Bad radio…or just bad songs?

A couple of songs are in heavy rotation on the radio these days, and they’re both sort of making me mad.

Rude, by Magic
This song sounds fun enough. Reggae always does. It’s about someone…a kid…madly in love with a girl. So it’s like 80% of all the songs ever written. The kid approaches his true love’s father to ask for her hand in marriage. So cool. I’ve never done that and I wish that I would have.

But here’s what gets me. Dad says “no.” That should mean drama is ahead, but it doesn’t. All this stupid kid can say is “why you gotta be so rude? I’m gonna marry her anyway.”

Are you kidding me? Someone stands in the way of true love and you criticize their etiquette and sulk away.

I’m either mad at the band for being wimps or mad at reggae for being too happy to facilitate real emotion. I think there have been a couple of pretty big reggae acts who wrote emotional tunes…so I must be mad at the band.

Honey I’m Good, by Andy Grammar
You kind of can’t escape this little nugget on pop radio right now. It sort of infuriates me on a couple of levels.

  1. My kids love it and the word “ass” is in there a couple of times.
  2. It’s a hoedown squaredance song and I can’t believe anyone likes it – especially my kids.
  3. I’m going to be spending some nights away from my wife this summer.

You see, his words eventually say “no,” but the whole song appears to be about the reasons he wants to say “yes.” Even though he has “somebody at home,” this guy is apparently one drink away from shacking up with some chick at the bar. Some chick who looks good with long legs and “that ass,” no less.

I know it’s just pop songwriting…catchy melodies and hooks. It’s probably good. I know it’s hard to do.

But there’s no heart in these songs. Where is the love?

These songs reinforce my love for songwriters like Anders Osborne and John Hiatt. They remind me that the length isn’t nearly the only difference between pop music and blues.

Here’s a favorite from Anders Osborne. Summertime in New Orleans.

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What I learned from Willie Nelson.

I went to the Willie Nelson show last night at the State Theatre. I saw him a few years ago when he played at Miller Auditorium. I think that place is too nice for Willie Nelson. The State was perfect, though. It was hot and crowded and Willie was much loved.

I was brought to tears two times during the show. Not because anything was sad. Willie may be old, but he’s far from decrepit. There were just times when I was watching him play that beat up old Martin guitar when I was just deeply touched. There’s some wild abandon in his playing.  I never really appreciated it before, but it was incredible last night.

Aside: That reminds me of Meditations by John Coltrane.  The first time I listened to it, everything was just right. I had never heard anything like it and it completely rocked me. Every time I’ve listened to it since then it just sounds like noise to me.

Anyway. Back to Willie. Here’s what I learned last night.

Time is a human construct and it is the artist’s right and privilege to screw around with it. On any given night, I will play with time a little bit. I will change a strumming pattern to fall directly out of sync with the drummer or bass player. I’ll sing a line behind the beat. Or I’ll syncopate a line in a solo or something. But those instances are momentary. And there’s nothing chaotic about it. I’m still feeling things out around the beat of the drum. That is child’s play compared to an evening with Willie Nelson. Every song he sings is sung with a cadence that is more conversational than musical. And his guitar playing is frantic at times and he plays “the next chord” half a measure early which is the kind of thing that doesn’t usually work for me.

Songs matter. Willie played for an hour and a half or something like that. I think there were two piano solos and two harmonica solos all night. He took three or four solos, probably. That’s it. The longest song he played was maybe four minutes.

Willie just turned 80 years old. I’ll turn 40 this year. I’m half his age but there’s no way I’m half as cool as Willie. And I’m not talking about all the pot smoking. That’s all fine, but I’ve never thought that made anyone cool. But the songs that have lived in his head are amazing.

Out of Favor Boys to release new CD June 16 in Kalamazoo

May 22, 2017
Kalamazoo, Michigan
 
5-19-cover-draftThe Out of Favor Boys will release their latest CD on June 16 at Old Dog Tavern in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The self-titled album, their fourth studio release, features 14 new original songs written by the band over the past two years.
 
The new CD, titled Out of Favor Boys, was recorded principally at JoyRide Studio in Chicago and was produced by Pete Galanis. Guest musicians on the recording include Galanis and Michigan blues legend Larry McCray.
 
After the June 16 CD release party, the band will promote the new CD at music series, bars, and festivals throughout Michigan. Dates include:
 
·         June 24 – Marshall Blues Festival – Marshall, Michigan
·         June 27 – Rogue River Blues Series – Rockford, Michigan
·         July 6 – Felt Mansion Concert Series – Holland, Michigan
·         July 16 – Kalamazoo Blues Festival – Kalamazoo, Michigan
 
The Out of Favor Boys are a contemporary blues band based in Kalamazoo that has been performing in and around Michigan for more than 13 years. They’ve shared the stage with many national blues acts, including Tab Benoit, Tommy Castro, Magic Slim, Carl Weathersby, and too many others to list.

New Release – It All Comes Back

The It All Comes Back EP is our fourth recording, our third studio effort, and it’s full of songs we’re proud of and excited to have out there.

download today

over-3We started recording it way back in 2008 or 2009. This wound up being a very busy time for us, individually. A couple of us got married. A couple of us had kids. And life just sort of got in the way of recording.

It happens.

It was during these sessions, though, that we had an idea about recording a night at The 411 Club in Kalamazoo. We figured we’d get one or two live tracks to add to the end of this group of studio recordings.

Well that night of recording turned into its own double-live CD, 7.18.9.

So after releasing the live CD, enjoying life, getting kids out of diapers, Mike Roche at Broadside Productions contacted us to remind us that we had seven songs taking up his storage space. Ha.

So finally, in late 2015, we got back into his studio to dust off these songs. We added fiddles and trombones and trumpets and accordions. And on a couple of songs, my God, did we add saxophones. I could write a whole other article about the night Tony wanted to punch me in the nose because I sort of made him record ten sax tracks on one song.

In 2016, we made a couple of trips to Chicago to work with Pete Galanis at 3011 Studios. We re-recorded a few tracks and added a few little things to complete these songs and we’re very happy with the final product.

It’s funny, though, listening and playing these “old songs” today. Some of the lyrics come from a pretty dark place. Actually, a really dark place. They were written as part of some sort of creative therapy. And it feels like I’m very far removed from that darkness anymore. But it’s sad to think about me being there. Every once in a while, I listen to a lyric and cringe. “Wow, that was me.”

We’re really happy with the way this EP turned out. We decided to release it only digitally, which also feels a little odd. We’ll print up some CDs eventually. But for now, most of our sales have been downloads so we’re going to run with that for a while.

I hope you enjoy the songs. Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening.

Bat story – a blast from the past

A wayward bat was located today on the fourth floor where I work. It reminded me of another bat story I have…from way back in 2006. But I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had just moved into a new apartment in an old house downtown.  I had been there for maybe a month.  One morning, i awoke to a weird buzzing or chirping sound in my room.  I looked and looked but couldn’t find it.  And then…I realized the sound was coming from my bed.  I know!  So I flipped up the bedspread and there, clinging to the side of the mattress like a tiny rock climber…was a bat.

Well I freaked right out.  I’m not good about bugs and I’m not good about mice or rats or any other wild animals that might find their way into a house.  I ran from the bedroom to the living room and tried pretty unsuccessfully to collect myself.  As I sat there, I swear I saw the thing flying back and forth in my room…waiting to attack.  I found a long-sleeved shirt and a stocking cap and put them on.

In the end, after some feeble attempts to capture the bat, I decided that I didn’t have time to do anything about it because it would make me late for work.  So I ducked, sneaked in and grabbed some clothes from my room as quickly as I could, got dressed in the living room, and left.

When I got home from work that night, I could still feel the presence of the beast. I didn’t see her right away, but I knew she was still there.

I went to my couch and put on a long-sleeve shirt and stocking cap…they were still lying where they landed when I quickly changed clothes after that morning’s extraction attempts. I went to the cupboard and grabbed the only bat-catching weaponry I own…a colander and a Tupperware lid. Utensils in hand, I was ready to face the creature.

But I couldn’t find her. I kicked my bed and I once again heard the death-chirp. I ran back into the living room like a little girl. I collected my wits and went back in. I lifted bedding…eventually pulling it all off the bed, one piece at a time, trying to expose the creature. Nothing. I checked under the bed. Nothing. I retreated to the living room (this time I walked like a grown man might).

I grabbed a 4 foot-long dowel which I decided to use as a potential hiding-place poker. I re-entered the bedroom, poking at everything. The bed. The pile of clothes in the corner. The clothes in my closet. The bed again. The dresser. I banged on the wall. I used the stick to turn on lights. Nothing.

Was I making it all up? Did the beast exist? Did I imagine the death chirp when I first kicked my bed?

I called Alison. She’s a naturalist. At 4’11”, she’s a pint-sized naturalist, for sure. But surely a little naturalist would be better than having no naturalists at all on my bat-herding team. Plus, she lives right around the corner and could be on the scene in fairly short order. And really…if anyone was going to be acting like a little girl in this situation…I figured it might as well be a little girl.

To my surprise, Alison arrived with new weapons: a broom, two flashlights, and a fitted sheet.

She took the poking device and started poking. She poked the bed. Nothing. The pile of clothes in the corner. DEATH CHIRP! Oh. My. God. Now there were two people running around like little girls instead of one. My plan was falling apart before my terrified eyes.

But at least we knew where the bat was. It was in a pile of about a dozen folded t-shirts sitting on a nightstand in the corner of my room. Flashlights were useless…she was somewhere IN the pile not ON it. I was certain she was pooping in my Harley t-shirts and building a nest to raise her family of man-eating beasts.

After about five minutes of debate about who would act on behalf of the humans, I put on leather gloves and grabbed the fitted sheet. I decided that I would scoop up everything with the sheet and carry it outside. Alison stationed herself in the bedroom doorway…ready to “run like hell” on my orders. I set the sheet on the pile of clothes…silence. I started to tuck the sheet around the pile. DEATH CHIRP! DEATH CHIRP! “Oh my God oh my God…it’s in the sheet it’s in the sheet,” I croaked. I looked to the door to see a little cloud of dust and hairpins floating in the air where Alison had been standing. I continued to tuck, gently but as quickly as possible, until I had the whole chirping package wrapped up and ready to go.

“What’s going on in there?” Alison hollered from the porch.

“I got it I got it I got it,” I said, high-stepping through the apartment (which is thankfully very small) carrying the package like I might carry a very dirty diaper or nuclear waste, keeping it as still as possible while I high-stepped through the rooms. I got outside, kicked the chair which was propping the door open, and gingerly tossed the t-shirt/animal pile into the front yard.

The poking device then became a package-opening device. I flipped over the pile. Chirp chirp. I started flipping t-shirts over until I finally exposed her. She was tucked between a fender t-shirt and a shirt that read “chicks hate me.” “Appropriate,” I thought to myself.

There we stood, Alison and me circling this pile of shirts. I with a dowel and she with a broom…waiting for the bat to get up and go. I’m sure this animal was annoyed to say the least…her warm, safe hiding place had been moved, flipped, and exposed in daylight (which I don’t think bats like). A truck pulled up to the curb and a couple asked what was going on (we must have looked ridiculous).

“Oh, there’s a bat in that pile of clothes…it was in my house,” I said.
“Oh, we thought it was a snake or something.”
“No…that would make sense, though. It’s just a harmless bat and I’m a wimp.”
“Oh…ok…have a good day.”
“You too…thanks for stopping.”

As Alison and I were considering poking more to make her leave, she started to crawl around, leaving me more poop as a parting shot. (Note: if you’ve never seen a bat crawl around on your clothes…it’s pretty creepy. And then when you think about that bat creeping around on your bed while you’re sleeping…that’s really creepy. And then, if you think about it all enough, you’ll realize that you’ll probably never comfortably sleep in your new apartment again.) Eventually, she took off and flew into the tree across the street, where I assume she’s waiting to see me walking the streets at night so she can swoop down to make me scream like a little girl again…just like old times.

Closing time and the end of an era for OFB

OFB has hosted a Thursday Blues Jam in Kalamazoo for almost all 11 years of its existence. Hosting the jam has had many impacts on the band – some good, some bad. For instance, there are bars in Kalamazoo that wouldn’t book OFB because of the regular gig. On the other hand, it’s made us more fearless on stage, which can be a lot of fun.

The closing of The 411 Club is a big blow for the blues community. There are all sorts of sayings you’ve heard a million times about doors closing and opening, endings and new beginnings, and though I don’t like being trite, the end of this Thursday Blues Jam is a new beginning for OFB. It’s an opportunity to move on to other things as a band. Our decision to walk away from the privilege and responsibility of running a blues jam is a really big deal for us. A really big, bittersweet deal…

ofb

With OFB, we rotate the job of running the jam between the five of us…and it is a job. And when it’s your turn, you feel it. There’s a responsibility to try to get everyone who’s signed up on stage. There’s the organizational challenge of making sure all the necessary pieces are up there (drums, bass, guitars, vocals, etc.). Beyond that, there’s the notion that the music should be listenable, so you have to pay attention to the experience levels of the players a little bit.

That’s already a lot to think about. Add to that the one guy who doesn’t want to get up with the other guy, and the one guy who brought his buddy and really wants to get up with him, and the singer who doesn’t play any instruments but wants to get up to sing a couple. Now realize that you either make these people happy and compromise the quality, or say (to yourself), “screw it,” and run the stage how you want and piss those people off.

How many people have gotten mad in the last six years and stormed out of the bar? They’ve been waiting too long. They don’t want to get up with people. They’re not happy at my reaction when they say, “I just want to get up and do a couple of solo tunes on this acoustic guitar,” when there are 20 people ahead of them on the list.

So sometimes it’s annoying to run the jam.

Being on stage with the other guys in OFB is, hands down, the most fun I have. Period. There’s nothing else like it. When we’re at our best, playing with OFB is like all the good parts of a roller coaster back to back to back. It’s new love, over and over again. It’s driving just a little too fast to be safe. It’s the Ickey Shuffle, the Super Bowl Shuffle and Tebowing all rolled into one. (Do you see how I took it one step too far there?) My point is…it’s exhilarating. And while it’s not fair to compare anything to that…I do.

So sometimes it’s not musically rewarding to host the jam.

But…

Being a part of the Thursday Blues Jam has made me a much better musician. In the beginning, at Wonderful’s, I learned what it’s like being on stage. I hadn’t been playing guitar very long when I went down there for the first time and I learned about being a working musician right away. More recently, the jam has made me a stronger leader on stage. It’s made me a much better front man and singer. It’s made me think a lot more about what happens when I’ve got a guitar in my hands.

And the jam is a huge service to the blues community. It’s a place where musicians meet bands who need musicians. It creates situations where everyone plays UP to the level of the best musician on the stage. (You see that a lot when Bobby Wilson is up there.) It creates situations where people working in our favorite bands can get up and play with each other in ways they wouldn’t at their own shows. And when all of those things are happening at their best, it can be quite a show for the crowd.

OFB has grown from twenty-somethings who didn’t know anything, to a group of guys who have been at it for so long we somehow gained a little bit of status in the blues community. (Just a little.) I think we’ve each had conversations with less experienced players, encouraging and giving advice on one aspect or another of what has happened on stage. It’s like mentoring, but with booze. And I can’t overstate how rewarding that part of my experience running the jam has been.

Walking away from the jam is going to be a sad thing. There are things I’m not going to miss, like on Friday, when I wake up for work and I don’t have any sort of hangover and I will probably have had more than five hours of sleep. That’s going to be amazing.

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The closing of the bar means I won’t have seen a bunch of people I like. That’s something I’ll miss for sure. I’ll miss laughing with Katey and Kelsey while they hunt for bottles of Makers Mark and Traverse City Whiskey to keep the band in good shape. I’ll miss laughing outside with the Barkers and Ralph and Tim Miller.

The closing of the bar and OFB walking away from the jam have become one event for me, but one didn’t cause the other. We’ve been at it for a long time and the bar closing has given us an opportunity to make this decision. It’s not the end of the band by any means…just the end of a chapter for the band. A long, long chapter. I’m glad OFB got the opportunity to host the jam for so long. It made us better. And I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Jobs, music and the journey

So there are two (or maybe three) times in my life when I remember being 100% satisfied with my work life.

The first was in Detroit when I was working as a web developer. Seems like a long time ago now. I think it was a combination of spending so much time in a part of Downtown Detroit that was pulsing with life. Greektown was right across Gratiot. Comerica Park was being built a few blocks in the other direction. It seemed vibrant. The lofts that held our offices were rustic/retro/techy. I don’t know…it was perfect. And the people I worked with had become real friends.

Flash forward ten years. Newly returned to Kalamazoo and I found myself working in a call center. (That wasn’t satisfying in any way other than being able to pay rent and buy food.) But I worked my way off of the phones and into a cubicle. (So far this doesn’t sound great, does it?) But I got to get back to working on a website and back to my English major roots as an editor. Again, I really enjoyed the work and became friends with my colleagues.

(Note: It is only with the perspective that time offers that I can say I was satisfied by this job. At the time, I felt suffocated by the corporate-ness of it, drowning in beige cubicle walls, blinded by the fluorescence of the office building.)

There was a job in between, when I lived in Chicago, that I really can almost put in this category. I worked at a cigar store in Old Town Chicago. The woman I worked for was (and still is) an eccentric artist. A bulldog of a woman, demanding respect in her little corner of Chicago. The guys who worked at the shop were (and still are) quirky and awkward, but all incredibly patient and mostly kind. I miss those guys. I miss standing around smoking cigars at work. I miss trying to talk pretty girls out for a Friday night into trying expensive French cigarettes. I miss the sweet, humid smell of cedar and raw tobacco on my clothes when I get home.

(Note: It is only with the perspective that time offers that I can say I enjoyed this job. At the time, I felt like I was wasting my time, wasting my talents, wasting myself. I wanted something more and I let that make me miserable.)

The constant through all of this has been music. In Detroit, I got my first paying gig as sideman to a French Canadian bluesman living in the northern suburbs. More importantly, I was in my first real band. A new-country sort of band with Scott Daily. He’s now playing with (and married to) Carolyn Striho, who’s been busy earning Detroit Music Awards nominations.

In Chicago,  I was in a kick-ass rock band with Sherrie Adams. Sherrie is fierce. She will kick your ass. I thought she was just a hot chick with a killer voice until I worked with her in the studio and I realized that was probably as close as I would ever get to a real professional vocalist. She’s out in LA now, making her way…

I started writing this today as a response to an email from an old friend. But it’s made me realize (once again) how lucky I am to be where I am. I often think about how all the paths tangle their way to here. A failed marriage, a career in the dot-com industry just as that bubble burst, professional flailings in Chicago. That all really sucked an awful lot. But there was also reel-to-reel recording in Scott’s basement. Learning Foo Fighters and STP songs and playing them really loud in Chicagoland. I’ve met and played with living blues legends here in Kalamazoo. So much good.

And it all led me here. The people and events of the past brought me here. They brought me home to Kalamazoo. They led me to meet my wife and start this incredible family. They brought me to this band that I love, meeting legends, writing and recording music we love. It’s so good.

I miss my friends in Detroit and Chicago. I hope they’re well. Who knows where I’d be without them.