It was the thought that counted so I thought I’d post it in his honor this Fathers Day. If you’re fortunate enough to have a father who has impacted your life in a positive way, take this occasion to let him know and don’t let the lack of writing skills stand in your way.
John

Dear Dad,                           1979
The momentous occasion of your retirement got me reminiscing about some of the ways that your working on the railroad has affected and shaped my life as well as added to an abundant fund of pleasant memories.

At my birthday party this year, I was telling my friend, Gary White, (who wrote Linda Ronstadt’s hit “Long, Long Time”) that you were retiring from the railroad soon. He said he was a passionate train freak and had a house full of model trains, etc. We got to exchange train stories and it really set me off for the next week remembering my railroad times.

Some early recollections: New Albin IA – along with the sound of an infinite field of crickets, the sound I miss most was the sound of the train whistle and the chug-chug-chugs echoing off the hills and bluffs. For some reason, it was always a safe and reassuring, secure kind of sound, maybe because it was regular and always there every day, no matter what other joys or tragedies happened. The train was always there. The engineers and brakemen watched for us like their own families and we’d all run down to the road to wave.

Mason City, IA – when we lived below the Norquists and you were overseas, it was also a constant. It constantly drove mom crazy, trying to keep Dan and me away from the tracks and thank God she did.

I don’t remember exactly where it was, but I think it was in Mason City where you took me to see an engine that had been derailed. I was very young, but it was nearly a trauma to me to see this enormous, invincible, powerful machine all broken and twisted. It was an early lesson that nothing is permanent.
Ronnie Zellar’s alcoholic grandpa (was it ‘Scratchy’?) used to be an outrageous, jolly and embarrassing Santa Claus but it was always an adventure to look forward to at the Railroad Union Christmas party.

Trips – some of the best memories and ones that I believe had a great effect on my life and personality, were the vacation trips. I realize now how lucky we were that we had those passes. We’d never have been able to take a whole family across country like that without them. As an educational experience, to see all those historical places like Boston and New York & Chicago and Seattle was the ultimate field trip. It contributed immeasurably to my feeling of being at home in the world, to my total lack of fear of travel, to my total love of it, to my great curiosity about seeing new places and meeting new people. Even the saying goodby was a part I never liked but learned to accept. Another valuable lesson. Obviously, all that helped me to prepare in some important ways, for me to be a folk singer. I know neither you nor mom were very excited about that but it was an experience shared by very few in this world and it too was full of life lessons. If I could live my life over, I’d do it just the same. I don’t regret any of it.

Moves – I remember that the move to Sioux City was a trauma for all of us. I mean I had just fallen in love for the first time with Beverly Moline from Holy Family and it was the worst possible time (isn’t it always?). However, in retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened. Though it took me over a year to recover, Heelan and SC gave me an education and experiences I may never had had in Mason City. I had lots of opportunity to develop my music, acting, and what little talent I had as an athlete. Isn’t it great how, no matter how tragic, inopportune, traumatic, mind bending and heart rending an experience was, you can always look back and see how it was a good thing after all. Forcing you to look at yourself in a new way and bring something out in you that you never realized you had. Those kinds of experiences have all served to make me totally optimistic about my life and future. No matter what happens to me, I’ll learn and grown from it, and feel confident about trying something new.

It’s been a good thing to learn. Your move to Elgin, IL was also good for me. It made me have to rely on myself, obviously one of the best lessons to be learned.

Work – Another thing I’ll always thank you for is getting me my first job on the railroad. I’m sorry to say I don’t remember the section gang foreman’s name but I think it was George Pappas. It was truly a milestone in my life, a step up from mowing lawns and shoveling snow. I worked hard to prove myself on that job and it did fantastic things for my self-image, my body, my wallet and my sense of self-reliance, all of which I needed at that time. It also set me up with the experience I needed to get other jobs, railroad and construction, that helped put me through college. I know you would have been happy to pay for my college but helping me to get those jobs was a much more valuable way for me.

A lot of memories stick with me – riding out in the country on the motorcar early in the morning – sore and painfully growing muscles – the smell of breakfast pancakes and cornbread and learning to play guitar in the bunk cars of the C&NW bridge crew – college and r.r. wino friends I made and total exhaustion on Bill Shipley’s steel gangs – riding the commuter tram – and many, many more that come to me unexpectedly when I see a section gang working or hear a tram whistle, though they never quite sound as exciting as the old steam engines.

When I was in college, having your pass to ride back and forth to Sioux City was very important to me. It let me go home to visit and in the summers, it let me go back to S.C. to see my friends and girlfriends.

Here we are back in the present again and you’re looking at your last railroad days and undoubtedly a whole bunch of your own railroad memories. I hope you feel those years have all been worthwhile. They certainly have been for me. I’ve always been proud that you were a railroad man and, in case I never told you, one of the most important things to me is that you were a constant, a solid foundation. My dad always had a job. I never worried that I’d be hungry or not have something I needed, and we always had good times. Those are the things that are easily taken for granted when they’re there and I know I’ve been guilty of that. As I get older and get a little more perspective, I realize how difficult it would be for me to do what you’ve done and I truly appreciate it, Dad. It’s a lot of years to wake up that early and deal with corporate games.

We all pray that the rest of your years will be rewarding and interesting. We hope that you’ll have a good time and find something stimulating to occupy your mind and keep you in good physical shape. We also hope we’ll get to see you more often. Lots of love and gratitude from me, Dad.

As Always,
John

3

Is A Jazz Guitar Degree Worthwhile?

I was just wondering if you could offer any advice to me as an aspiring musician.
Many people have told me that jazz as a popular art form is dead. Some of my biggest influences are jazz guitarists, and I genuinely enjoy playing and listening to jazz. Do you think the skills and technique I learn as jazz guitar player will lend themselves readily to most jobs in the music business? In other words, is a degree in jazz guitar economically valuable outside of the jazz scene?
Peter

Generally speaking, a jazz guitar degree isn’t really worth much. How well you actually play , how original you are and how well you can write and arrange are worth a lot. Unless you want to teach in a college, degrees aren’t really important. Most of the opportunities you’ll get professionally, you’ll get from other musicians referring you and you referring them. In other words – NETWORKING. Look for every opportunity you can to jam or gig with other musicians. You learn most by doing it. Learn your theory, harmony, composition and arrangement while you’re in school and have access to the info. After that, as a guƒ¯tarist you need to try to be as versatile as possible so you can take advantage of more opportunities in pop music, rock, funk, R&B, etc and learn something about recording engineering. As a guitarist you’re an entrepreneur and you’ll need to create your own projects, write your own music, find great musicians to play with.

There’s wisdom in not getting too focussed just on jazz. In colleges and universities they tend to focus on jazz and classical almost exclusively and I’ve always felt it was a kind of dead-end trap and an academic exercise. Those restricted genres tend to foster anti-pop bias and snobbery that keeps musicians from freely exploring all styles of music including world music. It’s a global business and you grow most by copping styles, grooves and licks from Ska, African High-Life, Middle Eastern artists, Hip-Hop, country, etc.. We’re blessed with the Net where there’s access to every kind of music. USC just instituted the first pop music department in a state university in the country and they’re swamped with applications. The problem in most colleges is that most faculty comes from jazz and classical and they’re making THEIR living teaching. They rarely really know how to teach you how to make a living as a professional musician and the many opportunities that are available if you’re versatile.

0

My Carribbean Adventure

or “How I almost made an early exit from the planet”

Those of you who saw my short Facebook post about 3 weeks ago and were interested in knowing what happened on my highly anticipated seminar in Jamaica, the first gig I ever missed. I said I’d record the story so I wouldn’t have to tell it again and again and again.

So here it is. It’s about half an hour (in 2 parts). Pretty harrowing.

Part one

Part two

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Mike Bloomfield and Me at the Fickle Pickle

– The late great guitarist Mike Bloomfield used to tell me, “Man you’re the only REAL folksinger I know.” I took it with a grain of salt since I knew a lot of “real folksingers” myself and held many of them in awe at the time. But I fit his romantic image of the folksinger because I didn’t have a car and hitchhiked all over the U.S. and Canada with a sleeping bag and guitar and always had road adventures to tell him about. In addition, I was, at that time, playing a repertoire of mostly traditional songs from old English ballads to blues. Mike was managing a club on Rush Street in Chicago called the Fickle Pickle and booked me to play there several times during the mid 60s. He once booked me as a headliner with Big Joe Williams as my opening act. I said ” Man I’m embarrassed to have Joe open for me. The guy’s a legend. I should open for HIM!” He explained that he was dedicated to keeping Joe working and he couldn’t book him as a headliner all the time so he needed somebody else from out of town to headline.

At the time, along with being a sponge for the styles of the local blues artists, like Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and others he was also booking those artists all over town. I really liked Mike. He was always enthusiastic and acted like life was racing ahead of him too quickly to catch it. He always seemed like he was in hyper-drive. In fact, whenever I asked him to show me some blues lick on the guitar he seemed incapable of slowing it down enough for me to follow him. I finally gave up. But it was still always a kick to hang with him because he invariably had something new he wanted to turn me on to. Sitting in his apartment one night he turned me on to a comedy album that would become a classic. HOW TO SPEAK HIP with the brilliant Del Close and John Brent of Second City made us laugh til we cried. The record is out of circulation but I hope you get a chance to hear it someday.

His then wife, Susan, and I had become friends during that time (no romance, just mutually supportive friends) and after their divorce I stayed with her for a couple of days after my own breakup with the girl who inspired one of my first songs. I wrote it in her apartment and it was later recorded by Linda Ronstadt/ Stone Poneys and the late Fred Neil.

I lost touch with Mike after that as he joined Electric Flag, played with Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited and the Newport Folk Festival and moved to San Francisco, but his searching spirit and the fun we shared still lives warmly in my memory.

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