The wind is one of the big four and it is not to be reckoned with. It is a boss and can make or break you. I experienced its downright vigor aboard the USS Appledore down off the coast of Key West last week. The quiet power of sailing takes your breath away. The dance of the captain and his crew along with the elements o’ nature is simply a work of art. The course, the knots, the wooden hull cutting against the water is like jazz. Every dip of the bow and spray of salt is a new piece of music. A new riff. Sailing is a release of power which in turn gives it right back. A life lesson it seems. You cannot force the wind to blow as you wish, so you must bend, improvise and adjust your course to find your destination. Rainer Rilke said it best: “Bend and you shall be straight”.
She was a 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon, complete with a Grateful Dead “Steal Your Face” sticker and a plethora of SRV and old blues cassette tapes. I was so proud of her; to a quasi-hippie, owning a VW was like possessing the Holy Grail. After very little deliberation, Austin, Texas was to be our first grand pilgrimage together. I packed my Stratocaster guitar, gumption, and naivete and blazed a trail.
Austin greeted me with open arms and a streak of good luck. I wasn’t the only young guitar slinger making this same leap of faith; together with my fellow hopefuls, we earned our callouses practicing the blues bible, written in the key of T-Bone, Gatemouth, Jimmy Reed, Albert Collins, Lightning Hopkins and countless others. From the older generation of Austin’s blues musicians, we were shown how to play a damn shuffle correctly and to embrace the proverbial space. We learned from these great teachers, at times even rubbed shoulders, but frequently just embarrassed ourselves in front of them. These lessons were fruitful, though; Texas taught me how to swing. It’s just what they do down there. After many years of playing the blues at empty bars on 6th Street, I found my earliest audiences with the swing dancers and slowly started to build a fan base (as well as a faint semblance of who I was as a man and an artist). In Austin, I learned to write a song and count off a tune, play bass in a swing combo, and what an enchilada tasted like. I also learned who I wasn’t.
Texas is where it all happened for me. I’m not a native, but I’ve always felt at home there. Thank you, Lone Star Republic, for all of it.
It was around 1995 when I first really heard it—I mean really “heard” it. I had a little “Jam Box” as we called them back in those days, speckled with house paint from some temp jobs I landed when people hired me out out of sympathy and certainly not my “rolling” chops. I had heard of T-Bone Walker in my college days, through my uncle who sent me cassette tapes of his blues radio program from Jacksonville FL, but the light didn’t go off in my head until this moment. T-Bone Walker – The Complete Black and White Sessions was one of the first CDs I purchased when I made the blues pilgrimage to Austin, Texas. Pouring out of those sad little paper speakers was a sound that would forever change me as a musician. The rhythm, The blues. The arrangements. The simplicity. The uptown. The downtown. The restraint. The swing. T-bone played what I wanted to hear. The man was a snake around the beat. He basically played drums on the guitar, bobbing and weaving with such an effortless finesse and force. I bought a hollow body guitar much like his and even bought the suits and pomade. I studied, butchered, marveled and tried to emulate this man’s music. The guitar playing obviously grabbed me at first (I am not alone- as he was an influence on every guitar player since, whether they know it or not), but it was his singing that really sent me. He would sing a blues and land on a vocal note that was out of this universe. I would rewind and then rewind again. It was magic. I think they call it jazz. He was singing the blues like a trumpet player. Diving down to places that only the few have been known to spelunk. He was a pioneer, and a revolutionary trail blazer of the highest order. To this day, every time I pick up my old Gibson guitar, T-Bone riffs come pouring out. It’s hard wired now. Thank you Mr. Walker.
The van. The sweet albatross. The refuge. The loco wagon. The home on the range. She sits patiently in some forsaken parking lot, waiting without a word for us to steer her to the next gig. The band and I probably spend more time in the van than in our own beds. We stare through her windshield with that curious, far away look in our eyes. We listen to old scratched CDs through the blown speakers of her pathetic stereo system. We talk music, history, politics, religion, women, sports, gibberish, and utter nonsense together within her steel shell. We relish and loathe her very existence.
“She” is a Chevy 15-passenger van and we are all of three people. How in the hell do we take up every single square inch of this metal monstrosity with our seemingly important “stuff”?! I think we are unconsciously burrowing and hoarding at 70 mph. I love traveling…I hate traveling. I love traveling. After all the truck stops, construction zones, detours, and wrong turns are behind us and we’re on stage connecting with you (and ourselves), all of the impossible miles in that sweet albatross are worth it.
There’s a ritual to the vinyl LP. For starters, it’s mere size demands a little more attention than any digital CD or MP3 could ever dream of demanding. You hold an LP in your hands as if there is something sacred hidden in it’s grooves. You have made a commitment in a sense. You want to experience music, not just listen to it. Well it appears the old fashioned LP (Long Play) has made a comeback and we are better off for it. What once was old, is now new again. I suppose that sounds familiar on many fronts, but in this case I welcome it with open arms and ears. I remember as a kid growing up in NC, leaning over our old wooden chest of records, and getting lost in it. For hours, I would smell and gaze at those dusty cardboard jackets, and just sense some kind of faint magic hiding in there. With wine in hand, my parents would spin one on the turntable, kick back and make an evening out of it. Listening to a record was a form of entertainment in those days —what a concept. There is something about the beautiful dance of the whole LP experience as well. The wax, the hissing, the bouncing and popping of the needle, the hypnotic spin of the label, the careful and deliberate handling of the vinyl, and most of all—the rich, warm sound of it. Vinyl sales are way up in the last 5 years, and I am jazzed about such things. On that note, I am proud to announce that my new album, “SKY STILL BLUE” will be available on LP on June 10th! I hope it will find a home on your turntable. The wax is back jack.