This blog is the outgrowth of a songwriting workshop I conducted at the 2006 "Moograss" Bluegrass Festival in Tillamook, Oregon. It presumes that after 30-odd years of writing and playing music, I might have something to contribute that others might take advantage of. If not, it may be at least a record of an entertaining journey, and a list of mistakes others may be able to avoid repeating. This blog is intended to be updated weekly. In addition to discussions about WRITING, it will discuss PROMOTION--perhaps the biggest challenge for a writer today--as well as provide UPDATES on continuing PROJECTS, dates and venues for CONCERTS as they happen, how and where to get THE LATEST CD, the LINKS to sites where LATEST SONGS are posted, and a way to E-MAIL ME if you've a mind to. Not all these features will show up right away. Like songwriting itself, this is a work in progress. What isn't here now will be here eventually. Thank you for your interest and your support.

Monday, May 31, 2010


I am, I think, relatively satisfied with “Song for Charity (and Faith, and Hope).” It was a fairly rushed job, to get it out of my head, but I have to approach these things professionally under any conditions. So the lyrics were as well polished as possible, and sung to myself for two or three days while the song was developing, and not written down until close to the end (by then, I had everything almost memorized). Brief peer review, because I was in a hurry; after I’d gotten comments from three people who said they liked it (and didn’t suggest any changes), and one who asked, “You’re not really going to perform this in public, are you?” I figured it was as good as it was going to get, and recorded it. (The link is http://www.soundclick.com/share?songid=9214240.)

And recording was a relatively quick and simple process. It does help to be familiar with the equipment (and I was—I had musicated three songs just this week). So the rhythm guitar and bass and vocal were done in one take, and the lead (on the Strat, so I could take advantage of that long, long neck and play way up on the frets) in two takes. And it’s okay. I almost sound like I know what I’m doing.

I half expect the Coventry writers’ group will like it; I’m also certain it’s not going to get performed on stage, or played on the radio, there or anywhere else. At best, it can get added to the list of songs for the “12 Reasons Why Joe Is Going to Hell” album (that means I have six now, I think). If I can generate a more tasteful song for the Bedworth Folk Festival by the middle of June, I will.

I did a quick check, and I have written 5 decent songs in the past 5 months, so I am on schedule, as it were; I have “Last Song of the Highwayman” (February), “The Dead Sweethearts Polka” (March), “In the Shadows, I’ll Be Watching You” (April), and both “Angel in Chains” and “Song for Charity (and Faith, and Hope)” in May. The last four are the result of Coventry writers’ group challenges, so the group have definitely been good for me. I think I’ll stop considering “Up in Heaven, the Angels Play Music” (February) as a “keeper”; I’m not as happy with it as I am with the others.

I’ve also done 4 musications: one in January for Stan Good (“Take-Out Food”), and three in May—two for Skip Johnson (“Dust on the Moon” and “Young Donohue”) and one for Glynda Duncan and her daughter Sherri (“One Lonely Night Closer to Gone”). May was apparently a very productive month, for some reason.

And next? I don’t perceive any lyrics crying to be let out, so that means I’ll go search for something to musicate. There’s plenty of material out there, that I’ve tried not to read while I was working on other things; I can do it now. There are even some people who have asked (and I like being in demand).

What I don’t have is gigs. I think that’s because I haven’t solicited any, and the obvious answer is I should go do that. I have Roland’s phone number now, and maybe he’d like to do something together.

Elsewhere, the Southern Oregon Songwriters’ June newsletter is done (6 pages this time, because of a huge article from songwriting teacher Wayne Cohen), and I have my topics for this week’s column for the newspaper, and I’ve engaged in a little futile activity by answering a couple of “musician wanted” ads on craigslist (and will engage in further futile activity by applying for some more jobs). I think I get to play music this week Wednesday afternoon (at the Pub), Wednesday evening (at the music store), Friday night (at City Hall), Saturday afternoon (at the library), and Saturday night (at an open mike at the Arts Center). Lots of activity, but no money.


Friday, May 28, 2010


Glyn and Sherri’s “One Lonely Night Closer to Gone” is done. I’m actually pretty happy with the way it turned out—but I still shouldn’t be the one singing it, not with a line like “How far gone do I have to be/Before you know you were my man?” Unless I want to add it to the “play this in gay bars” list. I could have fun with having a whole set’s worth of songs about wanting guys, and missing guys, and breaking up with guys—all sung by me… And I believe I know a gay bar in Portland that still has an open mike. Link (to the song, not the gay bar) is http://www.soundclick.com/share?songid=9197120.

Skip Johnson’s “Young Donohue” is musicated, too. Tried to record it with a banjo lead (since it’s a murder-on-the-Oregon-Trail song, banjo seemed appropriate)—but I am simply not good enough on the banjo. Substituted a guitar lead instead (and found it was hard to play the guitar that fast). Music for the verses recalls my own song “Dead Fishes”—very fast bluegrass, albeit in a different key—but the chorus is a lot different. I hope that’s enough. Link is http://www.soundclick.com/share?songid=9193797. Two songs in one day. I wish I was getting paid for this.

So why do I consider these good songs? My standards for stuff I want to musicate are pretty high; I don’t do a lot of these—a dozen or so a year—and usually they’re songs by lyricists I’m pretty familiar with, whose work is consistently good. I’m not above tweaking something if it’s quick and easy and obviously will make the product better—but I’m not interested in re-writing people’s stuff. (And I didn’t have to in these cases, either.) I’ve done a couple of Skip’s songs before, but never one of Glyn’s (she has written a couple of real gems, though). And both of these follow the Wrabek’s Rule: either be saying something new, or something old in a new way. They were fun to do.

A couple of wrinkles from the Coventry writers’ group. They’d like all the songs written for the Bedworth Folk Festival (the “Songs for Charity”) to be written with what they’re calling “the money chords”—C, Am, F, and G (or in Nashville parlance, since we can use any key, I, VIm, IV, and V). Those were the first four chords I learned on the guitar; my friend David told me with those four chords, I could play half the rock ‘n’ roll songs ever written, and he was right (but they’re the half written before 1962). Of course, this is a folk festival we’re writing for, so I may want to rearrange the chords slightly, so they don’t sound quite so “rock-y.” That’s doable; “Cuddle in the Darkness” also uses those chords, and it’s a pretty obvious two-step.

The other requirement is more difficult. The songs, I’m told, should be commercial enough or have enough “mass market appeal” to sell copies, and be played on the radio. I doubt that’s doable for my material in general, and certainly not for the “Song for Charity” I was working on—that one’s coming out much too risque. (It’s probably a throwaway—but it’s got a verse and chorus now, so I might as well finish it.)

I remembered I did enter one other contest—it was a casting call for a supposed new TV series, “Please Don’t Stop the Music.” That was the one I had wondered about, because it didn’t list a deadline (those were also the people who said they didn’t want any “singer/songwriters,” only “songwriters”)—but the ad was on craigslist, and I don’t give ads on craigslist a lot of credence. I’m still tempted to answer some—like the one from the country singer (and songwriter) looking for a guitarist able to travel around a bit, because she’s got gigs in, like, Vegas. Her material is not bad—and I think I could play most of it.


Monday, May 24, 2010


I was asked whether I blog. Well, I have a blog. Is it a noun or a verb? Or both? A “nerb,” perhaps? Language has gotten funky in the digital-and-text-messaging age, and I do worry about it; the Romans felt the decline in Latin grammar (beginning around 100 A.D.) was a signal of the death of civilization (and they were right—it happened just 400 years later).

I began “The Writer’s Blog” 3-1/2 years ago, I think, after teaching a seminar on songwriting at the “Moograss” Bluegrass Festival. (Teaching songwriting to musicians who only play traditional material should be an exercise in futility—but the seminar was surprisingly well attended.) Guessing—correctly, as it turned out—that they’d be asking me to do it again, I figured I’d better organize my thoughts. Accordingly, the blog is—or is supposed to be—about SONGWRITING.

(It’s called “The Writer’s Blog” because I like puns—though I’ll never use a double entendre if I can think of a triple one—and the URL, http://nakedspacehamsters.blogspot.com, is because I got given the domain name nakedspacehamsters.com (which I never did use) as a birthday present that year by the late Sharma Kay—memorializing the famous bluegrass song, of course.)

I said at the outset I’d be describing a journey—a journey hopefully to success as a songwriter—and hoped that between the good, the bad, and the ugly, somebody might be able to take advantage of what I’d done (or not done). So the blog talks about promotion, too, and performance, and some other things not necessarily related to writing, but related to being successful at it. These days, the aspiring writer has to be a jack (or jill) of all trades—one’s own manager, booking agent, promoter, performing artist, graphic designer, record producer, and sometimes sound engineer—whether one is good at those things or not. Unless one has an outside source of money (I sure don’t), one can’t afford to hire any of that stuff out until one has become good enough at all of it to be making enough money to hire some of it out. It’s a horrible Catch-22.

I’d heard somewhere one needed to have Goals—so I started with a set of New Year’s resolutions, that sort of grew a Five-Year Plan. I do a “reality check” midway through the year, to see how well I’m progressing, and a check close to the end of the year on how well or poorly I did. In the same vein, I always do post-mortems on performances, whether they be solo or with the band. What did we do right? What wrong? What could be done better? How? And how did what we did move us further down the track toward the goal?

How many people read the blog? Who knows? This Internet stuff is very “I shot an arrow into the air” material; I know some people read it, because they’ve told me so, but I never figured there was enough readership worth “monetizing” over. (“Monetizing,” as I understand it, consists of letting somebody run ads on your blog and pay you money for it.) For me, it’s been an exercise in discipline—writing for space, and writing for deadline, two skills I do not want to have atrophy during my ongoing unemployment. So each issue of the blog is about the same length as the first one was, and there’s at least one (usually more than one) a week. I try to have each issue deal with complete subjects (I’m not always successful at that). And I try to transfer all that into the writing of songs.

On the writing front, Glynda Duncan and her daughter Sherri have written a song I want to musicate, “One Lonely Night Closer to Gone,” one of those good old country heartbreakers that’ll have the women crying and the men running off to buy flowers. It’d be really neat if Polly Hager could sing it. And the Coventry writers’ group wants songs for a folk festival that’s being put on for charity—that’s right, “a song for charity.” I’ve never written a song for anyone named Charity. Maybe it’s time…



I got invited by a comedian I know to a reading of a book called “The Fake War.” The reading will be fake, too—it’s not actually going to take place. (I’m not sure whether the book really exists, either. Like the war it supposedly describes, it, too, may be fake.) So of course I agreed to “attend.” I don’t have to travel anywhere.

Wherewith, an idea. Sometime this fall—fingers crossed and hands folded—the Southern Pigfish album will be released. And the band, as an increasing number of people know, does not exist (even though “Deathgrass” plays their best-known song every concert, and always gives them credit). And it is traditional to have a CD release party. Why not have a CD release party that doesn’t exist? (We could even advertise it that way.)

The album will exist, of course, and even though Southern Pigfish probably could care less whether it sells (why should they? they don’t exist), I do care, being the author of the songs and probably the architect of the music videos, and all. Still, it would be fun to add to the unreality of the situation by advertising the album for sale through some fictional retail outlets. The album by the band that doesn’t exist, for sale at stores that don’t exist… I like that. Or… perhaps some of those little pockets of fans in various locations around the globe would be willing to nominate local retail outlets that would not be interested in carrying the album—and I could send them nice, eye-catching posters announcing “The Southern Pigfish Album Is Not For Sale Here. This Store Has Standards.” Something like that.

Both “Angel in Chains” and “The Dead Sweethearts Polka” are probably inclusions for the Southern Pigfish album—because of their outrageousness (one about a suicide, the other about a serial killer), not their political content. (However, there’s plenty of political content on the rest of the album.) I did get to play “The Dead Sweethearts Polka” at the Library Saturday—I announced that I had to, since we had an accordion player present. And the accordion player did say afterwards that she liked it—though she also asked, “Don’t you ever write about things that are alive?”

I musicated “Dust on the Moon,” an anti-Darwinist anthem by Rev. Skip Johnson. The song recalls that rather surreal number by Gem Watson, “Global Warming Sandwich,” that I musicated and recorded a couple of years ago; “Dust on the Moon” is pretty obviously ragtime, very fast and danceable. The original, with five long verses and four long choruses, came in at almost six minutes, but Skip subsequently cut it down, taking a verse and a chorus out, and I think the result (4-1/2 minutes, with a lead break) is about perfect. I do need to do more of this, so I stay familiar with the Tascam and its limitations.

I think I’ve done my contests for the year, unless an opportunity I can’t refuse surfaces, and it doesn’t look like I have any winners. The two songs (one of mine, and one of Stan Good’s) entered in the MerleFest were rejected; I was pretty sure that was going to happen when I found out Nashville professionals were doing the filtering. I sent “Duct Tape” off to an outfit putting on a song contest to raise money for Nashville flood relief; I don’t really care whether I win that one—it was basically an excuse to donate twenty bucks to the cause.

And I entered “Me and Rufus, and Burnin’ Down the House” in a music video contest put on by a fledgling outfit called “SmashTune”; $1,000 prize possible there (and there was no entry fee), but winning is dependent on votes from fans, and as noted earlier, I just don’t have that many fans. At this writing, “Rufus” is ranked #34, so somebody likes it—and at least it’s not at the bottom.


Friday, May 21, 2010


A surprise—I’ve actually had a song written about me! It’s by Katherine Fear, one of the Coventry songwriters over in England, and it’s called “Everybody Wants to Meet Joe.” The link (on the Coventry group’s Soundclick site) is http://www.soundclick.com/share?songid=9172949. They say when one of them makes it big in the music business, they’re all going to come to the U.S. and visit me. That’s sweet. I’d really like to go to England and visit them. And I could almost afford it—but I’d be arriving back in the States with no money at all, and this is not a good economy to have zero money in.

Interesting, that I appear to have little pockets of fans in various places around the globe. The operative word, though, is “little.” How do I go about making those bigger?

Can one find an odd niche and exploit it? I know of one Portland songwriter, Eric John Kaiser, who’s making a name for himself on the Portland burlesque circuit; he speaks French, and has written a number of songs in French, and I guess French just sounds sexy, y’know? Might I have a like niche in comedy?

Most of the songs I’ve written on my own are humorous (though often darkly so); co-writes aside (those, with lyrics written by others, do tend to have serious subject matter), I believe I only have five serious songs out of maybe five hours’ worth of performable material written over 30-plus years. Portland, thanks to comic Whitney Streed and a few others, is becoming kind of a hotbed of standup comedy, and I guess you could call what I do standup comedy (at least, I am usually standing up when I play)—I am just hiding behind a guitar instead of being naked-like at a microphone.

I might be able to get a foot in the door, going to a couple of the standup comedy open mikes. Hitch is, I have to go to Portland to do it—in fact, I would probably have to make a continuing investment in trips to Portland once a week; otherwise, I risk being just the proverbial flash in the pan that people will forget. I am just paranoid about spending money at all these days without an expectation of immediate return—I can’t afford it. I did answer an ad on craigslist, from a booking agent looking for a quick replacement this weekend for a standup comic who’d bailed out on him (and that gig would have more than paid for the gas)—but the dude never responded (typical for craigslist). I presume he did find someone, and it wasn’t me.

Locally, the 2nd Street Public Market in Tillamook (whose opening has been delayed again—it’s now tentatively set for early June) wants a recording of Deathgrass for their 14-member Board to review; that’s an important sales item I really need to get together. Even if we only had three or four songs “in the can,” it’d be an EP we could hand folks like that. It’d also be a freebie we could give a few copies of away at performances to build up interest in the album (which still needs to come out in September)—and to expand the “joelist.” The fan base has to get built one person at a time.

UPDATES: The Food Pantry benefit concert probably can’t take place before July, because John has too much work at City Hall; the Dance Floor at City Hall should still be available for the third Saturday in July (7/17), and maybe by then drummer Chris will have his strength back. I’m not sure—yet—about the availability of Mike and Doc. I believe the Lions Club wants Deathgrass to perform at Garibaldi Days (fourth Saturday in July, 7/24)—and the Bay City Centennial folks say they want us for the Sunday of Labor Day weekend (and it will be unpaid—they say they have no money).

Five more jobs to apply for; that’ll make 11 this week (I’m not sure where all the vacancies came from), and I’ve already received rejection e-mails back from two of them (on the one hand, the Internet makes it possible to apply for jobs quickly, but on the other, it enables rejection to be equally as fast). Music Saturday at the Library (the Civil War people apparently bailed), and next Wednesday is another jam session at the music store (and they specifically invited me, so I’ll go). One fan at a time…


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Bryan Marvis (THS speech coach) has written a screenplay with his sister—nice, post-Apocalypse thing that would make a good movie—and would like to do a reading at the Arts Center. I think it could be pulled off, though I’ve never done one of those things before. I envision something that comes a little close to an actual play, with about 12 actors and actresses playing (reading) all the roles and some quick costume changes to keep the audience focused (since the play takes place in four different locations around the world). A casting call, and about 2 practices, I’d think. There would be a free week in June at the Arts Center to work on this. We’ll see what the Board thinks.

From the graphic-design end, I have a summer calendar to finish for the Arts Center (almost done), and a newsletter to design for them, too, modeled after the monthly Southern Oregon Songwriters newsletter (of which I have another issue coming up, and no copy yet). Designed business cards for the cast of TAPA’s “Sex Please, We’re Sixty,” and those all came out pretty good; I think (and hope) the cast will be handing those out in quantity to promote the play (and maybe I’ll get some business out of it). All unpaid work, of course. “Alice” the ‘puter’s hard drive is almost full now, and I’m going to have to add another one; hopefully, one of the college yard-sale hulks in the garage has a hard drive that can be re-formatted and will work—I can’t really afford to go buy one new.

Somebody started a couple of “Joe appreciation” threads at the Just Plain Folks Website, and it was an opportunity to see what other people—specifically, other writers—considered my best songs. I assume to the extent possible they should be part of performing setlists.

Top-ranked were “Rotten Candy,” “I’m Giving Mom a Dead Dog for Christmas,” and (surprise) “In the Shadows, I’ll Be Watching You,” the song about the stalker, and “The Dead Sweethearts Polka” (about the serial killer). I probably can’t perform “Wildflowers,” the Lynn Orloff bluegrass song I musicated, because it really should be sung by a girl (and it did get recorded later by Polly Hager), but it was on the “top” list, too.

They listed several I do regularly perform—“Bluebird on My Windshield,” “Dead Things in the Shower,” (co-wrote with Bobbie Gallup), which has become the band’s standard opening number, Stan Good’s “Un-Easy Street,” “Free-Range Person,” and the Southern Pigfish classic “For Their Own Ends.” Some that I apparently ought to perform more are “Crosses by the Roadside,” “Meet Me at the Stairs,” Naked Space Hamsters in Love,” “Vampire Roumanian Babies,” “The Dog’s Song,” and “When They Die, I Put Them in the Cookies.” They were all on people’s lists, too.

Christmas songs were favorites: “I Want a Man for Christmas,” “Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire” (co-wrote with daughter Kimberly), and “Even Roadkill Gets the Blues.” The band did perform the last one in our Failed Economy Christmas Show, but we’ve never done the others. “I Want a Man for Christmas” has been recorded by Polly Hager, and should really be sung by a girl—unless one is performing it in a gay bar. (I really should try that.)

And there are a few I‘m not sure what to do with: two Beth Williams songs, “Bad Sock, Good Sock” (“love, lust and loss among the footwear” I think is how we described it) and “Cast Away” (which Beth wrote for her own get-well album we did last year), one by Polly Hager, “Cougars and Cub Scouts” (which again, really should be sung by a girl), Stan Good’s “Gimme Couple Billion of Them Bailout Bucks” (which the band performed at the first Failed Economy Show), and “The Cat with the Strat” (which I have performed solo in public, but it doesn’t sound the same without all of Vikki Flawith’s nifty sound effects). All those may be “special-purpose” songs that may be hard for an audience to get without a lot of explanation.

I was surprised the list was as long as it was. Next step: incorporate as many as possible of those songs in performance setlists. One wants to play what people like.


Saturday, May 15, 2010


I think I like “Angel in Chains.” I know it could be done better—and I would like to hear it recorded by the crew of heavy-metal musicians John thinks he can assemble. (I assume I’d still be the one doing the vocals.) But as a foray into Something Completely Different, it’s not bad. (Link, by the way, is http://www.soundclick.com/share?songid=9144855. It’s also posted on ReverbNation.)

It’s not really death metal: death metal’s subject matter is, I think, more fantasy stuff—vampires, ghouls, and the like—and the subject matter of “Angel in Chains” is real. It’s about a suicide. It mimics the style of death metal—the driving rhythm guitar, subtle bass, and simple, melodic lead—though my vocal is upfront and understandable, which is rare in death metal.

Would a real metal band be interested in covering this? Probably not. It might make an interesting “crossover hit,” by somebody who doesn’t normally “do” metal, but I’m not sure anyone does things like that any more. It isn’t like the ‘70s, when a regionally famous bluegrass band, the Dodson Drifters, could do songs by the Ramones (who were a very loud, very raunchy punk-rock band, in case anyone’s forgotten) and get away with it (hey, we liked the Ramones—and I think our audiences did, too). There is a lot less risk-taking in the music industry today, with things controlled by accountant types whose main interest is a stable bottom line.

“Angel in Chains” would make a good addition to the Southern Pigfish album, however, because they wouldn’t care (how could they? the band doesn’t exist). And an opportunity, too, to show that taking risks is okay.

I think the Coventry songwriters (Jon Harrington’s group over in England) are good for my productivity. I have three songs in as many months that are directly attributable to them. (And judging from people’s reactions, they haven’t been bad songs.) The Coventry group will assign an image or catch phrase, and everybody’s supposed to write a song around it. And I try deliberately to be a little bit different, because one doesn’t want to be hackneyed—one wants either to be saying something new, or something old in a new way.

So when the Coventry folks wanted songs about a deep river, I came up with “The Dead Sweethearts Polka” (about the serial killer who puts his bodies in the river), and “in the shadows” produced “In the Shadows, I’ll Be Watching You” (about the stalker). And chains? “Angel in Chains” (about the suicide). All are subjects I probably wouldn’t have addressed on my own without provocation. Commercial? Hardly—but they are subjects that probably ought to be talked about, and music is a good way to start the discussion. Just because the Big Boys aren’t willing to take risks doesn’t mean that risks shouldn’t be taken.

UPDATES: No music at all (at least, not in the usual places) next week; the room at the Tillamook Library where we usually play on Saturdays is being taken over by a Civil War exhibit—and Bud and Elsie are still on their honeymoon, and Terry’s still on vacation, so no music in Garibaldi, either. It’d be a good opportunity to check out the live music scene somewhere else—if I felt comfortable about spending the money to travel. I don’t. Maybe I should suggest to John we try to work some on the album instead.


Friday, May 14, 2010


Spent the better part of Thursday at the Arts Center, doing the organization’s taxes (which also entailed figuring out how to do it—I’d never done a Form 990 before). I do enjoy this kind of work. I bet I could set up their financials so that it’d be easier—maybe even automatic—for me (or someone) to do this next time around. I am good at figuring out ways to make things take less time; I suppose that could be regarded as efficiency, though I’d be tempted to call it simple laziness. The result is the same: things take less time, so there’s more time to do other stuff, whatever it is.

I am not sure I’ll be able to nab us a gig at the Bay City centennial celebration. I seem to be being run around from one person to another, being told each time that yes, the band are very good, but the person I’m talking to isn’t the one in charge of entertainment, so-and-so is—but said so-and-so (who also thinks we are very good) turns out not to be in charge, either; someone completely different is. I expect I will eventually stop asking—but not yet. I have gotten used to rejection over two years of being unemployed.

It’s not like there isn’t enough to do. There’s the tentative Food Pantry benefit in June, Garibaldi Days in July, and sometime I need to arrange a “Joe Wrabek Concert” at the Bay City Arts Center, because it’s in the budget (and enough of a revenue source to warrant its own line item). That last would be a paying gig, too—and paying gigs are nice.

In August I intend to go down to southern Oregon to perform at one of the Southern Oregon Songwriters Assn.’s summer concerts (that’ll happen the same time as the Just Plain Folks “Nashville Bash,” so I won’t be going to Nashville—I couldn’t afford it, anyway). And would the Garibaldi Museum have us back? We did get paid for our performance last fall (and that was nice), but I know the Museum didn’t make any money off it—too many things happening the same night. On the other hand, the folks who were there loved it. And the two people who actually control the Museum are in opposite camps, I think: one loved us, and the other was upset about the money. I don’t know which way this’d go.

Went to my first Wednesday night jam session at the music store in Tillamook, and it wasn’t bad; most of the musicians were novices, though—I was easily the most accomplished one there (which isn’t saying a lot), and that doesn’t make it a great opportunity to learn from other people (the main reason I like to play at these things). On the distaff side, it is an opportunity for those folks to learn from me—what little I know, anyway—and they are people I didn’t know before, who are potential fans and networkers. I’ll get to sit in with them again in about two weeks (next Wednesday, I have a meeting to cover for the paper), and at that time, I suppose I can start exposing them to my stuff (having exhausted at our first session most of the covers I can sing).

“Angel in Chains,” the country death-metal song, is ready to record, I guess; I’ve been holding off, singing it to myself in virtually every odd moment, wondering if the lyrics could be improved. I like the first verse a lot better than the other two (and the chorus), but I’m not sure how much the lyrics matter in death metal. It’s the melody that carries the song, I think, and it may have a good melody—if I can manage to express it.

Music just on Saturday this week (again); it’s just as well—daughter’s going to visit (briefly), so I have a house to finish cleaning and a garage to organize. And about half a dozen jobs to apply for, too, some of which I’d really like. We will keep busy.


Sunday, May 9, 2010


Tentatively, SATURDAY, JUNE 17 will be the Deathgrass benefit concert for the Food Pantry. That’s the date we can get the Dance Floor at City Hall—provided we reserve it quickly. I am pretty sure we’ll need a “deputy drummer”—I don’t think Chris will be recovered enough to play (but I could be wrong).

This will be our third concert for the Food Pantry, and I would like to take advantage of every one of our learning experiences to date. I’d like to do this concert as a 2-hour show (again), but have refreshments in between this time. I can bake cookies, and I know a lady who bakes a mean Amish friendship bread (and cinnamon rolls to die for, too—people might come to the concert just for her goodies). One way you can prevent people leaving at the break is to give them something good to eat. Coffee, punch, and water, too. We should have a couple of assistant types manning the door, collecting food, making people sign the mailing list, and the like, so the band don’t have to do it.

I want to have either the minister dude or someone like him record the performance, and tell people, “If the technology works right, there’s going to be a live album out of this—if you want a copy, sign the Red Notebook.” We can pack the album with failed-economy songs—the 12 best performances of the 2-hour show—and announce we’ll split the net proceeds from sales (after production costs) with the Food Pantry. That should get us shelf space for a stack of records and a poster in a whole mess of local stores in the three towns served by the Garibaldi Food Pantry.

And I want to tap the Video Lady this time, too. She’s said twice she wants to film one of our benefit concerts, and the third time might be the proverbial charm. She controls (I’m not sure how or why) the public-information channel on our “local” cable TV system, which covers two counties, and the system is a primitive enough setup so anything broadcast gets broadcast to the whole two counties by default. I want this. Not only do we get to spread the benefit-concert idea (I don’t see anybody but us doing it right now) and hopefully spawn imitators, we also spread the word about ourselves—and hopefully, that turns into gigs down the road. I have suggested to Jane (the Video Lady) putting a trailer on the recording that gives the location and phone number and hours of every food bank in the 2-county territory.

Whether we could use her video footage from the concert to assemble a DVD to sell—again, as a benefit—is something I’d have to ask about. Ditto for whether we could extract any of her footage for a “live in concert” DVD of us. (The former may be more possible than the latter.) I’d like to have the “assistants” (if there are enough of them) use my cheap video camera and my old-but-good digital camera to capture some live footage of the band, too.

An idea, finally, suggested at Saturday afternoon’s performance at the Library—it wasn’t in connection with me, but it seems applicable to my material. Videotape a live performance where you film not the performer, but the AUDIENCE—so what people hear is you performing, but all they SEE is the audience’s reaction to it. That would be fun to do; my stuff usually does produce a reaction in people.

SATURDAY will once again be the only opportunity to play music in the coming week. I do have three more job applications to send out, an article (and my column) to do for the paper, and a graphic-design project to do for the Arts Center, the “Angel in Chains” song to finish, and a couple of other people’s songs to musicate. And maybe a “deputy drummer” to find. I will at least keep busy.


Thursday, May 6, 2010


Well, “Angel in Chains” has a chorus now, I think, and a possibly compelling Keith Richards-style riff (not actually original, though—I robbed it from a piece of pop music, and simply applied it to metal, which I don’t think anyone’s ever done before). I’m still not clear where the song is going. From the chorus, it sounds like the guy is leaving the girl (or girl the guy—like most of my songs, it’s gender-unspecific)—because said girl (or guy) is plumb crazy. Said girl (or guy) may even have just—finally—successfully commited suicide.

Since it’s supposed to be a death metal song, the lyrics aren’t supposed to make a lot of sense—they’re imagery, rather than coherent thoughts. (I am taking a rather large conceptual leap, I think, by allowing the chorus to be semi-coherent.) The verses, with luck, bring out that the guy (or girl) leaving has been more touched by his (or her) partner’s madness than he (or she) thinks. And wait a minute—if you commit suicide on me before I split, who left whom, anyway?

For the verses, I thus far have just lines and snatches of lines here and there—nothing I’m really happy with. It’s tempting to forget the whole idea—but that guitar riff keeps calling me back. It is hard to forget, and that alone suggests the song maybe ought to be written. I can hear how the guitar(s) should be played—though I’ve never played a guitar like that, and am not sure I can. The way I play it, it’s likely to sound country no matter what I hear in my head. If I add all or part of the Steve Goodman litany—Mother, trucks, trains, farms, prison, dead dogs and Christmas—maybe I could call it “country death metal.” The litany might at least provide a structure for the verses to follow. Right now, I don’t have one.

I discovered I’m completely out of copies of the “Santa’s Fallen” CD again. I suppose I had better get more made. This will be the seventh “pressing,” and I have expected each of the last two “pressings” would be the last. I have milked this album for 4-1/2 years, but people have continued to buy it (on a small scale, of course). If I were going to invest money, I would invest it in a new album—before my money runs out.

The fastest (if not easiest) way to do the album is to record a live performance—and I would like to be doing a live performance in June (another Failed Economy Show benefit for the Food Pantry). As noted earlier, I know a local minister who has the equipment, and says his experience is all in recording live Gospel shows, and he might be enlistable in recording this one. (If not, there are people advertising this service on Craigslist—though they charge money for it.) We record the whole show, pick the best 12 tracks, and those become the album. There’s a possibility we could do DVDs, too, if I could get our area Video Lady to film the show (she’s said twice she wants to do that). A prime consideration: will drummer Chris be recovered enough to play?

Two job applications have gone off to their respective rejection bureaux; a third is off today, and yet another is en route to me in the mail. The Census? Very, very few hours this first full week of work; I get the impression (without having anything firm to back it up) that they’re about to do a weeding-out of people they don’t want, and that I’m one of those. They haven’t called, and I’m trying to decide if I should call them (and wondering if that, too, is a test). At least, my column for the paper is done, and an article (as usual, I will have to go to the Library to see if the paper actually printed it), and I have another article to do. I do not seem to have any problem keeping busy. It’s making a living that’s challenging…


Sunday, May 2, 2010


Little old census-taker, me… Despite my (frequent) complaints, I do enjoy the work. It is money (though very little money), and it’s nice to be getting paid for doing something. It does look like I’ll have some extra time to do Census work in that I hadn’t counted on; for the next month, there won’t be music at City Hall on Friday nights, or at the Garibaldi Pub on Wednesday afternoons, because the respective organizers will be out of town. There will at least be music at the Tillamook Library on Saturdays, and I’ll do my best not to miss it.

Elsewhere, it’s been mostly the proverbial “weary blues from waiting.” Answered a few more ads on Craigslist for bands looking for guitarists (one was even a bluegrass band), but what I got was rejections citing distance (and in one case, “stylistic differences”). At least I got responses, which hasn’t happened often with Craigslist ads.

I got the entry off (finally) to the “Please Don’t Stop the Music” TV show competition; they got “Bluebird on My Windshield,” which I haven’t entered in anything before. I also ran into an outfit called “SmashTune” that was soliciting music videos for a contest; they got “Me and Rufus, and Burnin’ Down the House,” my only real music video to date. (I need to do more.) Neither contest had an entry fee, which was nice. (That makes three contests I’ve entered this year.)

On the home front, there are at least a few people asking publicly when “Deathgrass” is going to play again, and that’s nice. I have a feeling the next concert won’t be until sometime in June; that gives bass player John (who is city manager here in Garibaldi) time to finish the city budget, and with luck gives drummer Chris time to build his strength back up. (He’s going to be okay—but the near-death episode and subsequent hospital stay took a lot out of him.)

One of the things I’d like to do with money (if I ever get any) is upgrade the amplifier; the little 2-channel amp I got with the Strat is about on its last legs, and the last repair job done on it (by Sharma’s husband Sam) didn’t really help anything. It is just plain old (like me, I guess). I still have the little Austin amp ($10 at a yard sale, 15 or so years ago), and there’s nothing wrong with it—but it’s got way too raunchy a sound for vocals. Carol Ackerman’s got a little Radio Shack P.A. of Dick’s she’d like to sell—the modern version of the battery-powered P.A. the Dodson Drifters had, 30 years ago—but I’d need a speaker. (Pawn shops?) I’d be in need of a hand truck, too, to haul all the stuff around—but it’d be tempting to just turn the speaker itself into a hand truck, with wheels, handle, and brackets to hold the amp, mike stand, &c. It would be fun to build.

A P.A. (small one, please) is almost a prerequisite to doing gigs, especially solo gigs; I need something I can run both guitar and microphone through, and have a fairly clean sound. For the band, it’s not a problem—John has a good P.A.—but if I’m performing by myself, or with somebody I’ve enlisted for accompaniment (I’d still like to do something with Roland, the guitarist who’s been coming to the Pub Wednesday afternoons), I need something of my own. A lot of venues don’t have house P.A. systems, and those that do rarely have someone who knows how to run it. Two channels would be fine, because I can expand them easily—Radio Shack still makes the little battery-powered mixers (only $15), and I think I already have one.

Four new jobs to apply for this week, and they’re all attractive: a permanent city manager job (I know the guy who’s retiring), a temporary one (and I know the guys doing the recruiting), one assistant city manager job (from a city that interviewed but rejected me for the city manager job), and executive director for a housing authority. A couple of musications to do, and the May entry for the Coventry songwriters’ group over in England; I think that last is (tentatively) going to be a death metal number, tentatively hight “Angel in Chains.” (And being death metal, it will actually have no angels in it.)