Music: From the Language of the Soul to the Auditory Abyss

                I.               Beginnings

My mother told me once that when I was 2 or 3 years old I would stand by my infant brother’s crib and sing to him. I have no memory of this, but it seems to indicate that it was my destiny from the beginning to express myself through music. I grew up in an atmosphere in which Classical, Vocal/Big Band Jazz, and Folk music were the three predominant genres that I was exposed to. As a child, one minute I may be hearing Bach, Beethoven or Chopin, and the next Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald or Harry Belafonte. Later on my parents became interested in folk music artists such as the Weavers, the Limelighters and Peter, Paul and Mary, to which I attribute the origins of my fascination with vocal harmony.

II.              What is music?

My take on it is that music is a phenomenon of melodic articulation that can range in spirit from the language of the soul to the auditory abyss, depending upon the psychological state of the musician in question. Examples of music that most aptly expresses the language of the soul can be found in the work of Bach, Handel and Mozart. As far as the opposite extreme is concerned, I wouldn’t feel comfortable offering opinions as to musicians whose expression may be articulating the darkness that comes forth from the auditory abyss. To do so would be slanderous, and essentially unnecessary. Suffice it to say that these musicians must know who they are, at least on some level. Where do I, in particular, fit into the scheme of this? In general, I would say somewhere in the middle. All I have ever known to do until recently is to express my life experience in song, which has resulted in music that extends in both directions. In recent years I have also been writing fiction.

III.            Songwriting

It was in the mid-‘60s when I heard the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, and Joni Mitchell, that I became inspired by their songwriting to such an extent that I knew I had to follow such a direction in my own life. From that time onward it was always the art of the song that enthused me the most, and after learning the rudiments of guitar during the late-60s, I began to write songs in 1972 at the age of 16 or 17. I developed my craft during the ‘70s until I wrote the first songs that I felt were worth recording. I didn’t pursue performing to any degree until later, though I did play for friends and at weddings and funerals.  I first recorded my original material during the mid-‘80s with Dave Butler at his ‘Upper Room Studio’ on the southeast side of Indianapolis. I took to performing in front of audiences during the ‘90s, playing first in a blues-rock band, ‘Lost in the Shuffle’ in Indy, and later moving south to Brown County, where I first established myself as a solo acoustic performer in 1997. I’ve continued performing solo up to recent years, and also played in a blues/jazz trio, ‘The Mizfits’ from 2005 until 2014. In terms of how I write, I generally start with the music on guitar, using standard and alternate tunings, strumming and using picking patterns. The mood or tone of the music I am creating on guitar then tends to suggest the lyric to me, which often arises out of something going on in my life at the time, although sometimes this is as ‘subconscious’ a process as it is ‘conscious’.

IV.            Musicianship

As far as my technical musical abilities are concerned, I am certainly no virtuoso. However, I would say that I have developed my abilities (guitar, singing) to the point that I can adequately communicate what I write and what others have written, both in performance and recording. Stylistically, my songs range from folk to blues to country/bluegrass to rock.

V.             Recordings

Now that I’ve thoroughly bored you with my background, I thought I would comment on my various recordings. You may want to brew up some stiff java:

1.     2000 – Out of the Blue

There’s a sense of mystery that floats through this group of songs like a gently rolling fog. The common theme seems to be ‘the unexpected’, that which comes seemingly out of nowhere like a phantom oozing out of the shadows that shakes you out of your complacency. That aura was not intended, at least consciously, but was a surprise that I cautiously came to embrace as it evolved. This was the first CD that I recorded, and there’s a spirit about it that I’ve never since come close to recreating. The skilled production and sublime musical talents of Grey Larsen are present abundantly throughout the songs, the project being a collaboration between the two of us that I still look back upon fondly. It was during this project that I first met, and utilized the talents of, Jamey Reid, the great drummer and percussionist, and he has played on most of my recordings since.

2.     2004 – Enough about Me

I’ve known Grover Parido since we played music together with a few friends in the early ‘80s. His superb musicianship can be found throughout most of my recordings, especially his cello. Thematically, this project was like a head-on collision between the tongue-in-cheek and the deadly serious. Grover and I took the resultant carnage and shaped it into… into… a thing of beauty? Perhaps beauty with enough twisted elements to make it disturbing at times, but ultimately satisfying, and despite the different musical styles and sharply divergent moods, it somehow emerged with a certain coherence as a whole. Whereas the first CD dealt with the surprising elements of life on planet earth, this one seemed to focus more upon life being a mixture of ‘the absurd’ and ‘the profound’. Grover is, perhaps, the most talented musician I’ve ever had the pleasure and privilege of working with, and is an outstanding producer as well, who devotes a lot of attention to detail. I would suspect that he would agree with me that, despite outcomes we weren’t completely happy with, the overall result was quite pleasing. We struggled at times getting certain songs the way we wanted them, but nonetheless had a blast working together. We seem to work so well together that I’ve never thought about working with another producer since. Grover’s sense of the ‘theatrical’ adds an element of adventure to any project that makes the process all the more memorable.

3.     2006 – The Mizfits

The Mizfits were born at the end of 2005, when Mel Chance and I began doing gigs together. Mel had done some session work on ‘Enough about Me’, adding his sax and clarinet to a few songs, and we later came together as a performing act during a ‘chance’ encounter in Story, Indiana; when I was playing solo at the Story Inn. At the time it was, perhaps, somewhat odd to combine his jazz sensibilities to my folk music, but the audience reacted quite positively during that first gig and afterwards. Our act quickly centered around the jazzy, bluesy music of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, and we became a rather unique alternative to the Bluegrass, Country and Rock & Roll that seemed to dominate the live-music smorgasbord in South Central Indiana. I’ve never known a musician that plays with more heart than Mel, and it has been a pure joy sharing a stage with him. After adding a bassist, Steve Mara, the three of us recorded this self-titled group of covers and originals at Farm Fresh Studio in Bloomington, availing ourselves of the engineering talents of Jake Belser. During the previous  two solo projects, I had layered the tracks together, but these songs were recorded live by the three of us, with other tracks overdubbed subsequently. We had a steady stream of great bass players over the years in the Mizfits, beginning with Steve, and later on with Andy Hartman, Dennis Huntington, and Curt Moore, but thus far this is the only recording that we made as a trio.

4.     2007 – Cutting Teeth

I was contacted by my original collaborator and producer (& friend) Dave Butler sometime in 2005 or 2006 about recordings I made back in the ‘80s, that were released on two cassettes in 1989 and 1991. These were the first songs I ever recorded and I wound up taking a trip down memory lane listening to this material that I hadn’t heard for probably a decade or more. Part of me was embarrassed when listening, I guess because I was in such a different head space in my ‘20s and early ‘30s when these songs were written and later recorded. There were also certain excesses in some of these songs that related to my being new to the recording arts at the time, and my tendency to bludgeon some of the material with sound effects and synthesizers, and thereby to produce them to death. I even had a vague memory of Dave looking at me from time to time during the process as if he was witnessing a psychiatric disintegration, but like the supportive and amiable soul that he was (and presumably still is), he went along for the ride, and supported me in my inclinations. So, as previously stated, I was embarrassed by these recordings, but another part of me prevailed. Despite their idiosyncrasies, I found thses songs quite entertaining, and decided that a retrospective CD would be worth putting out, and Cutting Teeth was born! I would ask anyone who is listening to my music the first time to puleeeaaaase not listen to this CD first. Make this the last one you listen to, or, at least listen to another of them first, before venturing into this wacky musical territory.

5.     2008 – A Rambler’s Soul

A musician friend of mine in Brown County, John Whitcomb, introduced me to Mark Henderson, a musician from Santa Barbara, California; who had recently moved to Brown County. The three of us embarked upon a collaborative project that would involve original songs from each of us. John later dropped out, leaving Mark and I to continue on at Farm Fresh with Jake Belser assisting as Recording Engineer. When John dropped out, he took his songs with him, and I thought then that we had a problem. Mark and I had divergent musical styles; Mark’s being soft, lush and melodic, and mine, in contrast, being more hard-edged and minimal. John’s style was somewhere between Mark’s and mine, serving in my mind as a kind of bridge between the two.

The challenge became putting together a group of songs with some stylistic and thematic coherence. I addressed the perceived problem by digging out unrecorded songs from my vault that were as amenable to Mark’s style as possible, and, lo and behold, we actually pulled it off! The record wound up being comprised approximately of 1/3 Mark’s originals, 1/3 of mine, and 1/3 songs that we wrote together, generally Mark’s music combined with my lyrics. The outcome was a CD that has an easy, satisfying flow to it. Have a listen!

6.     2011 – Alien Landscape

This is my most-recently completed solo recording, with Grover Parido as Producer. Compared to ‘Enough about Me’, this was a more problem-free experience, reflective in my mind of the fact that Grover and I had fully hit our stride as collaborators. We crafted what I consider to be some of the most exquisite arrangements that have ever been on any of my recordings. Three of the songs, ‘The Train’, ‘Junkyard’, and ‘Babblin’ Fool’, dated back to Grover’s and my days playing in ‘Lost in the Shuffle’. They had been recorded at Upper Room with Dave Butler, and the tracks on Junkyard and Babblin’ Fool that had been recorded back then (‘90s) are actually used on this record. This is the first recording in which I ventured into a rock style in some of the songs, and I would cautiously say that this is probably the best recording I’ve made to date. Grover’s great cello, as well as his creative bass and keyboard, can be heard all over these songs. As I stated in the liner notes, the project, thematically, expresses my feeling of being ‘a stranger in a strange land’, when I compare the world around us at present, with the world in which I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I am quite proud of these songs (as I am by all of the previous ones). I got a lot off my chest during this endeavor, and felt 20 lbs lighter when it was completed! Note, in particular, the pointedly whimsical groove in ‘Complicated Guy’, the old-timey aura of ‘Torch’, the vaguely sinister tone of ‘Divining Rod’ (what I would consider to be the most provocative soundscape Grover and I have ever put together), the breezy Caribbean flair of ‘Ride the Hurricane’ (with Grey Larsen’s superb flute work), the jug band quality of ‘Gun Totin’ Mama’ (with Jamey Reid’s wonderfully under-stated percussion), the ‘trailer park vibe’ of ‘Roll’, John Whitcomb’s guitar solo and Cathy Parido’s background vocal arrangement in ‘Junkyard’, the eerie, tragic undertone of ‘Donnie’, the ‘70s synthy feel to ‘Reinvent Yourself’, the tongue-in-cheek seriousness of ‘The Ol’ Grindstone’ (punctuated by Slats Klug’s jaunty piano), and my favorite of all, the wacky complacency expressed in ‘My Illness’ (with Grover’s wonderful woodwind arrangement at the end). I suppose I’m tootin’ my own horn here, but so be it. This record brings together all of my stylistic musical inclinations, and I would heartily recommend listening to this one first of all!

VI.            Current and future recording expoits

I don’t want to say too much here, except that Grover Parido and I are at work currently on two possible projects, another solo record of mine tentatively entitled, ‘Pilgrimage’, and a further recording in which Grover and I are considering putting together his and my original compositions into an album, tentatively entitled, ‘Sanctimonium’.