Merry Christmas!!!


0025-2013--Oak Leaf with Ice--web



"Peace," by Laura West

“Peace,” by Laura West

I have long worked with images and songs to evoke a stronger impression together then either could do on their own.  Here is an example of a pairing I think works very well.  Artist and spiritual leader Laura West created the image and I wrote and performed the song.  Please click the player above to hear it.  I hope they touch you.  If they do please share your experience on this post in the space provided.

© Hilary F. Marckx, BMI, all rights reserved





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Though I’m known for my Honky-Tonk and Rockabilly, I write in other genres as well. “Wild Birds Across the Moon, ” is an example of a thoughtful and reflective style I have written in off and on for forty years. I don’t write a lot in this style, but I do write them. Recently I have begun adding these to my sets, and I have been surprised at the positive response I have been getting. Who woulda thunk?

In the mid 90s I was hiking on a rough trail at about 7.500 feet and somehow I developed blisters under both little toenails. Talk about pain!!! WOW, I was hardly able to walk. I was three days in on a seven day hike, and I was in dire straits.  On the evening of that third really bad day as I was hiking at around tree line, I heard a whooshing sound.  It was night hawks hunting between the trees.  There was an early moon that evening and every so often they would rise up and fly across it.  It was one of the most healing experiences of my life.

The pain did not go away, but I relaxed.  I felt noticed and cared for.  I hiked for another mile or two and found a place to make camp.


I Just Keep on Tryin'

I’ll Just Keep on Tryin’

I worked for a week and a half on a new song.  I got it recorded, put in the various tracks: drum, toms, bass, more bass, piano, synth, five vocal tracks.  tomorrow I’m going to scrub the whole lot and begin again.

I want it right.  It’s a good song, but I laid in a bad foundation, and then spent a lot of time trying to make it right to no avail.  I have a deadline, but under no circumstances do I want to turn a less than well made song.

I have some timing issues, that just cannot be fixed.  I tried quantizing, and oh well…

There’s nothing for it but to start again.

But think about it for a second.  How many times are we tempted to settle for not quite as good as we would like just to get the darned project finished.  I want good.  I don’t demand perfection because that not only is it impossible to attain, but it will drive me crazy trying to achieve it.  I do expect excellence from myself.  And by that I mean that I expect the best I can do at the time.

The project has a deadline, but tough if can’t get this right.  Though I do believe I will finish well before the deadline.

So tomorrow I start again.  It is something I know I can do well—starting aver again and a gain until I get it right.  Been there, done that, bought the tee shirt.  Sigh…


The Little Engine Doesn't Run Here Anymore

The Little Engine Doesn’t Run Here Anymore

For years I have thought of myself as a lyricist only.  My claim is that I can play guitar well enough to write songs, but I am not a guitar player.  My self image is that because I only play rhythm guitar, I am not really a musician.  I have learned recently just how wrong I have been all these years!

It all started with a Christmas CD I wanted to do. I had a few Christmas songs written, and I really wanted to do a CD for last Christmas, it was October and time was running out.  I wrote the needed songs to fill out the CD, and started to record.  I realized that I need more instrumentation than just a rhythm guitar and a harmonica.  I needed steel guitar, mandolin and synth sounds to fill in and complete each song and to help each song be unique.  I also realized that I had no studio musicians to hand to whom I could turn the songs over, and get the sounds I wanted.  I realized it was up to me if I was going to get anything at all.

I began learning how to play the needed instruments.  Not well, and certainly at a master-level, but good enough to fill in and make interesting the recorded songs.

I began recording my practice sessions track by track.  I would work on a line here and a line there.  Just hoping that I would eventually have enough good sections to piece together and get something interesting enough out of to use in the overall recording.

It came together.  It was hard, but I got it done.  At first I was skeptical of the finished product, but then again I have several friends who are accomplished producers, tell me they liked the album.  It’s titled, “Cactus Christmas Tree,” and you can find it at, if you want to check it out.  It could be better, but by doing it I got the courage to do another one, which will be a whole lot better.

CK Chesterton once wrote something to the effect, “If something is worth doing at all, it is worth doing poorly.”  I take this to mean that if we just put off doing something until we can do it with perfection, it may never get done.  But that we should start and just get it done.

I remember a little book my mother used to read to my sister and me titled, “The Little Engine that Could.”  The story has a very small engine with a very big load, on a very steep grade.  All the way up the grade the little engine says, “I think I can!  I think I can!  I think I can!”  Then after it finally makes the summit it says, “I knew I could!  I knew I could!  I knew I could.”  But sometimes you don’t know you can until after the fact.  Now I know.

Success is a product of dreams come true.  You start with the dream.  You work/struggle/fight/create through the process, and then, sometimes surprisingly, you succeed.  Then, success breeds more success.

I am now in the final stages of a new project.  It is for a Broadway Musical, and as usual, it is a hell of a lot bigger than I am.  I have just completed several of the close-to-final mixes and I am getting excited.  Much if it is way out of my genre and much more complex than I have ever attempted.

Out where I live the trains have ceased to run.  The long, lonely, whistles have ceased their calls.  The clack-clacks of steel wheels on steel rails have been silenced.  But in my mind there is a small child who still remembers the steam and call of a whistle in the night.  And a too small engine that challenges me to attempt the impossible.

More to come on this.

CARL PERKINS — success & choices

Patching It Together

Livin’ Life Big

Not so long ago I watched a video with Carl Perkins and Paul McCartney.  They were talking about their own lives and Carl was talking about the fateful car wreck that changed his life.  He and his band were on their way to New York City (I believe) to play on the Perry Como Show.  Their car crossed over the center line and hit another car head-on.  That crash put the breaks on his rise to stardom, and he watched Elvis Presley, as well as a host of others, soar to stardom, playing his songs.

In the video Carl said that he was lying in his hospital bed, and and had the thought that he could not hang onto what he had lost, but only to what he still had.  WOW!!!  He also said that for many years he was never on stage, but always behind the scenes.  Then he looked at the camera and thanked us who bought his records for the birthday parties, vacations, bicycles and for the lifestyle he was able to have because of the success of the songs he wrote.  This one quote is worth the 45 minutes of time I spent watching an already great video.  What a lesson!

It’s a lesson too many of us learn either too late, or we don’t learn at all.  I know so many really great musicians with really bad attitudes.  Never willing to work gratefully with what fate dishes out, but ready to carp, complain, and whine about everything from the people who give them work, to all the other lousy musicians who have made it big, because the industry wouldn’t know a good sound (such as theirs) if it bit them in the ass.  Whoa cowboys, ease up on the two-gun nastiness!

We all know someone (maybe ourselves), who has used their bad attitude to burn all their bridges, lose jobs, stifle their chances at even a modicum of success.  I used to work at a drug and alcohol rehab center where I heard many such stories.  One stands out.  One of the men I counseled had been in the really bad-ass Cell Block “D” of Leavenworth Federal Prison.  After getting out he began using drugs, and selling.  He told me that at one time he carried something like four Glocks and six hunting knives on his person at all times.  Through his violence, he also took a fix-it ticket and worked it into a prison term at a maximum security prison.  There is no end to what a bad attitude and a depressed state of mind can accomplish.

BUT on the other side of the attitude coin there is true success.  I was there on that bad attitude side of the coin, and it took me from being a nationally known photographer to losing business, my car, my house, also my mind and close to my family.  I discovered some self motivational materials and gave them a try.  Well not the first time.

The first time I gave them to a friend who was losing everything, and they turned him totally around.  But while he was turning around, I was spinning in a free fall to the bottom of the tank.  Once I hit, I was re-introduced to similar materials as I gave my friend, and this time I was ready to believe it.  So don’t say that I know not of what I write.

I should say here that whatever it is you believe is absolutely correct.  So if you believe everyone is out to get you, they probably are.  If you believe that all the good musicians are broke and won’t make it because the industry only wants to produce trash, you are right.  If you have convinced yourself that you have to sell your ass and your principles and your art to get anyone to listen to you, bang on the spot.

Paul Quinnett writes in his book, Pavlov’s Trout: The Incomplete Psychology of Everyday Fishing, that he understands two approaches to life.  The first he terms, The Depressive’s Reality; the other, The Delusional Fisher’s Reality.  And of course as I am writing this I cannot find the damn book to get an accurate quote, but here, in my own words, is what I remember him writing.

Quinnett claims that the Depressive will make absolutely logical (for them) claims of why things will not work.  These claims sound completely rational and will bring failure every time because what they predict sounds so right.  The Delusional Fisher, on a other side of reality, just sort of believes that the next cast will catch the illusive fish sought after all day.  The motto for the Delusional Fisher is, “Just one more cast!”  If that fisher is a Depressive, when darkness settles in they are already washed up, well fed, and in front of the TV, while the Delusional is still making that one more cast and waiting for that fish.  Eventually the Delusional, if no fish are caught, will need to be dragged from the stream or lake by well-meaning friends who will end up enduring a tide of vitriol until some fish, on maybe another day, is actually caught.

A Depressive not only understands the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Entropy, but believes in it.  The Delusional Fisher won’t even consider such a theory.  The theory of Entropy holds that all energy seeks a common ground or state of being.  That common state is always cooler, slower, lower, calmer, less, but stable and constant.  And, there ya go!  And yes, we all will dissolve into paste; and yes, probably no one will even remember us in one hundred years; and yes, it is probably good enough for government work and the women we hang with; and yes, so what, so who gives a shit; and, yes that is possible, but it ain’t very probable; and yes, and yes, and yes…  We’ve all heard ’em, and we’ve probably all used a few of them never realizing just how devastating statements like those are to our success.

Years ago, when I was trying desperately to get something to work for me, and I was starting to consider the possibility of songwriting, I was bar-tending in a little dive down on the waterfront side of Sacramento, California.  Sometimes business was non-existent so I would take my guitar down there and leave it out so I could practice it when no one was there.  One night this kat strolls in, order a beer and sits off to himself and sips on it.  Pretty soon he comes over to the bar and asks me if that was my guitar.  I said that it was.  He asks me if he played it gently, could he play it a little.  I said he could.  Well he starts doing some intricate finger-picking runs and he started really getting my attention.  I start watching his left hand, and I notice a pleat-like pattern that goes all around his wrist, and I realize it is a scar.  I asked him about it, and he informs me that he had been in a car wreck some years prior, and his hand was cut off.  He said that he was told that he would never use that hand again.  He also said that he figured if that was true, that it was time for him to learn how to play guitar.  I knew right then and there that some of us say “can’t,” some of us say “maybe,” and some of us actually commit to “yes.”

I have made some really bad decisions in my life.  I have made some really great ones.  The most powerful one I have ever made was to step past all my manufactured fears and to yell, “yes,” at my life.  Life is worth living with as many yeses as possible.

At this point I can almost hear you asking, So, what does the term, “success” mean to you? For me it means finding joy in what you are doing.  It is important to make a living at what we love most, so we can continue doing it.  But success is not determined by any outside force, it is determined by our own inner source.  My advice is to set your goal as high as you can, and never be satisfied with less, and like a true Delusional, settle nothing less than the big one.  Yet, to also find meaning and hope and joy in whatever level of success you have attained.  It is at this point many get confused, lose focus, and turn on the self-destruct mode.  Never confuse true success with outward achievements.

Learn to adjust and adapt.  If I am not catching fish, I try another fly.  I anticipate what flies I will use during the Winter when I am tying them, but I also take a portable fly-tying kit with me to the stream where I can tie what might be hatching that I don’t have.  The same is true with pitching songs I have written.  I have learned that a rejection will probable be an acceptance somewhere else.  I find places where I can conform my art to the needs of the industry, and I hold some areas back just for me and my art and style.  It is fun.  I find joy.  I do not make a whole bunch of money but every day I am thankful for the successes, and failures, I have had and will have.  My name is Hilary and I am a Delusional!

The video is about 45 minutes long, but if you wish to watch it here is is —


June and Hester -- ca 1925

June (on left) and Hester (on right) at a happy time in their lives — ca 1920-1924

There is a picture of my mother and her sister, from a long past time that just stops my heart.  They are happy, carefree, full of life, and beautiful.

This posting is the result of my looking through some photographs and having memories dredged up from years gone by.

I inherited a box of photographs from my parents.  In it were several photographs of my Mother, Nellie June, and her sister, Esther.  In the photographs they were laughing and smiling, having fun.  My father was in a few.  They were all young, full of life and the excitement of youth.  In those photographs, I saw my parents before life wore them down and sadness set in.  But sadness was just around the corner.  I know there was music in their lives and that they went to dances.  It was at a dance where my mother and father met.

My parents had been married 17 years when I was born.  My mother had survived breast cancer by the time I was born.  My Father was 40 and my mother was 34.  They had full lives.  My father had logged, hunted, bootlegged, worked in a coal mine, farmed, raised chickens, and done a whole bunch of things I will never find out about.  My mother was an artist and a musician and followed my father around through thick and thin all the while keeping her sense of humor honed sharp.   But by the time I was aware of them they were already on the down side of their years.  Yet in those photographs in that box, they are wrinkle-free, and they have the hope of their future glowing in their eyes.

My father, Hilary, and my mother, June, on his parents' homestead around 1926, two years before they married.

My father, Hilary, and my mother, June, on his parents’ homestead around 1926, two years before they married.

Within several years of when the photographs were taken, my aunt Hester was dead.  There is some evidence that she committed suicide.  It turns out that some of the photographs were taken before and during a vacation they all took up in Montana at a place called, Rock Creek Lodge or Rock Creek Ranch that may have been owned by friends of my mother’s family.  The purpose of the trip was to try and get Hester out of a funk she was in over a marriage gone awry.  It appears that something occurred between Hester and her husband, Robert, that ripped her up.  Their efforts at diverting her self destruction did not work and she committed suicide shortly after this trip.

Hester and her husband, Robert, somewhere around 1927

Hester and her husband, Robert, somewhere around 1927

I have been able to piece this all together over many years of talking with various relatives. Neither my mother nor my father had said anything about it, except that she had been sick, and had died.  This all happened in the early 1930’s, but even into the late 1980’s my mother still grieved her sister’s loss.  In the box of photographs there was also an epitaph, but it says nothing about anything that actually counts.  Mushy, syrupy, sentiment consistent with the times, yet true to the expression of the pain of loss for people who do not have an emotional vocabulary to express the level of betrayal survivors feel after a suicide –if anyone actually has such a vocabulary.

Hilary Sr and Epiphone Recording A -- ca 1929

Hilary Sr and Epiphone Recording A — ca 1929

In the same box is a photograph of my father playing a guitar on his lap, which does not match my memories of him, which were that he was one who did not especially like music. For their first Christmas in 1928, my mother bought him an Epiphone Recording “A” guitar that was a 12-fret and could be converted into a Hawaiian-style guitar and played with a slide.  It is interesting that while I do have a photograph of him playing it, he never followed through with learning to actually play it, and it got passed down to me and became my first guitar. Except for a few hymns, my father wasn’t very much interested in music.  I joke about his canon of 12 hymns out of the old Baptist hymnal, but it is not really a joke.  We were not allowed music in the house when he was present.  He said it made him nervous–“jangles my nerves,” he would say.  But the rhythms and tempos in that old Baptist hymnal, and those 12 or so songs are at the heart of my Rockabilly and Honky-Tonk songwriting today.  They reminded me of the early, fast-tempoed Rockabilly/Rock ‘N’ Roll that was being played at the time, which were manifestations of the influence out of that old hymnal on the Rockabillies.

But it is through music that I remember my mother best.  She sang me her favorite songs when she rocked me and taught them to me when I got older.  My mother had a deep love for  music, and she passed that love on to me.  For her, music was fun, something to make us laugh and dance and get out of our humdrum life, even if for a little while.  Questions remain.  Why do some marriages fail while others do not?  Why do some people love and learn to make music, while others can get along just fine without it?  Why does life seem lovely and exciting no matter how hard the struggle for some, and for others seems to be too heavy a burden to bear.  I keep asking, Why?, and it seems to be a question I have asked a lot when it comes to my family, and I just do not get the answers I would like to have.  But back to my mother and her music.

My mother had a large collection of RCA Red Dot albums of all the classics, but she could only listen to them when he was gone.  Rock ‘N’ Roll was an abomination to him, but not to my mother.  She thought it was “cute,” which drove me crazy.  When I was around three years old,around 1946, my father started doing tent revivals in the Ozark Mountains.  Mother would lead the revival songs on a Montgomery Wards mandolin she had been given when she was around 14 years of age, around 1918.  While I was with them in those mountains, I was only three years old, but I can vaguely remember her playing and singing at the Tent Meetings, I also remember her playing in the churches where my father was minister.  I sang those old gospel hymns as she accompanied me on that old mandolin.  I still have it and I play it, as I do my father’s old Epiphone guitar.  Mother loved music and passed that love on to me.

Her favorite Pop songs were: Jim Reeves’ “New Moon Over My Shoulder,” “Ka-Ka-Ka Katie,”  George Henry Powell’s “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag,”  by Gus Edwards and Vincent P. Bryan’s “In My Merry Oldsmobile,” and Woody Gutherie’s “Oklahoma Hills,” to name a few.

It is interesting that while my father never learned to play guitar, and I have a photograph of him with his guitar, I have no photograph of my mother, to whom music was so much a part of her life, with her mandolin.  Well, that is how it was in my family, just a pack  of incongruities all stacked up in the most confusing way possible.  But as opposed to Hester and Robert, my parents never lost that glow of hope that I saw in those earlier pictures.  Time wore them down–so did I, but somehow, in the midst of it all they had each other and they each had their own music, she her old popular songs, and he his white gospel. d I was immersed in both and I am grateful.


Broken Hearts & A Little Bite

Broken Hearts & A Little Bite

A really powerful and essential question was asked recently, How do you guys feel about becoming a performer over the age of 30?  Do you feel it is ever too late to become a live performer?  It was the beginning of an ongoing conversation I got into late on a LInkedin site, and I liked the question a lot, so I thought I’d try to answer it in this blog

I have performed at open mics since God made dirt, but in my late fifties, I decided to see what I could do at a professional level. I think you need to pick the level at which you want to perform and shoot for that. Some realism is in order, however. I mean, if you are 70 which I will be in August, don’t be disappointing if the twenty-year-olds aren’t screaming at you, or hitting on you or you can’t get hired for their bars. AND if they do don’t confuse your music and wall of sound with your sex appeal. I played with a band up until two years ago and then decided to start concentrating on pitching my own songs, which is doing OK, and playing as a solo act. It’s harder to get gigs, but I like me best, so it seems to work out well.

SO, to answer the question straight on, Where there is a will, there is always a niche, or a venue. You will need both to make it, but if you target your market correctly, make it you will. Best of luck to you! 

Yesterday I played at a venue where there were lots and lots of musicians, a good crowd of fans of all ages, great wine, and lots of camaraderie.  I had this post on my mind as I looked around the space.  What struck me was what age differences there were.  What also struck me was that crowd response had little or nothing to do with age.  When good was played, it was paid attention to.  And there is something extra about good.  If you want to perform, no matter what your age, if you are good, you will be listened to.  I saw a young girl, probable around 15, go on stage who was an accomplished singer/songwriter/guitar player and all the conversation stopped and the crowd listened.  The same happened with a few men at 60+.  When I finished my set I had 20-year olds come up to me and thank me for my music.  Age seems less a factor than being exceptionally good.  Also,  it seems that while labels are not so inclined to sign Rockabillies, fans are really inclined to listen.  So at 70, with a few broken hearts and a little bite, my style/genre seems to go over just fine.   Actually, I do think genre has a lot to do with fan acceptance.

However, with all that said, I do believe that some show promoters are much more finicky than are the audiences and fans.  The fans come to have fun and listen to good music; the promoters are more concerned with second guessing the fans and making bucks.  But still, if you have product, meaning charisma and groove on stage, age is no issue.

Now if you are considering attaining stardom in the immature and bland  pop market, good luck if you are over 15.  Just how it works.