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Saturday, July 19, 2014

We Put The Songs First

I can't believe its been 2 years since my last posts.  I haven't been writing much lately.  I still don't completely understand what inspires songwriters to write every day, maybe there's only a few writers who can do that.

For the past year and a half, the Big Sky Gliders have been in and out of Rick Garvins studio working on our second CD.  All songs are self- penned between Don, Brian, and myself.  So the songwriting didn't stop, but it certainly slowed down.  Maybe it's because we are concentrating more on playing and recording and the songwriting focus is in the background.

We are nearing the finish line for the CD.  A couple of instrument tracks to finish and the do the final edits, mixing, and mastering.  The duplicator is all lined up.  Artwork needs to be done.  Delivery of the CDs is probably in September.  

We brought a few friends into the studio.  Some backing vocals by Wanda and Izzy.  Fiddle by Kyle.  Electric guitar leads by Breezy.  Drums by Yvonne.   The CD has some interesting sounds and some variety in which there is likely to be something for everybody to like.  

After getting through the first CD, I think we were more patient and took our time to get what we wanted and what is right for the songs.  A couple of tune, we weren't happy with on the first take, so we went home, reworked them, then went back to record a second version..  It was a wise choice.  This time, We put the songs first.

Watch for the new CD to show uo on Bandcamp.    Go to

www//bigskygliders.bandcamp.com

We offered the first CD at your price.  This time we'll be setting the price on bandcamp.  There's bills to pay.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Big Sky Gliders CD Release

On the Horizon cover art
Big Sky Gliders   On the Horizon



The Big Sky Gliders finished their new CD "On the Horizon" after many months of recording at Rick Garvin's Backyard Studio in Edmonton.  All songs on the CD, or individual songs can be downloaded from http://bigskygliders.bandcamp.com/.   You can download and pay what you want, but remember, it does cost money to record and produce these songs and even a modest 'donation' to our cause is greatly appreciated.  

The songs on the "On The Horizon" CD are all original songs written by the groups members Don Watson, Brian Waddell, and Jim Lapp.  The music can be described as alternative country folk music, or so I'm told.  This CD does show that we have developed our own sound based on a mix of instruments including guitar, bass, mandolin, bouzouki, banjo, and keyboards.  Our special guest on the Album, Kyle Jones, joined us to play fiddle on a couple of tracks.

We have already planned a song list for our next CD, which we plan on recording over the coming winter.  

Please visit our bandcamp web page and buy the CD, or wait to listen to us live and buy the CD in person.  We'll gladly sign your copy.

Don, Brian, and Jim

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Back in the Studio

The Big Sky Gliders are back in the studio to record more original songs  The three that we are working on includes:

  • Sunday Morning Alibi :   A song by Don Watson about enjoying a quite Sunday morning on a doorstep with a favourite cat, and contemplating the idea of going to work on Monday (or not). 
  • Where Randy Rolled a Tractor :  A song by Jimmy Lapp that reflects with pride on a visit to his home town 30 years after moving away. 
  • My Dream Automobile:  A song by Jimmy Lapp that came to him in a dream about good times driving in a 52 Chevy with good friends. 

Brian laying down the bass track
This time in the studio, we are more comfortable with the process and are much better prepared with our concept of the final outcome of the song.  This makes us more focused on what we want in the songs.  

Wanda came down to the studio on Thursday to see how the recording works.  I'm so glad she did.  She can now understand why we spend so much time there.   To hear a song evolve from the initial scratch track to a finished product is a great experience.  I was just as excited on Thursday when I could hear 'Randy" come together with the mix of instruments and vocals just as I had envisioned it, as I was the day I heard one of my first songs played live .  It isn't done yet - still need to add bouzouki track and backing vocals, then we'll do final mix.   My Dream has a few more pieces to finish.  I think Don and Brian got all they wanted on Sunday Morning Alibi. (I'm not part of that recording - I was absent when they did it). 

So I'm not available next week.  Don and Brian will go into the studio and add the final tracks, then hopefully we'll be ready to do the final mixing in a couple of weeks.  We'll have them released in late March or early April.  Look for them on our bandcamp web site. 

http://bigskygliders.bandcamp.com/


Lyrics on the wall

They Were Drowning in Their Tee Pee

Inside is the Song Writer Circle
A couple of weeks ago, we were given the wonderful opportunity to play in a song writer's circle at "Common Ground", which is part of the Edmonton Winterlights Festival 

Big Sky Gliders
What attracted us most to this is that Common Ground was in Giovani Cabotto Park and we were going to be playing in a Tee pee.  So the three of us from Big Sky Gliders (Brian, Don, and myself) joined Meghan Kemshead from the group " Low Flying Planes" and Dana Wylie.   Bob Cook volunteered to stoke the wood stove in the middle of the tee pee, and because he's a talented songwriter and musician in his own right, we had him join in. 


Don, Dana, Meghan, and Bob

Weather outside was about -4 C 3:00 when we started, and it cooled off to around -6 C by 6 pm when the session ended.  Inside, we were warmed by the wood stove, but our backs got cold.  Don's water bottle that he set on the ground froze solid.  

This was such a great opportunity to share our music with Dana, Meghan, and Bob and also to be able to play along with their songs.  It was also fun to watch the audience who came in and went as the session went on.  A few stayed for the whole session, and others made their way to a neighbouring Teepee where they got served tee to help them warm up.  So that's where the title of this blog comes in.  They were drowning in their Teepee.  

Our enthusiastic audience
The biggest challenge of the day was keeping the instruments tuned.  Because the temperature inside the Tee pee was sometimes hot and sometimes cold, our instruments kept sliding out of tune.  So constant tuning was a necessity.  

The best parts.  The audience was enthusiastic and appreciated.  Good comments all around.   At one point, a reporter for the McCaulley News came in, looked at us, took our picture and said "Big Sky Gliders, right?.  We are making a name for ourselves in the McCauley community.  Very cool.  

Would I do this again? In a heartbeat. 

We can look back on this for the rest of our musical career as a highlight on our pathway to the Horizon.   Check our bandcamp site for our CD "On the Horizon"

http://bigskygliders.bandcamp.com/
Tee Pee and wood stove chimney


Jimmy's new hat


Monday, December 26, 2011

Writing Again

After a long drought, I finally got writing again.  Sunday morning being Christmas morning, if you can believe it, I picked up my guitar and wrote a song called Sunday Morning Blues.    I had been playing around with some music on Christmas Eve and the whole lyrics came to me in about 10 minutes on Christmas morning.   I am still amazed how that happens. 

After playing the song on Boxing day, I wrote a couple of more verses and fixed up some things. 

My favourite lines in the song comes from the first verse

"Woke up on the street
On Sunday morn
Looking at my blue jeans
Where they are worn"

Wanda gave me a new Yamaha powered mixer for Christmas.  No speakers.  So today (Boxing Day) we went over to the West End Rock Shop.  Easy to get there now if we take the Anthony Henday.  under 15 minutes. Used to take up to 45 minutes, and today it would have been an hour going the old route. 

I had a limited budget, so I couldn't really splurge on speakers.    So I went with some non-powered Peavy monitor speakers.  I figured that when we play somewhere, we can always rent good powered speakers but we can use the monitors.  In my basement, the monitors put out more than enough clean sound, so it was a good fit for now.  At some point, perhaps we'll get the powered speakers. 

So new mixer and speaker set up in the music room, I got to try out the new song. Sounded good.  I like it.

Tomorrow, Ernie and Deb are having a jam and a pot luck supper.  I'll get to try out the new song for them.  Then on Wednesday, Don and Linda invited the Big Sky Glider families over for dinner and an unplugged jam.  Get to try the song out then too. 

It does feel good to get writing again.   4 days to write 4 more songs to meet my goal.   Too busy playing for that to happen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Big Sky Gliders - On the Horizon

The Big Sky Gliders now have a web page on Bandcamp.  Currently there's 3 songs up for download.  

you can find the link below, or in my list of links on right side of this page.  Look it up, give it a listen, and download for the cause.

Songs included:

1 Sitting Here
2 Ernest and Lucy
3 Smoke Down the Road

http://bigskygliders.bandcamp.com/

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Humble Naked Truth

Don watching Rick work his magic
Yesterday, we made another trip to the Backyard Studio to work on the last of three songs for this year.  I wasn't in the best of moods to go there and I wasn't expecting to get a lot done.   Partly what was going on was my complete lack of confidence in playing banjo on Don's song -  Smoke Down the Road.   Partly it was because of the expectation for me to play the thing.  And partly it is because of my usual winter solstice blues (hmm, song title there). 

Don had gone into the studio to put down and guitar track and a vocal track, and then Rick sent it off to us so we could practice at home.  I have to admit, I wasn't getting the feel of the song from those tracks, and my confidence playing on the banjo went further down.  

Brian on bass with all eyes watching
My only hope, and the one I was clinging to, was that once Brian got the bass down, then I'd get into the song better.  This was because when we've played it, I'm listing to and following the bass guitar.  

So once in the studio, Brian did the bass track.  It took a few takes, but that's because we all stared at him and really put the pressure on him.  Our good friend Kyle came out last night to lay down a fiddle track.   I could now start to hear the song all come together. 

Kyle warming up the fiddle
I was really trying to find a way to put off the banjo for another few days so I could practice some more.  So I suggested Kyle put down a fiddle track for Earnest and Lucy. My excuse was that this was one the the objectives for last night and we should get it done because we didn't know when Kyle would be able to do it otherwise.  So he did.  Finished it quick.   Too quick.

So every one looks at me and says it is banjo time.   Just so you understand. After going through the experience of going into the booth and knowing all ears are listening, I find it to be a very humbling experience.   I know the first time I went in there, any ego I may have had quickly disappeared.  I felt exposed and humbled.  Thus the 'humble naked truth'. 

So in I went.  With banjo in hand.  Head phones on.  Sound check.   Vocal, guitar, and bass tracks turned on.  I Play.  First take.  Started good. Missed a chord change.  Tried again.  Got thru first verse, second verse.  I could tell it was pretty much spot on the beat.  Into the third verse - lost concentration & the beat.  got back on track and finished out the song.  Second take.  first verse is good.  second verse is good, third verse I was loosing grip on my pick.  fourth verse, lost the pick.  got it back and finished out the song. 

The Humble Naked Truth (Photo by Brian Waddell)

Neither take was a clean track, but there was enough from the two tracks to make it work.  So, Rick calls me out of the booth and tells me my playing was dead on the beat even though I lost it in a couple of spots.  He copies the best bits from the two tracks. Pastes them together, and it is done.   Now, usually, if a track is close but there's some notes or beats that are out a bit, Rick sometimes spends quite a bit of time working his magic to make it right.  The fact that he was able to make the banjo track work so quickly (I'd say 30 seconds) made me feel so much better.  It meant that I did get into the song. It meant that I was holding the beat.  It meant that it wasn't full of missed chords, missed strings, or fingers not working.  I really think if it wasn't for my struggle with the pick, I might have had pretty clean track on the second take.  But I was done.  I got through it. And everyone seemed pleased how it turned out.  Of course the banjo jokes didn't stop. 

"Hey Jim, How do you tune a banjo"  Reply:  "With a chainsaw". 

"Great track on that banjo Jim, too bad we erased it".  

Saturday we go back to the studio.  Rick suggested that Don does another rhythm guitar track and that will be it for recording.    The afternoon will mostly be spent working on the mix for all three songs.  So we hope by the end of the afternoon, we have a mix that we can take home, play in our cars, and listen to for a couple of weeks.  Then we can decide if we like the mix, and if not, got back in a remix if need be.  So sometime in January, we hope to have a 'master CD' and the production of an EP can start. 

Never going through this process before, we are learning more & more a long the way.   Each step in the recording process is a new experience and there's still more to come.   I think we agree that when its all done, we'll be happy we took the time to do this.  I'm really liking what we've done so far.  I anxiously waiting to get through the mix and hear the final product.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

So, How's The Songwriting Going

Since we've been in the studio, my songwriting has taken a back seat.  So has our appearances playing in public.  We've been concentrating so much on the recording, that we haven't focused on anything else. 

So I starting to have a problem.  I set my goal of writing 20 songs in 2011.  So how's that going, you might ask.  Well, truth is, I have a lot to do in a few weeks.  I do have a bunch of things in the works, but nothing is really going anywhere yet.  Am I worried about not meeting my goal.  It won't be the end of the world. 

I've been pulling some songs out of my song book that I haven't played or shared, and one of those (Back To You) has taken on a new life.  It's the only song we do that 'almost' has a bit of bluegrass feel to it.  But that song was from 2009.  So, old song, new life.  At least that's something. 

I've been in this song writing block before.   It used to worry me a bit, but no more.  I know that at some point, I'll get into a bit of a roll again.  "Don't know when, don't know how".  (Can't use that line; it's been done before).   Now there's a title for a song "It's been done before".  Hmmm!

I read this morning on Corb Lunds Facebook entry, that he "wrote two songs today".  One was 'a desert lovesong' and the other is 'graveyard blues'.   I haven't written two songs in one day for over a year. 

Sometimes when I put too much pressure on myself to write something, I come up empty.  Usually, when songs come to me is when I'm relaxed and often not even thinking about writing.  I need to take some time off work and relax.  Maybe something will come to me then.  Hey Christmas is coming!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Neil Young Talking About Being Creative

"You know because you’re writing. You’re not editing. Editing is no good. If you’re really writing, you just write—write it down and let it come out."  Neil Young, 2005.  

In an article about Neil Young's 66th Birthday, An interview with Neil by Russell Hall for Performing Songwriter was republished.   You can find the article on the Performing Songwriter web page at the following link.

http://performingsongwriter.com/happy-birthday-neil-young/

We need to listen to people like Neil Young.  They know how to write songs. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Recording Process


Example of ProTools Recording Software

The process of recording a CD has been quite an experience and quite an eye opener for me. 
The process, in as short of an explanation as possible, involves recording a 'scratch track' with a "click track", then recording each instrument and vocal on individual tracks using the scratch track as the base.  Once all tracks are done, the scratch track is dropped out.   Then the process of editing and mixing begins. 

With the digital technology available, we are seeing how the recorded music can be 'edited' to make the produced record as flawless as possible. 

For example, a vocal track can be enhance by using 'autotune' software and with other tricks like compression to smooth the vocals out and bring off-key parts into key.  You can use auto tune in live performances too if you got the cash to buy that kind of stuff.  What is more interesting to me is adjusting multiple vocal tracks to line up properly so they are in perfect sinc.  In the studio, we had 3 vocal tracks - a lead track, and two backing vocals that weren't quite in sinc. one backing track came in to early and the other too late. With a bit of software magic, the two backing vocals got lined up with the lead vocal track.  Then with two different vocalists, word pronunciations became an issue.  In our case, on the word "night", Brian pronounces it sharply, while I tend to drag it "Ni - ight".  So with another bit of magic, my night was sliced in the middle so that it now sounded like Brian's night.  Very cool indeed. 

Another example we witnessed is what happens when an instrument note is misplayed.  The first few times we listened to the track, we didn't notice a note that didn't sound right. To tell the truth, I never did hear it, but Rick did, then Brian did.  Turned out there was one bass note in the whole track that was off.  The fix?  isolate the note and change it to what you want it to be.  All of 2 seconds to change it. 

These are just a couple of examples of what can be done.  There's other tricks that we've experience, like just playing over a missed ending on an instrument track rather than replaying the whole track.  Or, copying a perfect part of an instrument track and pasting it into a repeated section of the song that had a flaw in it.  I'm sure there are numerous more tricks in the recording engineers bag that we haven't seen yet. 

I do want to say that you don't want to rely on these tricks all the time.  It is better to get a flawless recorded track, than just use technology to fix everything.  And of course it feels better when you get it right.  But when you need the tricks, you need the tricks. 

Bottom line is, now that I've seen how things work in a studio, it has completely changed my perception of what I'm listening to on the radio or a new CD. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What's In a Name

Another happening:  We've been debating our group name for three years now.  We've been calling ourselves the Magpies since our first appearance at the Heart of the City Festival.  Came about because we hadn't picked a name, and they needed on. Don was watching a Magpie on his lawn and blurted it out when he was asked what our group name was.   The debate started immediately after that. 

Part of the issue, is the name has been used before. Part of the issue is a few people told us we need to add something in front of Magpies or after Magpies.  I think the real issue is that none of us really wanted to be a "Magpie".  Have you ever listened to a magpie?

Since we were now in a studio working on putting together a CD, we figured we better settle this name issue once and for all.  So time to get serious. 

We've thrown out so many names, but it seemed at least one of us 'veto'd'.  Finally, Don tossed out a name on Saturday.   Suggestion:  Big Sky Gliders".   I liked it. Brian liked it.  We got agreement for the first time in 3 years.   Maybe on Monday, we'll shake on it.

Who would have thought picking a name would be so difficult and take so long?

Back In the Studio

Don in the booth
On Monday, we went back to the studio to finish the song. Or so we thought.   This time, I just got to sit back and relax and let Brian and Don do the work.  Brian laid down the bass track.  Don, after several tries, got the keyboard track done.  Then he went into the isolation booth to lay down the mandolin and bouzouki tracks.  After 3 hours, we were done. 

So now we have the tracks done.  Next step:  do the mix.  We decided though we'd work on a couple of more songs before we do the mixing.  Apparently it is better to mix all songs at the same time so that the mix is more consistent. 

So, next Monday is another night of recording.  Song this time is Earnest and Lucy.  Dominant instrument is piano and Brian on vocals.  So it might be another night off for me.   I play the acousticguitar underneath the keyboard and do backing vocals when we play the song, so if all goes well with Don's piano and Brian's vocals, I might be called on. 

What I'm learning is that recording is a long process. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

IN THE STUDIO - LAYIN' IT DOWN

Don & Jim @ Backyard Studio
For some time now, we've (Magpies) been talking about recording our songs in a studio and perhaps producing our own CD.   The process started last night.  We are recording at the Backyard Studio owned by Rick Garvin.  We met Rick last week to look at his studio and talk about the process.  It sounded straight forward and with advice from Rick we decided we'd start with one song.  After that we can decide what we want to do next.  Good plan!  We could then focus on one song and not get too far ahead of ourselves. 

We decided, well, actually Don and Brian, decided to record "Sitting Here".  You can find an early version recorded on a Zoom H2 in an earlier posting. 

So we got to the studio with all our stuff and were ready for the evening, or so we thought.  Brian had an idea about what was coming because he's done some recording before.  Me. Not a clue. 

First, we laid down a 'scratch track'  All playing to a metronome, or 'click track".  sounded easy, but the first run through, it didn't work. This was for a song we've done a hundred times.  So, we did it again.  This time reasonably good success and probably as good as we were going to get it that night.  Great,  Step one was done. 


In Isolation

Next.  Lets get Jim in the isolation booth to do the rhythm guitar track.  Sounds good, but the booth is a little room with no windows.  Claustrophobic actually.  So I do a track. Wasn't great.  Did a second one - that was going well until. I messed up a chord and flubbed the ending.   Not to worry.  We'll just play over those two spots and fix the track.  Good, Done, Now I get to get out of the little box

No, now I got to go back in and do the lead vocals.  Just when I thought I'd get a break.  Did two vocal tracks.  Second one was good.  Now I'm done. 

Now it was Brian's turn for backing vocals.  Again, he lays down two tracks.  Second one was good, except I changed the words in my version from the written word.  So Brian had to do another take for that line.  Finally, we had a guitar track, lead vocal track, and the backing vocal track.  3 1/2 hours passed by. 

But we're not done.  We still have to do the mandolin track, bass track, and keyboard track.  That's coming Thursday, but good news is I'm done so I can sit back and relax.  I think.  Maybe I'll take my guitar just in case. 

Also, check out Brian's Blog, In the Clouds - link is on the right

Layin it down.  Good times.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Visit to a Kensington Market Music Store

Last week I was instructing a course in Brampton Ontario.  I stayed an extra day to tour around Toronto since I haven't done that in 20 some years.  One place I've had on my bucket list for many years was to visit was Kensington Market.  So that was my first priority. 

Kensington Market has a long history in Toronto and was first populated by British immigrants so the building architecture reflects that era.  It eventually became populated by Jewish and Italian immigrants who built store fronts along the street.  Actually, on the street.  Now you will see many different cultural backgrounds.   The area became well known across Canada because of a 1970's show on CBC called King of Kensington with Al Waxman.  There's a statue of Mr. Waxman in a park next to to the market street. 

As you walk the street you smell the foods and hear the music of these cultures.  Shops range from soup to nuts, literally.  There's coffee shops, restaurants, bakeries, cheese shops, produce, and clothing.  It's best to walk because the streets are narrow and the storefronts are built out into the side walk.  many of the shops are the old houses with a store front built onto it. 


I spent a couple of hours walking around and checking out the shops, the day was nice and I was enjoying the atmosphere.   It is a great place to people watch. 

As I was walking, I came across a little store front that looked like it was closed up.  There was no name and a stack of unkempt newspapers and other junk was piled in the doorway.  There was no name on the store either.  

What caught my eye though was the odd and strange musical instruments hanging in the window along with Elvis and Duke Ellington statues.   I wandered around Kensington a bit more then as I was walking back to the parking garage, I noticed the front door was open.  I had to take a look. 

The pile of newspapers in the doorway were shoved over the to the side so I walk in.  An elderly oriental man was on the phone and he waved at me to come in.  I'm sure he saw the stunned look on my face.  The little building was absolutely full of musical instruments and other junk.  some instruments were hanging on wall hooks, but most were piled in the middle of the floor.  I could hardly get over to see the stuff on the wall there was so little space.  I could see piles and piles of instruments at the back of the store, some in boxes, some just stacked in disorganized piles.   I instantly thought of the TV show 'the hoarders".  I should have guessed when I saw that pile of newspapers at the door.  

I looked at a few instruments.  He had cheap guitars and none of interest.  There was some mandolins for $50 and a bouzouki for $70.  They looked like that's about what they were worth.  Among all the hand drums and other stuff were some strange looking eastern culture instruments that looked like they needed a lot of fixing.  I came across a charango, a South American instrument.  I couldn't get to it to see what it was priced at.  There were some incredibly cheap looking banjos on the wall.   Everything in the store was under a $100, or it seemed.

Then I came across two gourd banjos.  I checked the price and they were over $400.  Again, I must have had a stunned look on my face.

I didn't get any pictures inside the store, which I regret.  You have to see it to believe it. I took this photo off of google earth of the storefront.   If you look close, you will see an electric guitar in the window shaped like a red maple leaf.  It was still there.   You can also see the owner sitting in the doorway (google brushed of course). 



Sunday, September 18, 2011

Doing Favours

A couple of years ago, a good friend of ours asked us to play at a playground opening.  For that good freind, we decided to give it a go.  Yvon wasn't around, so my son played drums for us.  It turned out to be a less than desirable venue to play.  First off, it was mostly young parents and a whole lot of kids under 10.  Most were probably under 7.    Because we aren't a cover band, they really couldn't have cared less about our music. 

To top it off, they provided a stage trailer that was really just a big tin box on wheels.  On the stage, it sounded just like the tin box that it was.   They also put the stage right beside the playground basketball court, so while we were playing, a bunch of kids were playing basketball.  So there were basket balls flying around in front of us, and we were worried our stuff getting damaged.   In fact, Don's mandolin did fall over a piece of the head stock broke off. 

When we took a break (around noon), we went out behind the stage and sat at a picnic table away from the crowd.   Don had a flask of scotch, so what the hell. 

Now, for todays story.   Yvon's community league asked us if we'd play at their community league for community league day.  Details were sketchy, but to do Yvon a favour, we said OK.  We had that feeling of dejavu because as details came out, we were told we'd be playing by the basketball court.  As it turned out, we actually played on the basketball court.  

We decided that we needed to do some cover songs mixed with our originals.   We've done the cover songs before, but we hadn't played them for over a year.  In fact, we hadn't played with Yvon for the same length of time, so we knew we'd be rusty on that stuff, and we knew that Yvon probably didn't know our newer songs.  So we practiced.  On Friday night before the event, we went to Yvon's garage and went through our set list.  We did have a lot of fun that night, but we still had some reservations about the actual event. 

When we got there with all our stuff,  5 guitars, banjo, keyboard, drums, bass guitar, bouzouki, sound equipment, mikes, amps, monitors, we got to survey the scene.  The audience was scattered about the park and some chairs were set up in front of where we were going to play.  Yvon set his drums up right in front of the basketball hoop.   We had lots of room to spread out, and we did.    

So when we were ready, we played.  The set went quite well.  No basket balls.  some people were dancing at bit, and Wanda took lots of pictures.   We made a few mistakes, but we are getting so much better at covering those little errors up.   I must say, our vocal arrangements are improving all the time, and other than my vocal limitations, I think it sounded OK.  We ain't going to ever win a singing contest, but at least there's improvement.  

Set list:

  • Six Days on the road  (Dave Dudley Cover Song)
  • Sitting Here ( a Magpies Original)
  • Take another Road (Jimmy Buffett Cover Song)
  • Stand by Me (Ben King Cover Song)
  • Johnson Browne (a Magpies Original)
  • The Letter (Box Tops Cover Song)
  • Black Room (a Magpies Original)
  • Clouds of Alberta (a Magpies Original)
  • Pirate over 40 (Jimmy Buffett Cover Song)
  • My Dream Automoblile (A Magpies Original)
  • Dead Flowers (a Rolling Stones Cover)
  • Ain't Going Nowhere (a Bob Dylan Cover)
  • Lonely Train (a Magpies Original)
So we finished playing.  No disasters.  No broken instruments.  People had fun.  We had fun.  It was a good day.  


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Broadway Street and the Ryman Theater

What a day.  Yesterday was a day of meetings and our Board banquet, so we didn't get out and about.   Today our board meetings ended at noon.  I rented a car and three of us headed to downtown Nashville.  We really had no idea what to expect.  We knew we wanted to see the Ryman theater - the "Church of Country music". 

We got to Broadway, found a spot to park.   Bars, bars, souvenir shops, and record stores.  We saw the sign on Earnest Tubbs Record Store and knew we had to go there.  His record store is in a old building that pre-dates the Civil war.  Apparently in the Civil War it was a hospital.  All along the walls, there are rows of pictures (with signatures) of the who's who in Country music.  Very special place.  Of course, now it is lined with CD's for sale instead of the vinyls. 

Along the street you constantly hear music coming out of the bars and grills.  Every now and then someone will try to draw you in.   One spot we went in, one of the band members came after us to come back in when we left.  One place had chicken wire.   To make a long story short,  Wanda and I wandered around a bit later in the evening on our own and stepped in to give a listen to some of the music.  One place had a 4 piece group playing some rockabilly music.  When we went in they were playing Johny Cash's Folsom Prism (rockabilly version).  The place was jumping.  They had this guy playing double bass who was the most incredible double bass player you'll find anywhere.  He broke into a bass solo that brought the house down.  You see that kind of stuff all along the street.  

The highlight of the day though was our visit to the Old Ryman Theater and a back stage tour.   Got to go into the dressing rooms, but no picture.  Heard the history of the Ryman and its near death a couple of times and about its restoration by the Gaylord properties (who own the new grand ole opry theater).  Apparently Emmy Lou Harris was its saviour because it sat unused for 20 some years and she wanted to do a show there - and did.  That brought the interest in restoring the Ryman back to its glory and its future protected as a historic site.  

So at the end of the tour, you can get up on the Ryman stage, look out into the theater and play a song.  An older fellow and a woman got up there just before me and did a version of one of my favourite songs "In the Summer Time".   The acoustics are so great, the sound just carries.  She started singing and the everyone wandering around the theater stopped in their tracks to listen and gave her a great applause when they finished.  That's a tough song to do and she did it proud.   I have no idea who she is.  

So then my turn.  Its the Ryman..  You can't help but stand their and think of all the great artists who stood in that same spot.  Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Little Jimmy Dickens,  Earnest Tubbs,  Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Elvis,  and on and on and on.   My fingers went like butter and I couldn't play a thing.  I played "Sitting Here" - got through it, but I didn't sing it.  Too Chicken I guess.  But I actually got up and played a guitar on the Ryman theater stage.  How frickin' cool is that.  






Saturday, August 20, 2011

Grand Ole Opry

Here I am in Nashville.  A work trip.   I was supposed to work at the Edmonton Blues Fest this weekend too.  But a chance to go to Nashville.  Common.  What would you choose? 

Interesting trip down. Flew from Edmonton to Houston to Nashville.  40 minutes on the ground in Houston to get to the plane to Nashville.  In the air, the airport change the gate for the plane from Edmonton.  It was supposed to be close to our next plane, but they change to the farthest point and 3 terminals away from our boarding gat to Nashville.  On the plane they called for us and told us that we had a very short time to get to our plane.  At first the steward told us that no planes are flying to Nashville and we'd have to go to Memphis and rent a car.  That didn't sound so bad.  I could go see the old Sun Studio.   Anyway, he was pulling our leg.  Basically, they told us how to get to our next gate quickly.

Seeing that gate B67  was in two buildings away from Gate E12, we had to take the train.  40 minutes.  the plane pulls up to gate E12 - they can't get the unloading bridge to work, so we stuck on the plane.  time is slipping away.  they get the bridge working and we finally get off the plane.  We walk fast.  get directions to the train.  Catch the train to terminal B.  then its a long walk to gate B67.  Just happens to be the farthest away from the train terminal.  this is a big airport for a small town boy.  We get to gate B67 and they are just finishing boarding the plane.  Just made it.  

So we are now in Nashville.  It is hot and humid - at least for our comfort.  Nashvillians say it is a nice day.  We get to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.  this is a huge complex.  Attriums all over the place.  Restaurants, bars, shops and thousands of rooms.   This is where our SWANA convention is.   And it is also where the Grand Ole Opry is.  But you got to bus across the resort lands to get to it. 

I got tickets for Friday night Grand Ole Opry about 2 months ago.  We picked up our tickets and took the bus over.   It wasn't on the web page, but Vince Gill was going to be there.  There was a lot of old country stars - and I mean old.  2nd set, out walks  Little Jimmy Dickens.  He's a funny funny man.   90 years old and about 4 foot 6.   I had to get photos.  

One thing about the Grand Ole Opry,  they encourage you to come up to the edge of the stage and take photos.  No videos though, but with all the technology today, how would they know.  I don't have video on my camera anyway. 

Anyway, I took advantage of the opportunity.  Here's a few shots that I took.

Little Jimmy Dickens

Vince Gill

Exile

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Playing and Performing

Last night we went to Little Flower Open Stage.  We hadn't been there since before Christmas.  Getting to Fiddlers Roost (an odd name for a club that is in the basement of a commercial building) right now is a challenging task. The usual route across the North Saskatchewan River that runs through Edmonton is under construction, so I have to go way west or way east to get there.  The same road in front of Fiddlers roost is closed too.  that means you have to find you way down the side streets and miraculously find a parking spot. I lucked out on that one and only had to walk a long block and a half. 

I took my guitar and Banjo and we had planned earlier in the day to play My Dream Automobile, Two Feet in the Water, and Clouds of Alberta.   Normally, we'd play these songs in this order, but I'll tell you later what we did.

Before I tell you about the performance, let me tell you about the few hours before the Little Flower Open Stage.  I decided to sneak out of work earlier than usual to get some grooming.  Yeah, my hair was getting a bit long and strangly, and I figured I should try to look at least neat if not short.   So off I went.  got my hair looked after, went to pay the lady, and no wallet. no money.  I phoned home and luckily Wanda was on the way to work and was going right by, so she stopped in to pay the bill. that took 20 minutes out of my day.  So then I went back to my office,  30 or 40 minute drive in rush hour, to get my wallet. Of course I worried all the way there that I wouldn't find it.   After all I was leaving for Nashville in two days and without credit cards I'd be screwed, and replacing them in one day would be highly unlikely.   Luckily it was there.  But on the way, I got a work call that ended up taking more of my time.

I still had to get home, get my stuff and find my way through the alternate routes across the North Sask to get to Fiddlers Roost.  Hadn't eaten yet, so grabbed a burger at Rotten Ronnies and headed home.  Got home, packed my stuff, and off I went.  I decided to go across the High Level Bridge and then down Saskatchewan drive. That would take me right in behind the area where Fiddlers roost lies.    Great idea, until I got across the bridge and found myself in the wrong lane and ended up going right back down a 1-way into the river valley instead.  this meant I had to loop around to get back over the High Level Bridge again.  I convinced myself not to make that same mistake again, and I didn't.  So I eventually got to Fiddlers Roost. 

Bored yet?  

So at the Little Flower Open Stage.  Now there wasn't a lot of people there, but they were filtering in.  Even with all the trials I went through, I still got there before Don and Brian.   So when our name came up on the list, we headed up to the stage. Breezy, said hold on, Amanda wants to go up.  We got bumped for Amanda.  Well, that was OK, we'd be next.  

Well.  We decided to play the songs in a different order than our normal routine.  We played Clouds of Alberta first.  that's the song that is an aggressive tempo with me on banjo, Brian on bass, and Don on Guitar.  I said to Brian before we started ' this should be interesting, my fingers feel like lead tubes tonight'.  And that's exactly how I played too.  First part of the song, I was off tempo, and got off the song.  I got into the song on the second verse, but lost my place a couple of times later in the song.  Was able to quickly recover though. 

Then we did My Dream Automobile.  This is one of those folksy easy going songs.  I'm on guitar, Brian on Bass, Don on the piano.  We started off.  Brian counts us in.  Brian's on, I'm playing the right chords, but I didn't recognize what I was playing.  Don's trying to figure out what I'm doing so he's off.  We just kept playing until I got the right song going and we all got on the same grove.  Then the song went good.   As Brian said, the harmonies sounded great.  I wasn't very proud of my vocals between the harmony parts though.  So we had a disaster start, but we got on track and got thru the song. 

Last song.  "Finally" I'm thinking.  This should go well. I play the song Two Feet in the Water all the time. I'm on guitar, Brian still on bass, and Don is now on bouzouki.   No problem here.  yeah right.  We start playing.  It sounds like hell.  I start the vocals, and it was so far off.   Brian smiles, asks me this "Do you want to play this in the Key of A".   You see, I usually play this with a capo on second fret, but I forgot to use the capo and was playing in Key of G.   So what can you do? People are watching.  You just smile, say oops, grab the capo, and start again.  Rest of the song went OK.  I still wasn't happy with my vocals and I missed a couple of lines, but we got thru and were done for the night. 

So lessons learned from last night:

Focus.  learn to focus for performing.  I haven't been doing a very good job of that lately.  Last night I felt pretty ho-hum about playing.  that's not a good attitude.  As Don has said many times, we are not just playing music, we are putting on a show.  Can't do that well without focus.  Seems that my focus is better when I have a little nervous energy. 

Pre-show warm up:    Usually when we do a performance, I run through the songs at home before I go.  So you know the story of my few hours before getting to little flower. I didn't do my usual run through the songs.   That is really just an excuse, it is not a good reason not to warm up.  I could have done that in the backroom by the exit stairs before going up to play.  I think that warming up gives me a little bit of that nervous energy too. 

Learn to sing;   You already knew that. 

Write another song: Why not?

And Lastly.      ONE MORE SLEEP!!!!!!!!.    Then I'm off to Nashville.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Thunder Rolls" - Another New Song

I've started playing around with a new tune during the folk festival.  Must have got some inspiration from somewhere.  Perhaps it was from the rain on Saturday night, or perhaps it was from the players at the festival.  More likely the latter. 

The new tune is called "Thunder Rolls".  it uses a muted G and C chord throughout to give it a sound of pending drama.  The drama of course is lightning, thunder, and rain.  Lyrically, it isn't a great piece of work, so I don't consider it a complete work.  This may take some time.  I do have lyrics, but they are not what I hope them to be when I'm finished. 

I won't post a sound track of the song until I'm finished and feeling secure about it.  Till then, this is just another song on the pile.   Can't wait to hear what Don and Brian will do with this. 

Edmonton Folk Music Festival

John Rutherford, Mighty Popo, Des Temps Antan, Deep Dark Woods

This girl is with Alpha Yaya Diallo and it is amazing to watch her dance

Tim Robbins


This year I became a newbie volunteer for the Edmonton Folk Fest.  This was the 31st year for the festival and it has grown into one of the best in the world.  Word is the musicians love the festival and want to come here.     Check the web page to see the line up http://www.edmontonfolkfest.org/


One of the great things about this festival is the location.  it is on a ski hill in the City's river valley.  14,000 paying customers cover the site.   Over 2,000 people volunteer to make the festival happen.  Janiva Magness was very thankful to the amazing organization that happens every year and the wonderful job done by the volunteers.  I agree.  Seeing it from the inside this year, it is amazing. 



The crowd that goes to the folk fest are a very seasoned crowd.  They know the music.  They know the routine.  They come prepared for anything.    As can be expected in Edmonton, the weather can change in an hour, so you need to be ready for anything.  Saturday night was no exception.  In the middle of the evening main stage show, there was a deluge of rain.    It is quite a sight to see all the rain gear come out and change the landscape on the hill within seconds.  No one left. It could have rained all night. They would still be there. 

My job was driving shuttle vans for volunteers and performers.   I did drive a few of the performers.  The biggest name that I delivered to the site is Tim Robbins and his band. You know Tim Robbins from the movies - Bull Duram and Shawshank Redemption.  Shawshank is one of my all time favourite movies, so to have one of the stars in that movie in my van, sitting beside me.  Very very cool.  But then he didn't say hi, ask how's it goin, nor did he even say thanks.  I didn't think it was my place to be intrusive either.  so it was a quiet ride.   Many of the other performers did talk along the ride and were very friendly and appreciative for the ride.  But then, they weren't big movie stars either.  they are working musicians and nice people. 

The festival has 7 stages.  6 side stages and the main stage.   During the day, all 6 side stages are active and picking which one to go to is quite difficult.  there is good stuff happening at them all.   Here's a few photos of the performers I did get to see. 


Janiva Magness

Guy Clark
Mary Gautier

At the end of each night the music doesn't stop.  The volunteers and performers head to the after party.  It ends some time after 4 am.  That's when I left.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What songs do you like best?

Over the past few months I've posted a few of the songs I've written.  Also since I started this blog, it has had over 1200 hits.  I don't know if anyone is actually reading it or not, nor if they are listening to the songs that I've posted. 

One way to find out is to include a survey of what songs that I've posted on this blog do you like best. 

Please take the time to complete the survey.   I set it up so that you can mark more than one song if you like.  That takes the pressure off.  

Of course you might notice that I didn't include "none of the above".  I had to think that you'd like at least one of these songs, and I really didn't want to damage my fragile ego by giving you that choice. 

Sittin' Here

We've been doing this song for about 3 years now, and it's the song we got some airplay on CJSR in advance of the Hearth of the City Festival.  In an earlier posting, I included a live version that we did at the HOTC Festival in 2010.  That recording was a bit noisy as it was done on my Zoom H2 that we set up in front of the stage, so there's a lot of outside noise.  

We did another recording of this song a while back when Yvon was drumming for us and doing backing vocals on a few of our tunes.  So on this version I've included here, you'll hear Yvon on drums and backing voices - Brian on a short-scale Fender bass,   Don in playing the mandolin, and I'm playing my Tachimine and doing lead vocals. This is the version that got the air play on CJSR.  

video

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jimmy's Idiom Song

videoLast June, I posted this song under 'Clever Songs".   I've been working on this for a while, trying to find a more appropriate key.  Today was a nice warm sunny day, one of the first I think on a week-end this summer.  I decided to sit out under the gazebo with my guitar and song book.  I started playing around with Jimmy's Idiom Song in the Key of A.   I liked it, so I got out the zoom H2 and recorded it to hear how it sounded.  This is played on my Blueridge guitar.   Have a listen. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Queen of New Orleans

I haven't been too productive on the song writing side of things for a wee bit.  A couple of songs I've done lately are just songs.  Nothing that I particularly liked, but I finished them anyway.  I've been playing around with some music though, so I've got a few things in the works.   As often happens with me, I start playing around with a piece of music, but I just can't seem to find a topic where the lyrics flow.  Then out of the blue, a phrase or two will hit me.  

A couple of weeks ago, I had this piece of music that I really liked.  Not complicated, just a nice flow.  Last Saturday I traveled out to BC to visit with some home town friends.  The night before I was playing around with this tune and a simple phrase just stuck with me.   "I left my home in Texas,  I found my heart in New Orleans".   It didn't go anywhere until Sunday.   Sunday afternoon, my friends decided to go golfing.  I purposely didn't take my clubs with me - not much into golf these days.  So while they were out, it was quiet, and I had a couple of hours.  By the time they got back, I had most of the song done.  I played it for them, and they seemed to like what I had done.  

Monday morning I left for the 7 hour drive home.  Figured I'd turn it into a 12 hour drive.  I stopped a few spots along the way to take some photos (another hobby) of Mount Robson, some water fall photos, and a few of some river rafting,  Somewhere between Mount Robson and Jasper, I stopped off at a nearly vacant campground to have a bite to eat.   I pulled out my guitar and finished the song.  

The song is called "Queen of New Orleans".   Its about a cowboy from west Texas who gives up the cowboy life to follow his dream.  He leaves his home in Texas for a boat called the "Queen of New Orleans".  

videoI figured that I should record it so I didn't forget how it went.  I remembered that my laptop has a built in camera and some video software.  So I got a recording of the song.   The video quality is good, but the sound is poor.  Guess they make better cameras than microphones for lap top computers.    

I redid the song at home on my zoom.  I play this on my Blueridge guitar because it has the volume unplugged that I don't get with my Takamine.  Have a listen. Hope you like my cowboy turns sailor song. 



Have a look.  Hope you like it. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Little Flower Fest

The Little Flowerfest is called "The best micro-music festival ever".  It's 'not a paying gig', but it sure is a fun gig.  I am always amazed at the talent that comes out to play for fun.  The 6th annual Little Flowerfest was held this past weekend.  This is the 3rd time we have played there.  Didn't make it last year because two many of us were on vacation and out of town.  The whole thing is organized by Breezy Brian Greg and Patsy Amico. 

The festival starts on Friday night and goes through to Sunday.  You can camp out over the weekend or come and go as you please.   Saturday starts off with "the Hike to the End of the World Concert".  This year we got led through the forest by a bagpipe and at the end, we were truly entertained by the Sawhorse Symphony.  

After the hike back, the main stage show began.  After the first great four performances, we finally got to do our thing.  Again, we showed up with a few more instruments, but this time we decided to travel light and only bring 1 keyboard, the bouzouki, Brian's bass, my banjo, and 2 six string guitars.   Don and Brian weren't playing guitars at the same time, so they shared Don's.  

Our set list:
  • Black Room
  • Earnest and Lucy
  • Road to Nowhere
  • Green Valley Monsters
  • Clouds of Alberta
We left out Blueberry Pie, but had it in hand.  We figured we'd be doing good to get in 5 songs considering the set up and sound check within 30 minute time slot,  We did good.  

We had a good set.  First song had a rough spot in the middle, but I don't think anyone noticed but us (nerves maybe).  Next 4 songs went great.  I think we did the best live version of Road to Nowhere that we have ever done.  I thought Green Valley Monsters went almost flawlessly too. 

Now on to Clouds of Alberta.  Cloud really rocks out, but we folk up the rock with the banjo.  Song was going well, but as soon as Don hit into it, he broke a string (again).   His guitar went out of tune when the string snapped, my banjo had one string that was off just a bit, and Brian says one of his bass strings went out.  We think the hot sun was at play.   We kept going anyway.  After such a good set, it was kind of an unfortunate set of circumstances, but interestingly enough, no one seem to notice.  I'm sure the musicians in the crowd noticed. 

After all was said and done, we had several people come and tell us they enjoyed our set. One fellow said our lyrics were 'brilliant'.  I told him that we call our music 'clever'.  He liked that. 

After the set a couple more players got up, then it was time for the pot luck supper - a Little Flowerfest tradition.  Again, this was a treat.  lots of variety and volume.  No one goes hungry here. 

Brian left early.  Wanda, her mom, sister and the kids left early too.  Don and Linda stuck around for a while, I stayed on until about 10 pm.  I would have liked to stick around for the fireside jam,  I could have camped out, but I didn't take my camp stuff because we are having a mosquito state of disaster.  Wasn't as bad out there and it is in the City.  Go figure.