LIFE, DEATH, AND MUSIC ROOTS, VERSION 1.1.0

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.

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NO BAND, BUT PLENTY OF WORK!

Twang

Twang

I WAS TRYING TO put together a new CD, and I thought it might be interesting to do some posting around the lyrics and both the process of writing them and putting together the Album.  I’m still trying…

The Album itself has gone through a whole bunch of permutations.  First, it was titled, “Vinegar Pie,” because it was named after a song that is in the collection.  Also, the collection was only nine songs.  I had been asked to write songs to support a one person, three act play by the same name.  I wrote the nine songs as a kind of dialogue with the various acts and their themes.  They were performed before, between, and at the end of the acts.  I thought the whole play was kind of a moment of genius on the part of the playwright, but the feeling apparently was not reciprocated and I was fired.  Stuff happens! I mean, I don’t like rejection any better that anyone else, and it hurt and I was pissed, but I got over it and moved on.  What I got out of the deal were nine really good songs.

As I wrote above, I had produced (sort of) the nine songs and put them onto a CD titled “Vinegar Pie.”  However, with the firing event, I decided to re-release the songs with an additional three and re-title the collection, “The Quilter.”  And that’s what I did.

Recently I realized that all my earlier releases were in desperate need of some tweaking and refining.  I bought a mastering program called OZONE, that works really well.  I set about re-mastering my CDs.  To say re-mastering is actually a joke because they were not mastered in the first place.  OXONE really made a big difference in the overall sound of my first project, “Preachin’ to the Choir,” which, when re-mastered I actually put out on CD Baby.

After I was finished with “Preachin’ to the Choir,”  I turned to “The Quilter,” and to my dismay, I discovered that my recordings were atrocious.  YIKES!!!  I am now re-recording the songs and getting them “right.”  The good thing about learning to really hear, is that you can hear what you do as it really is.  That is also the bad thing about really learning to hear.

In the process of re-recording, I decided to add four more songs to the collection.  While you might think that this is over kill, I might say in my defense that many of my songs are only around two to two and a half minutes in length.  Also, I am in favor of the idea of giving my fans more bang for their buck/

The Title will be, “On My Mind,” but don’t hold your breath for it.  It seems that other projects keep jumping up and getting in the way.  Earlier, I wrote about the project for the Medical Marijuana musical, and just last week I was approached to write for another musical.  So while I have “On My Mind,” on my mind, right now, that’s all it is…  Do not read this as a complaint!

By the way, please, when you read this, if you have something to say to me, post it on this site by pushing the  “Comments” button.  Thanks for that!  I will respond.

A DISGRUNTLED ARTIST OF THE 21st CENTURY SPEAKS OUT!

Just Disgruntled--So's My Buddy Back There

I am disgruntled.  BIG TIME!!!

I write songs, and I write good songs.  I also have been minimally successful in having them placed here and there.  I am not a huge success at this, but I am not a dismal failure, either.  I began writing songs for my own performances, and discovered that there are some people out there other than my audiences who like what I do.  I have written nine songs for a play (produced and performed), twelve songs for a docudrama (on the shelf and looking for a writer and producer), I have two licensed for a film due out maybe this year, and several for singers, also I have a couple of CD’s out there somewhere in the ozone.  I am not totally without credits.

I write in a couple of different genres, but mostly Country, Americana, Rockabilly, or Honky-Tonk.

I received the following call for a song:

“XXXXX are amongst some of the most successful musical producers in the U.K with production credits For artists including Usher & Nelly. XXXXXX has recently moved into artist development and management.”

“At just 15 years old, “ZZZZZZZZ” has a great voice and interestingly never taken vocal lessons. Like Esmee Denters and Justin Bieber, “ZZZZZZ” was discovered on YouTube and is where she whipped up a storm with covers by the world’s biggest vocalists, Beyonce, Mariah, Christina Aguilera and Leona Lewis. Album will be executive produced by “XXXXXX” whose production credits include hits for Usher, Nelly, Tony Braxton and Rihanna.

“Styles wanted Hits! Catchy Lyrics!. Infectious hooks!, Big singalong choruses! Songs you can hear on heavy rotation on the radio. ZZZZZZZZ can sing the phonebook. Think Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, Christina Aguilera, Jojo, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Keri Hilson. Plenty of Interest in all popular styles but please bear in mind, ZZZZZZZZ is just 15 years old so relevance is key. A great opportunity for Unknown writers to get in on the ground floor for an artist who is going straight to the top!”

So I submitted the following Jazz-styled song with a bare-bones sound-track

Wish I Could

WISH I COULD
© Hilary Marckx, BMI, all rights reservedChorus:
Wish I Could, Wish I Might, Have this Wish I Wish Tonight
Wish I Could, Wish I Might, Have this Wish I Wish Tonight
Wish I Could Hold You, Hold You Tight.Verse 1
I’m Not One to Let Emotion Run My Heart
I’ve Been Told I’m Cold, but That’s Not True
I Have Let You in My Heart and Now it Seems
I Wish I Knew Some Way of Telling You

Verse 2
Your Laughter Makes Me Think I That I Might Just Explode
The Sight of You Makes Me Want to Sing
The Sparkle of You Eyes Tells Me There’s So Much More
But All I Seem to Do Is Sit and Dream
So, I got this as a response:  “Hi Hilary this is more a live performance than a studio demo. We are looking for finished fully produced songs. Also when pitching to a female artist its always wise to pitch using a female.”

I and my disgruntled self have come to a few conclusions:

1) The people who need material don’t know what they are after and don’t know how to listen to what they get and interpolate that into what they can use, and don’t know how to ask for it if they did.  I do not believe that they are musically oriented, but that they are pitch oriented.  Why else would they not say that they wanted studio, radio-ready material to make a pitch.  Females have been getting hits of of male-written and male-sung hits for years.  Think of Janice Joplin and Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” or Rosanne Cash with Hank Snow’s “Movin’ On,”  or most anything that Norah Jones sings, and you begin to realize that much of music seems to be driven by fear and lack of knowledge of how songs work.

2) If I want to place songs in this current market it is not they who need to change but me.  I have the intelligence to make changes.  I know music, and I understand how to re-arrange a song so it works with a particular market.  I haven’t in the past, simply because I am stubborn.  OK, so that places me right into the not-so-smart category with the rest of them.  So it is me who will change.

3) I have my work cut out for me.  I am going to begin rearranging my Rockabilly into the current Pop sound.  It won’t be easy, but so what?  Am I disgruntled?  Yes!  Will I get over it?  Probably not!  Will I do it anyway?  You betcha!  I figure that I’ll arrange Pop, and perform Hillbilly.  Just because I arrange it, does not mean that I must play it.

THE LONG ROAD TO HERE AND BEYOND… MAYBE

This post will be a kind of I was born… and then… kind of post.  Just offering a little warning.  I am not ever sure where I am going with my music–ever.  I know where I’d like to be going, but I’ve reconciled myself to the unpredictable of my life and how things tend to play out.  My musical career has been a chain of consciousness kind of process.  I’m OK with that.  I thought it might be interesting for anyone who might be trying to kick their career down some pre-decided road to read what has been my experience of music.  Spotty at best.

Somewhere On the Road to Somewhere Else

I’ve got about 10 gigs coming up this month and next for which I am getting ready.  I have been thinking some of the roads my journey has taken to get to this point.  I say in my PR Package that my father was a minister and during the late 30s and early 40s did revivals in the Ozark Mountains, and that my mother led the singing with her mandolin.  I also state that my mother gave him an Epiphone Recording “A” guitar for their first Christmas in 1928, all of which is true.  I have both of those instruments.

What I do not say is that my father never learned to play the guitar, and, for the most part did not even like music.  He had a canon of around 12 songs that he allowed his churches to sing, and beyond that, he said that whatever anyone else wanted to listen “jangled” his nerves.  My mother had an RCA Red Dot collection of classical music but had to wait until he was out of the house to listen to it.  I used to listen country music in the early 50s on my little radio, and one time when I was around six or seven, I remember pretending I was a guitar, dadadadadadadada, imitating a lead guitar run, and I was driving him crazy and had to quit.  Now if that was my kid I would have sent him out immediately for guitar lessons, especially having that old guitar in the house, but he did not.

I am not writing all this to carp about my father, but to say that, as a young person, I basically, except for church on Sundays, I had no experience of music until we moved to a city in 1956 and I heard Rockabilly and my life changed.  I wrote a song in 1958 and didn’t know what to do with it and I just discovered this year, but I didn’t know what to do with Rock ‘N; Roll music.  It was evil, of the devil, nasty, and contrary to anything my folks believed.  AND, for the most part the really good stuff was performed by those folk with the darker skins.  So I started to explore photography, and decided that I would be a photographer.  While most kids were buying guitars and learning to play, I bought a camera, outfitted a darkroom and went on to become a fairly good photographer.  But, I could never shake music, and in 1968 met a man who would change my life for the musical good.  Brian Johnson played a Martin D-41 and a Gibson ES335, and damn, was he good.  He got me started in music and would not leave me alone until I was performing and writing songs.  He was a few years younger than I, a student at Sacramento State College, and just a fine picker.  Later I would have a son and a daughter who were interested in music, and I would take them to Tiny Moore for lessons and that was another life-changing experience for me, but one I earlier written about in an earlier post.

My point is that because I was not encouraged to be involved in, or even listen to, music when I was a child, music came really hard for me.  I did not have a voice that sang the notes.  I had no sense of rhythm.  I invented new tempos as I played.  What I could do was write poetry.  I had been doing that since I was fourteen and seriously since I had been exposed to the Beats at sixteen.  I started to try writing songs first, and then began to learn guitar so I could put melodies to the words.  Then I started to perform to get my songs heard.  And let me tell you, I could empty a coffee house faster than anyone else in the room!  I was really that bad.

And yet, I pulled it off.  I went from having some jerk from my audience get up grab my guitar and tune it for me., thereby humiliating me and giving me the heeby-jeebies to last a  lifetime.  That SOB is still out there somewhere each time I get up to perform.  He never goes away, but screw him I have an electronic tuner now!  Fear is truly a debilitating entity.  I got over the fear when I started imagining it to be a curtain through which I had to step to get to the microphone.  I would visualize it, and part it mentally as I walked to the mic.  a Really freeing exercise!  It seems not that not only do I love being on stage, but I am loved by my audiences, AND, I love them.

I have developed an almost metronome-esque sense of tempo, I can sing on pitch,  I can use my voice to draw in an emotion, and I can do some things on the guitar–not much, but I can hold my own.  I consider the harmonica to be my first instrument, and if there are any jam sessions that I need to sit in on, I default to it rather than the guitar.  I am now paid good money to perform, but it has not been an easy path.  I am not sure where I will end up on this musical journey, but so far, it is a really fine journey!

A NEW SONG?

Cowboy in a Boot in a Bucket

Yesterday morning I was getting ready for church and some lyric fragments came to me that I thought were promising, so I dropped everything and got to work.  This song wrote itself!  I mean that I had the first verse and chorus down in a matter of about five minutes, and I thought this was going to be a slam dunk!  Well, they really were good lyrics.

Then I wrote the second verse, and WOW, that verse was not good or promising, but it was great!  Next I re-looked at that “good” first verse, and somehow it just wasn’t that good anymore.  YIKES!  So I dug in.  I knew that I was on a roll and I had a song that was going to write itself, and after all, church could wait a few minutes.  Actually that was a lie, because, I am actually the pastor. the only pastor, and, while everyone else is late on a regular basis, I am the one who just cannot be late.  Well, I guess I could be late once, but then, well, you know, so I couldn’t actually finish my song.  The congregation gets a kick out of the fact that I play Honky-Tonks, but I’m not sure they’d be up for me to miss church to write one of my Honky-Tonk songs.  Wisely, I suppose, I decided to do my service and let the song wait for later.

And, just as I thought, the song didn’t go anywhere, and was waiting for me, unfinished, when I got home.  Soooooooooooo, the song still isn’t finished.  I’m working on it, but nothing yet.  Am I frustrated?  No.  Am I worried?  No.  Do I think I might have writer’s block?  No.  Sometimes a song just takes a little longer than others do.  This is too good an idea to waste it on rushing it.  Also, and this is key to my writing process, I trust the process itself.  I have written enough songs in the past to know that I will continue to write in the future.  I may be a lot of things, but I am a songwriter, and that counts for a lot.

Some years back, I took a writing workshop from songwriter, Steve Seskin, who is one great writer.  It was one of those affairs where there are six-eight other songwriters who get to say their piece after Steve gives his critique.  I had brought in one song that had presented itself in a similar, but reversed way as this current song.  It was good, funny, catchy, but the second verse did not come up to the same caliber as the first.  Steve asked why I didn’t write the second verse as strongly as the first, and suggested that I had given up on it and declared it finished too soon.  He was correct.  I had gotten lazy and overconfident.  I re-worked the second verse and it turned out really killer–a good lesson learned.

I’ll be working on this song off and on this week, and it will turn out really good–I have confidence!

PICKS, GUITARS, AND GENRES–my very own indie music dysfunction

A Guitar I Don't Have--Neon Guitar at the Black Cat

Is anybody else other than me obsessive about guitar picks?  Jeeze, I never can seem to make up my mind about which one is best.  I know players that have used the same style and thickness of pick for thousands of years, but I am constantly looking for the perfect one.  I seem to have more or less settled on Dunlap’s Tortex line as the best in terms of snap and tone, but as for thickness, YIKES!  It’s a never ending concern.

There seems to be no hope for me in this regard.  Before I learned to play guitar, I fancied myself a “finger picker,” using either long finger nails or steel Dobro picks.  I remember simultaneously discovering tortoise shell picks and discovering just how illegal they were.  A Sad day for me, but a happy one for the tortoise.

After 40 plus years I am still deciding what thickness works best.  I have it down to three:  the orange, the yellow and the green Tortex picks.  I switch back and forth and around and around depending on my mood, sometimes the song, sometimes the rhythm.  On really fast Rockabilly numbers that are heavy with rhythm I like the lighter orange pick and the slap, almost drum-like sound it gives.  For rhythm when I need to pick a few notes, I use the yellow, medium pick.  When I am playing electric and need to allow the notes to be predominant I use the heaver green pick.

As far as guitars are concerned, I seem to be just as obsessive.  At present I am using the HD-28-V Martin for my acoustic work, and a Telly with P-90s for my electric stuff.  However I have around fifteen to twenty or so depending on what guitars I decide to count.  My two most prized guitar is a 1928 Epiphone Recording A that my mother gave to my father for their first Christmas in 1928.  My other most prized instrument is not a guitar, but a mandolin.  It is the 1922 Wards mandolin of my mother’s.  In the late 1930s and early 1940s my father put on tent revivals in the Ozark Mountains, and my mother led the singing with that mandolin.

Next in line as far as the guitars I sometimes use are a Gretsch Electromatic and a 1957 Silvertone big-box hollow-body, and a 1960 Gibson two pick up Melody Maker.  Also on my list of acoustics that I love but hardly ever take out to clubs is my 1959, OO-18, Martin.  Sweet, lovely, and my baby!  I have another Tele, but right now it is all apart and being used as a pattern for another Telly I am building, that, if it comes out the way I envision it, will be my on-the-road guitar.

And then there are the genres to be considered, and I know that there truly is no hope for me.  I have spent much of my time over the years, trying to decide just what to call what it is I do when I write and perform.  My influences are varied and so it seems is my product.  I started out, of course, listening to, and singing, the hymns our of the Baptist Hymnal my father used in his ministry.  Later, when we settled down and we weren’t banging around the mountain country of the South, my father had actual churches, and we had regular houses to live in.  My mother bought the RCA Red Dot collection of classical music, and I was introduced to the greats of that genre.  I also listened to the Grand Old Opry as a kid, and heard the three Hanks, (Williams, Snow, Thompson).  There was also Wilf Carter, The Sons of the Pioneers, Red Foley, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and whomever else my little radio could pick up.  In the middle sixties, I heard Rockabilly for the first time and then Rock ‘N’ Roll, and on through The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Seeds, The Ramones, Social Distortion, and all that came after.

So here are some to the ideas I’ve had for names to call my genre:  Honkabilly, Tonk-a-Billy, Western Swing-Punk, Hoss Punk, Boot-Bop, Real Deal Rockabilly, Ameri-Canabilly Swing.  As you can guess, I’ve had some fun with it, but there is nothing conclusive.  I seem to be self-entertaining, and I suppose that is best, as it keeps me out of trouble.  Someday I may figure out who I am–well…

JUST A LOT OF TALK OR IS THERE SOME ACTION?

More Pedals and Swirly Fuzzy Stuff

Once again I’ve been approached by a producer from Los Angeles who wants to talk music and bands and gigs and touring on a large scale.  AND, once again I’m faced with a house full of musicians, crazies and the like–people running around acting nuts because they actually are nuts.  So far all my Los Angeles connections have given me are some really funny stories.  The experience, so far has been fun but, up to now, mostly non-productive.

I actually can’t say totally non-productive, because I have gotten some public service announcement gigs, and worked on a sound track for a screen play/docudrama.  So the connection is interesting, zoo-like, and challenging.

I say it is challenging because I keep getting ideas and possibilities thrown at me that I just would not have considered.  The most challenging of these is simply that I write and play Honky-Tonk/Rockabilly and they know nothing about it.  This group seems only to know about Psychedelic Rock, and a little Punk, which proves interesting when we are trying to communicate musically.  I am being challenged to add a layer of Psychedelic Rock to the honky-Tonk.  I am considering doing just this.  I am not sure how it will end up, but it has an exciting element.

There is some precedent for doing something like this.  The early Yardbirds, the Seeds who blended Surf with Rockabilly and Rock “N” Roll, and the Cramps who were the best at the blending of Rockabilly and the Psychedelic sound.  I think another great example of this is Reverand Horton Heat.  I mean, like, wow, he has a blend that includes everything from surf to jazz and all parts between.

So it’s more pedals, more electric, more swirl, but not too heavy-handed and underlying the Honky-Tonk/Rockabilly lyrics and swing of my songs.  Actually at one time I have been experimenting with having the drummer shuffle while the bass played swing.  We went back to swing and straight eventually, simply because the music really demands the swing.  However, putting swing against strait, might be an interesting experiment.

This whole meeting of North and South (California) that will happen on Wednesday comes at a time when 45-90 was beginning to look for another drummer and thinking about shaking up our sound somewhat.  ANNNNNNNNND, the bass player and I have been considering what it would be like to lay more, are you ready for this?, of a Psychedelic sound to what we are doing.  What a quinkydink!

So, I’m wondering if what’s coming in on Wednesday is just going to be more LA jabber, or if there’ll be some action as well.  I’ll keep you posted.