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 —



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


Blank Page Waiting for the Song

I am working hard, but I feel as if I am not doing anything.  How can this be?

I am not really a prolific songwriter.  Since 2000 I have only written two hundred and twelve songs with a yearly average of around seventeen songs.  That means that I some years I only wrote five or six songs, and other years I have written over sixty.  However, I identify with being a songwriter.  I may have a Ph.D. in theology, and I may be a minister of a church, a very small, liberal, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Northern California, but I nonetheless identify as a Rockabilly/Honky-Tonk singer/songwriter.  I spent years as a professional and fine-art photographer, but I still wrote and performed my original songs.  Songwriting and performing is just what I do, and I do it very seriously.

So this last year, and this coming year as well, it seems that I am doing more song promotion and song marketing than writing.  It also means that I am spending more and more time at this computer communicating with A&R reps, song peddlers, artists, film companies and whoever else needs and uses songs.  It also means that I am doing less and less songwriting.  It also means that I am doing more recording, mixing and mastering, at which I am least proficient.

I have a woodshop where I build and repair wood stuff.  I enjoy working with the wood, and I make a little money ate it, but it is still just something I do to clean out my brain for the real work of songwriting.  I have written one and one half songs this year so far, and there are more to be written, but I feel frustrated by the need to record, mix, and master my old songs.

Actually I feel grumpy at the blasted A&R people who need fully mastered radio-ready songs to pitch to their artists.  I yell stuff at my studio walls like, What the hell ever happened to interpolation?  Where they could hear a song and hear themselves singing it.  Without having everything done in advance.  The walls of my studio have no answers, and I just go ahead and play the stupid game.

The bottom line is that I am learning how to do it because I cannon afford to have it done by the experts.  I am using an older version of Sonar for the mixing and a new version of Izotope Ozone for the mastering.  I am slowly figuring it out.  I do not have high end studio mastering speakers, but I have my PA speakers that work good enough.  I figure that if I get the sound so it sounds good on my studio speakers, and it sounds good on my little CD player and on my house system and on the car system, then the sound should be good enough quality to send to an A&R type.  It somehow seems to be working.

Yet, while that seems to be working, I still do not feel as if I am working.  Rather, I should say that I don’t feel like I am accomplishing anything because I am not writing songs at the rate at which I want to write them.


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!


Several events occurred this past week that brought me up short and made me do a little self-reflection.

Me as Just Me

The first happened during a conversation with a friend at a show.  We were sitting and talking prior to me going on stage,when he dropped a bombshell on me.  He said that he had something to say to me and he hoped that I wouldn’t take it the wrong way.  Continuing, he told me that I was a really good songwriter, and I needed to believe in that, and quit trying to work so hard in selling myself to others, and that all I really needed to do was to sell myself to myself—others already believed it.

It was a good show and I played a good set, the response was surprising to me, and I suppose that by what my friend said to me, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Next, I played another show on the following night, and when I turned up there was no one in the room.  I asked about that, and the owner said that they would be there, that they would come in to see me, and not to worry.  He was right, the place filled up with folks who, and again to my surprise, said they came out to hear my songs.

Another event that happened last week is that  worked out a deal for my publishing with an group out of New York (I’ll write more about this is later postings).  I asked them why they had approached me, an Americana/Honky-Tonk/Folk songwriter, when it seemed as if all they represented were R & B/Soul/Rock artists, and their response was that while they may prefer to listen to the other themselves, they recognized the need in their roster for what I did at the level I did it.

Now, I have always thought that I believed in my songwriting, but after listening to my friend, I find that I think he is right—all the signs are there.  Let me explain.  I have always thought I have needed a band to be a success, and I have consistently had trouble with bands.  Also there is also always at least one person in any band I have been in that has told me that if they had my songs all they would do is focus on getting them out there to A&R people, publishers, and any artist who would listen to them.  I have always believed (up until now) that I needed to make a band happen to get them heard.  Around and around has this conversation gone.

The striking thing to me is that my best audience acceptance has been as a single act, and that is what I am going to concentrate on from now on.  I can carry a crowd.  I can write great songs.  I am going to do just that.

Folks want a band to dance to when they want to dance.  I want an audience to listen to my songs when I sing.  I want people to hear my words.  My songs are highly danceable, but my lyrics are about what the words themselves have to say.  I have learned this week, after writing for over 35 years, that I can trust my words to get me where I need and want to go.

It looks as if my my future will be filled with lots of time in the studio, producing, and writing songs, and my stage life will be as a single act.  I will still keep the 45-90 tag, because when I need a band I will have interviews and put another version of 45-90 together.  It is a late lesson learned–I hope.

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…


AND, As For Direction, Sometimes...

If you recall from my last posting, I was supposed to get a studio-full of musicians last Wednesday, who were coming up from LA to meet me.  Well, Wednesday came and went and the LA faction was a no-show, though they did call to tell me what was happening.  Also I received word from a group, also from LA, I have been working with about some changes they want to make in a project for which I have been writing.  KABOOM and YIKES!!!

Three years ago I was asked to write the songs for a soundtrack for a docudrama that was going to be aired on one of the cable channels (for some obvious reasons I am not going to get into details here, at least not until after August).  They invited me to go down to the LA Area and meet the people involved, listen to the stories, and write fictional story-songs in my style, that told their stories.  As a spin-off I also wrote ten PSAs (public service announcements). which seem to be doing really fine.  All is well, life is good.

The phone call I got last week was a fairly excited one informing me that they had received $2,500,000 advance money to get it started, but they were going to use a famous producer to do it.  I said that if they were not going to use me and another producer that they should use this other producer who understood what my music and sound was about.  I was told that they liked Producer #1.  Aaaawwwwwk!

No hostages are taken in the music industry!

My answer to this of course was to say, “screw them,” and begin producing my own CD of this stuff — MY WAY!

I do understand that in the long run, I will probably make more money because of the producer they are choosing, but while I do like money, I also like having things my own way.  It’s why I’m an independent involved in the Indie Music Scene.  So, all in all, I’m spoiled and I don’t play well with others, yet it is my ball, my field, and my gig.  Why not make some of my own rules?

My plan is to record and produce my own CD of the songs, and record them my way AND record them first!  They want to begin their production somewhere around September or October, and I think I can have this finished by August.  In the end, they will have a great production made with state of the art equipment by an incredible producer.  I will have a production made that fits my own vision of the material.  Will my work be as great?  I can’t say for sure, but probably not by Hollywood‘s standards, but I do know that it will  be authentic, and that to me is major.

I am also beginning to see some really great marketing opportunities that will come out of this, which are exciting.  If I do my recording and producing, and release a CD, and they do theirs for the docudrama, I am not sure how I can lose.

45-90 is on hold until I get this project finished.  I still need to find a drummer and to work out the changes around placing one in a band that hasn’t had one for a few years.  Also there are some considerations about nuances of the new direction, like new arrangements for the material.  The plus here is that in producing this forthcoming CD with my own musicians, I can better show 45-90 what I am hearing and what I want to do.