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…



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.


Hilary at Barley & Hops

Hilary at Barley & Hops

I have been asked to comment on performing without a band. Alice Groves asked, “I would be interested in hearing more about your quest to perform without a band. The only alternative is recorded music.” Richard McLaghlin responded to her by stating, “Actually, you could just pick up a guitar and engage the audience. Of course the pop musicosphere is so addicted to production values, songs layered like some bizarre, sonic gateau, and the auto-tuned chorus of backup singers and doubled voices that they just would not know what to make of it all.”

I do not believe that recorded music is the only alternative.  There are many alternatives.  I have been performing, at some capacity or another since 1970.  I have played solo and with bands and with a combination that includes recorded sounds, and live instruments, as well other singers.  I like bands and combos for the complexity they add to the music, but I do enjoy the solo performance.

I think it takes a lot more expertise and confidence when one plays as a solo act, there is only myself to blame my mistakes on.  Rhythm and tempo are harder to lock in, and it takes a whole bunch more raw energy to engage the audience.  It can not only be achieved, but done really well.  Convincing club owners that your solo act is as viable as a band performance is the trickiest.

Also, please understand the context in which I am working.  I am spending much of my time producing for my upcoming CD, “Living the Green Life,” and do not have the time to spend on working with a band.  Yet I need to keep sharp for the times I gig on large stages or play with other musicians.  I am performing regularly and weekly as a solo act so I don’t lose my skill level while stuck in the studio.

It becomes harder to book gigs as a single act.  Clubs and bars seem to want a wall of noise against which to balance alcohol sales and an experience of excitement from and for their customers.  I look for venues that are interested in a different type of action.  I am interested in building a rapport with the crowd–talking, joking between songs and answering questions in the middle of a song.  I like to make them laugh, and to feel as if their experience of my act were somehow part of the performance.  So, I need the intimacy of a small venue. At this time in my career I am not looking for stardom or fame, but I am looking for ways to give myself and an audience maximum enjoyment from a performance.

More Pedals and Swirly Fuzzy Stuff

More Pedals and Swirly Fuzzy Stuff

My performance is itself both simple and complex.  It is me and one of my Martins.  I like the Martin guitar tonal signature better than any other acoustic guitar.  I have an 2000 HD-28-V, and a 1959 00-18.  They each have distinct sounds, but both have a playability that works for me.  I also like my G5120 Gretsch a whole bunch.  It has a scale similar to the Martins so there is no muscle memory confusion when I switch back and forth.  To all this I add a pedal board that gives me options galore.

My music is a combination of Country, Folk Rock, Rockabilly, Honky-Tonk, Country Jazz, and Country Pop-esque.  It ranges from edgy to not-so-edgy to sort-of-soft.  They are my own songs because I like my writing best.  I work with just one of the Martins for the most part, but also I use a Boss Looper for songs that are more complex and need other instrumentation behind some of the simple lead guitar work I do with the Gretsch.

I use the Boss Looper as a devise to hold material I have loaded off my Tascam 24-Track recording device.  I work out my arrangements on the Tascam before I load them into the looper.  I play keyboard (an older Korg Triton), lap steel, mandolin, banjo, auto harp besides guitar, so I can fill up some of the songs with complex layers of sounds that add to my vocals and lead work.  I only do this on a few songs.  My main form of presentation is acoustic guitar and harmonica.

What continually blows me away, is the diverse age groups that seem to like what I do.  I have people from their 20s into their 80s respond to what I do.  I think that Rock ‘N’ Roll has been around long enough and is well enough established to have become the new standards for enough generations to be accepted by most individuals.  Yes, there are the musically ignorant and stilted who only recognize what they listen to as the REAL music and refer to all the other genres as crap.  And they do leave the second they hear a little twang,  but the majority show nothing but respect for my performance.

Thanks, readers, for reading, and please feel free to comment and ask questions in the “Comments” section of this post.  Hilary


And Then I Was Called A Liar! (Photo thanks to Billy Hood)

Yikes, someone heard my songs, and asked me who wrote them, and then thought I was lying when I told him I had written them.   What’s up with that?

I was invited to play at a Christmas fundraiser for foster children in Sacramento, CA.  I played my songs, rocked the house and sat down.  Then some kat came up to me at my table and asked me who wrote one of the songs I sang.  I said that I did.  He looked at me as if I had just pissed on his shoe, so I followed up by saying that I write all the songs I sing.  He then looked at me like I just farted, made a sound like shiiiiiiiiit, and actually stalked off.  I mean wow, what’s up with that?

I’ve been doing some thinking and I have come up with some ideas.  None of them are very pretty.  Actually all of them are fairly skanky, but hell, he’s the one who started this.

First of all, and before I get into the whole what-the-hell-I-think-was-going-on deal, let me explain a little about what it is I have to offer on stage. I’d like to think I put on a pretty good show.  I’m not Elvis or Wayne The Train Hancock or Brian Setzer or Mike Ness or Roy Orbison or Willie Nelson, but I am me, and I’d like to think that I do the best me that I can do.  When I play solo I usually play my Martin HD-28-V, and it sounds really, really, good.  It gives off a huge sound that implies that it owns the room.  I back up my singing and guitar with harmonica leads.  I don’t play like anything else I’ve heard, but I play how I feel my own music emotionally.  I play the harp really hard.  I’ve been told that I can lean on the mic for volume and save money on harps, but where’s the stage-presence in that?  I throw in a few fiddle-style jelly-roll things, but mostly play off the melody.  I’m not sure how good I am, but folks do stop and listen to it.  Also, I sing hard and heavy, with as much energy as the song, and the number of set, will allow.  And, this is me on stage:  I laugh, I sing, I make cracks about my many mistakes, and I engage the crowd.  I ain’t pretty, but I am pretty damn authentic.  These are my songs I am singing, and I honestly believe I am the only one who can do them justice—so I give them all I’ve got!  Let me also add that while I’ll be the first to admit that my guitar playing and harp work could improve a whole bunch, I think my songs are not so much good as they are great.  I really do believe in them, and I promote them like and evangelist selling Jesus!

So what do I think was happening with this bozo?

I think one thing that could have been going on with his was the thought that these songs were good, and If I wrote them what was I doing in a dive like this playing them.  He could have been thinking that If I was as good as these songs  I wouldn’t be playing in some small cafe on “I” Street in Sacramento.

Another thing he could have been thinking is something about how I look, which is not like a rock star, but more like a dressed up hobo.  I’m bald.  I’m loud.  I’m goofy.  What is there about that image that inspires confidence?  He may have figured that no one like me could have possibly written anything he would like.  Possibly.

He could have been jealous.  He could have thought I had stolen it and was claiming it for myself.  He could have been, well, he could have just plain and simply been an ass hole…?  The truth is I’ll never know because he simply disappeared after our interchange.  Just gone, so I’ll never have anything but wild speculation.

So the real question, after all the speculation, is:  How do I feel about it?  At first I felt puzzled.  I mean, like, HUH?  Then I felt a little pissed.  How dare he dis me like that?  But, finally, what I felt, and feel, is complimented.  I mean, in a weird, skanky, mean sort of way he gave me a compliment.  After all, if my song was thaaaaaaat good…?


Me Loving the Crowd Loving Me

WOW!  I think I’ve dun died and gone to songwriter’s heaven!  I’ve got this twice a month gig at a wine lounge called Wicked Wines in Healdsburg, CA, owned by Steven Moore.  Steven and I discovered we had similar goals:  He to have some music in his shop that did not cause riots, and me to have a place where I could work out some new chops, learn some new material, and have a home for the winter.  I am playing there on the first and third Fridays through April.

I began by competing for a date with musicians who play loud and amplified, but it turned out that he didn’t have a license to have amplified music in his shop, and couldn’t afford one just yet, and had to shut down the music.  I told him that I could play and sing with no amplifier, just my vocals and a guitar with no problem.  It’s just like the days in the late 1960s when I first started out in the coffee houses around Sacramento, CA.  Another plus is that it is an early gig.  I begin my act at 7:00 pm, and close up at 9:00 pm, so I have time to get out and check out the rest of the music scene in the area.

This gig, I am finding out is great for my fan base around Northern Sonoma County.  People are coming in to hear me.  They are remembering my songs and asking for me to sing them when they come in.  These people are young, many in their twenties and thirties, and some forties and fifties, but mostly in their early thirties.  I have to say, this is great for my ego.  They listen and talk, interact, with me.  It’s just kool!

This past Friday after I finished my gig and packed up I went over to another venue where they have an open mic with a karaoke program from 9:30 pm on.  I check out the karaoke because I find great voices, and really good talent for my demos at them.

I left my guitar in the truck so I wouldn’t intrude on what was going on inside and went on in.  I no sooner got in the door than the MC started yelling that I was there and asked me if I would do a couple of numbers, and I told him that no, I wouldn’t, that I was just there to check out the scene.  Looking right at me he started to tell the crowd that I would be playing as soon as they set up for me, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  So I went back out the the truck and got my guitar and harps.

I want to go on record that I absolutely love being loved!  As far as I am concerned, it is as good as it gets.  Performance is what songwriting is all about for me.  I began writing because I wanted songs to sing that were relevant to and for me.  It turned out that what was relevant for me was relevant for others as well.  I learned harmonica to back up my folksy/bluesy friends who needed somebody to fill in some holes in the music.  I learned guitar because I needed to write songs.  At the time performance was far from my mind, and when I started performing, that was extremely evident.  Jeeze, but I was bad!  Now performing my material is as natural as breathing–and as necessary.

But with all that said I do not, ever, want to take stage where my performance is going to upstage amateurs, who are at these things and are trying to build confidence.  When I get on stage, I pull out all the stops, and give my best to those listening.  Yet, while I was reluctant to go up front and play, I still didn’t protest too strongly when I was asked.  Fans are indeed fans, and they need to be respected.

So, I played some new material I am working up for a CD.  The music drew them in and turned them on.  At one point they joined in an a repeatable chorus.  All stuff that makes my songwriter’s heart go pitter patter.  My life is good, and sometimes It just gets better!  People singing along with your original music IS like going to songwriter’s heaven!  Can I get an amen?  AMEN!


Guitars, Hippy Pants & Hillbilly Music

It’s My Bag, Man

I write HonkyTonk and Rockabilly music.  It is sometimes called Americana, or most recently, American Music.  I have been playing it with more of a straight HonkyTonk/Rockabilly styling.  Lately I have added a slight Surf/Spaghetti Western sound to it.  I am thinking of putting more of that kind of sound into it, plus adding a layer of Psychedelic sound.  I think it will work.  Actually it’s an exciting process.

In practice it involves the use of more pedals on my rhythm guitar,and I’m trying to decide between the Martin D-28 and my Tele with the P-90s.  There’s a lot more swirl to the sound, more slap-back echo, phase shifter, flanger, chorus, vibrato, tremolo.  So far some of my preliminary recordings sound OK.  On the suggestion of my sound engineer, I tried running my vocals through a flanger as well on some parts of some of the songs.  Very interesting results, but I’m not sure I’m going with that just yet.  I may end up playing straight acoustic, Who knows?

Trippy, Baby

I have discovered that this whole, wild, incredible, Indie Music Scene is a first class trip!  It is like a Star Trek voyage into unknown space.  I get folks who will ask me questions about music, and all I can say to them is that it’s all uncharted territory.  However there are a few things I have learned, that I can share with certainty.

Whether you are listening to a musician, songwriter, or a so-called Music Industry Professional, there are two major factors at play in the Music Industry: 1) personal taste and money–nothing more, nothing less.  Some are more honest about it and admit to the accusation, while others try to hide it behind proclamations of  years of experience and professional knowledge gleaned from said years put in.  The truth is that with a few exceptions, many of the MIPs are running scared, hoping to keep their jobs, look good, and ride whatever wave is happening at present.  If it sounds cynical, it probably is.

With the above said, the trick is to hold true to the vision, regardless of the voices in your head:  neither the voices of mental illness, nor the very loud voices of  self-proclaimed experts.  One will tell you that your worst fears are true and you should just give up, and the other will try and tell you about how your sound won’t work, how no one is buying it right now, how the production and sound you have worked so hard to get would be better if it was re- over- under-produced by them.  There is only one voice that should be in your head and that voice is your own–the voice of your dream.  No other voice belongs there!

In wrapping this posting up, let me say that I have been told over and over that my sound is too rough and too raw for the MIPs to go anywhere with.  I ask, If that is the case, then why is it that so many fans get so excited when they experience the music?  I won’t quit, folks, until my fans do.

Be Groovy, Man, Be Groovy

Flower-Billy, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!  IN our own thinking most of the Sixties were influenced by the Seventies.  Really!  It’s always in retrospective.  We were generally so drugged-out that the Sixties weren’t noticed until five or six years after the fact.  So here I am in 2011, and I’m going to try and do this music thing of mine my way–all the way.  Honky-Tonk, all mixed up with Surf and Psychedelic sound.  My advice to anyone wanting advice is to do your thing in your own Groovy way, nobody else’s.  This is my advice:  Be groovy baby!

ROOTSTOCK, Sacto, CA—Hot Licks on a Hot Harp, YIKES!

Lip Blistering Harp Leads

I Open for a Festival

This last Saturday I opened at a festival in Sacramento, CA.  It was just a whole bunch of fun!  I like peeps.  I like peeps having fun.  I like to have fun with peeps that are having fun because of the music I am playing.  This is what it’s all about!

The festival is called Rootstock and it is the first on of what I hope to be many more.  I was actually invited to play at the first one that never happened around three or four years ago.  I was exceedingly disappointed that it never got off the ground.  But here it is back and very strong.  Mike Strauch, is the promoter, I have played for him before, and I like what he promotes.  His vision includes all the music I love:  Country, Outlaw Country, Rockabilly, Rock ‘N’ Roll, Country Blues, and Roots Music of all kinds.

The show was at the Horseman’s Association grounds.  With horses, riders, horse plops and everything.  Reminded me of my younger years.  Kids were running around, there was a jumpy, great chili, hot dogs, beer and a DJ named Slim who had the biggest collection of 45rpms I have ever seen, and a really great collection of roots music.  Just fun!

Without a Band I do my Lead work with My Harp

When I perform without a band I play my Martin HD-28-V straight through the PA system and do my leads with a harp.  Nothing fancy, but I can make some noise, and blow Rockabilly riffs on the harp.  The Martin has a huge sound and I beat out a strong rhythm on it.  The harmonica is a seldom seen instrument when it comes to Rockabilly.  I usually think of lead guitar or piano doing the heavy lifting.  But Billy Lee Riley had harp on much of his early stuff and it sounded great.  So I thought why not, it’s more apropos than whistling, which I do on a few songs.  The harp is so different in the roots milieu in which I hang that it gets folks all worked up, and that’s not all bad.

I play the regular positions with it.  1st for country, 2nd for blues, and 3rd for the minor stuff.  I get some help from my friend Charlie Musselwhite whenever I’m in over my head with some harp problem and usually get more information than I need.  Still, an email from Charlie, gives me ideas for stuff to learn that keeps me busy for years.  Stuff that’s probably obvious to a real musician, but to me it’s priceless.

The Hazards of Live, Outdoor Performances

Playing harp and an acoustic guitar in the direct sun is just plain brutal.  There’s no other way to say it.  First the guitar changes tune second by second.  Second, so does the harp.  Third what they do to their related tunings is just obscene.

However there is another issue that arises when playing harp out doors:  if they sit in the sun, they will fry the hell out of your lips!  I learned this years ago when I was playing on a patio at a biker bar on the Russian River in Guerneville, CA.  Hotter than a pistol, and I reached down to pick up a harp to put in the rack and I noticed it was warm, but when I started to blow, it seared my lips.  Man O Man!  I hadn’t even thought about what happens to all that shiny metal just sitting out in the sun.  I think it was around 100 plus degrees and the harp so hot it burned my lips.  I just had to play it anyway.

Well, it was probably around eighty-five to ninety our there at noon, but I was aware of the hot-harp factor so I was careful.  Nonetheless, I couldn’t find a place to keep them out of the sun and they were  hot.  Not blistering, but uncomfortable.  The truth of it is that then you are up front and there is an audience, you just can’t complain or whine about the circumstances.  Well some do, but they come off very much the not-so-professional entertainer in my book.  So I just played and took my lumps and we all ended up having a great time.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love my life!