determination and resolve…or the lack thereof…

last night, the last night of our “tour”, was a kick-ass gig. it was the one that we knew we had in us. diamond dave came out and made it a trio gig, and we sounded great. everyone was on.

and at the end of the night, the proprietor of the brass lantern rewarded us by sending us home with no money.

i take full responsibility – i mean, i booked the date, and i booked it without setting a number, but with the understanding that we weren’t gonna play for nothing, but that we’d talk about a number at the end of the night, based on how many folks came in.

i guess i should have expected this – he’s never struck me as someone who’s in this for any reason but to fill the cash register, but i didn’t think he’d manipulate the deal the way he did.

but what happened afterward was where the lesson lies for me.

we hung around a while, tore down the stage, loaded out, and he didn’t make any offer to give us anything, so after the point at which he would have paid us, charlie and i went over to talk to him about it, and he stated his case about not feeling as though he owed us anything, since we never discussed a number. charlie was a total gentleman about it, stated his case saying that he wasn’t asking for a ton of money, but at least an offering of a few bucks to cover gas and to send the message that he’d be interested in having us back, but it didn’t sway the guy. my personal opinion is that there’s something that comes in either a bottle or a bag that helps this guy run his shop, because his whole demeanor during the conversation seemed to point to that, but that’s beside the point…he smiled waaay too much, and was constantly reaching to shake your hand…things like that. he also spent a great deal of time sitting at the bar. it’s been my experience that savvy club owners/managers never do that. but, like i said, these were all my observations and nothing more.

anyway, charlie was a total pro about it. he left with a smile on his face, and i honestly think that he was able to separate what happened after the gig from what happened during the gig.

me? i can’t.

that pretty much took all the sparkle off what we did onstage, for me. i left with a slight stinging sensation surrounding my anal cavity, because i knew what i said to the guy when we talked about the date, and it wasn’t what he represented to charlie when we talked last night. so i felt that not only did he twist my words around, but he made me look like a dick in front of my boss. so it was a double edged sword. i feel like i should call charlie today and talk to him about it, but i may let that slide until he’s gotten back to nashville…i’ll chase him down then.

the thing is, though, i know that charlie left last night feeling that how we played was a bigger mental factor to him than what happened afterward. and i think that’s why he has a future as a frontman and i don’t. i’ve always had the tendency to let stuff like that totally derail me. something like that, when it would happen to me, would just slaughter my motivation to keep pluggin’, and i’m realizing today, after having to deal with it again last night, that stuff like that was a huge part of why i sidelined myself. i had no means by which to maintain the level of enthusiasm and energy that charlie has. to this day, i don’t know how he does it. but he does it.

which is why he’s still at it, and i’m playing guitar in his band. because he’s got it.

took my new les paul junior/special out for its maiden voyage last night…i’m starting to wonder if i’m ever gonna find the magic p-90 pickup that i’ve been looking for for quite some time now. i know they exist…i’ve heard them. i think i’m gonna have to bite the bullet and buy a set of lindy fralin pickups for my goldtop and see if that’s the genie in the bottle that so many people say they are. i seem to find all the p-90’s that are either too weak or too strong. don’t get it. but i’ll get to the bottom of this eventually.

tomorrow i get to sleep in.


this week i woke up in 1994.

i’m pretty certain of it, actually.

in 1994 i was playing practically full time. later that year i would re-enter the “normal” workforce, and continue my gig schedule as if nothing had happened. i think i was my busiest from 1994 to around 1998. those were the years leading up to my recording my first “real” album and i went through two managers in that time as well. this was around the time that i had turned my back on playing american pie and (arguably the most vomit-inducing song of all time) margueritaville on the bar circuit and started concentrating on writing my own material and making the transition from playing covers to being an artiste. history would prove me to be not up to the cause, but i had a lot of drive at the time, and i had written some songs that i felt were really good, and i didn’t foresee the obstacles that would ultimately present themselves.

i would definitely say that i subscribed to the Zevon “i’ll sleep when i’m dead” ethic.

for instance, i would take a friday off from work and play in new hope, pa on thursday, new york city on friday, the gibson tent at the newport folk festival on saturday, boston on sunday, and back home for work on monday.

this actually happened. i have pictures.

i took a friday off and left for elizabethtown ky for a gig that night, then louisville the next night, then home on sunday. that trip was the cinder block that broke the camels’ back, i think. it happened the first week of february, and i slept in my van both nights. the second night – leaving louisville – i thought i’d freeze in the back of the van. i had a great sleeping bag, thankfully, but when i woke up in the morning, with my face stickin’ outta the thing, it took more willpower than i’m normally able to summon to crawl outta there. the only motivating factor that put me over the edge was the promise of heat once i got the van running (and i had to scrape the inside of the windows as well as the outside before i could see well enough to drive…i arrived at home with $1.70 in my pocket – and i left home with more than i made at the gigs.

this farce was the culmination of what felt then like an endless stream of pointless gigs – driving to nyc on a tuesday night to play 5 songs at the living room in nyc for no money and turning around and driving home just in time to get a shower and go to work the next day. i did them in the interest of creating “buzz”, as my manager at the time called it…but i don’t think i had the tenacity for “buzz”. and besides, it’s hard to generate much excitement when there’s 5 people in the room, which was almost always the case. it just felt like nobody – NOBODY – gave a fuck about what i was doing. and that apathy was contagious, apparently, because i caught it.

and these were the forklift driving days, too, lest we forget – and i worked a pretty crazy schedule. we’d work 4 12 hour days and have 4 days off, which was cool, but i kept getting jerked from one side of the rotation to the other, which would create situations like this – i’d book as many gigs as i could for my days off, but then i’d get switched so that my schedule would end up flipflopped. for instance, i once played on a wed, thurs, fri, and sat night, and worked on thurs, fri, sat, and sun. from the time i got out of bed on wednesday morning until i went so sleep sun night/monday morning, i got roughly 14 to 16 hours sleep for the week.

i guess, in tom pettys’ words, “we did it for the stories we could tell…”

in retrospect, the experience of having done it (although i did make some coin in those days) was the only real tangible benefit. met some cool people, had some laughs, spent many hours of introspection time behind the wheel of the van on countless chunks of interstate (several times, i took my van in for inspection and was asked what the deal was with the odometer, because they thought there was some mistake with the number from the previous year). but that is pretty much the depth and breadth of the tangible advantages i reaped from my participation in that era of my life.

now tonight, i play the last of a three night stand with my buddy charlie degenhart, and am soon launching into the thickest helping of bookings in recent memory for the stone roaders. i’m looking forward to a lot of those dates, though – i’m really in a comfort zone with those guys that i’ve never had with most of the other musical situations i’ve been in (with the notable exception of the steel city band, circa 2000). so there’s no sense of dread when i think about the work on the schedule, but it’s definitely reminiscent of an earlier time, from a sheer activity sense. the air of dread that used to catch some of those gigs back in the day seems to be gone, for the most part…i think that sideman work definitely agrees with me.

blake and i are coming out of our respective summer funks, i think…we’re trying to schedule some time to get back to work on his record when the opportunity presents itself. i’m soon gonna have to go back and relearn some of those songs, it’s been so long since i’ve heard them. we have a bass player online now, though, and i think that once he’s comfortable in his own skin, it’ll only be a matter of time before we get a drummer into the fray, and then we can start gigging.

also…gotta, gotta, GOTTA get my website up and running.

enjoy every sandwich…

…those were david lettermans’ last words to warren zevon when he was on the late show last year. last night, there was a documentary on the making of warren’s new record, the wind, on vh1. man, was that hard to watch.

i still wonder, even after watching that, which way is best to go – suddenly and unexpectedly, like john lennon, or with advance notice, like warren…i wonder how i’d handle having the time and opportunity to be able to say goodbye the way warren is? i wonder how i’d handle the process of making peace with my fate and tying up my loose ends? i don’t know if i’d be anywhere near as graceful about it as he was portrayed as being in this show last night.

one of the things that struck me during the letterman appearance that they incorporated into last night’s show was a statement he made: “i think i may have made a tactical error in not seeing a doctor for 20 years…”.

i’m remembering a great story that jackson browne told about warren in a musician magazine article back around 1982/83 or so. apparently, warren had a pretty intense case of the flu, but he had some commitments that he wanted to honor. jackson said that he gave him some tea that he’d gotten from a chinese herbalist friend that he’d met through david lindley, and gave it to warren with instructions that you were supposed to drink half a cup of it and get under the covers and sweat it out…so warren figures that if one cup is good, then two cups would be better, and so on and so forth…so warren drinks cup after cup of this tea, and proceeds to the airport to get on a plane! so, in the middle of the airport, warren has a tea-induced seizure…and, according to legend, the last thing warren remembered thinking as he was lying in a pool of his own sweat at the airport was….”God, please don’t let me die and have jackson browne write a song about me…”

here’s a guy whos’ laughed about death, and written about it often in his music…and to see him humbled by it was tough. if there was a lesson to be learned in this, for me, i think it’s that i’d better consider seeing a doctor sometime soon.

i’ve always, up until recently, had a pretty cavalier, ronnie van zant attitude about death…when it’s my time, it’s my time. and i think i still feel that way, largely. but i think a lot of the motive behind that attitude in the past has been because it hasn’t really mattered to me one way or another whether i’d be around or not…

…but it’s mattering these days.

i was supposed to play with the youngers in wilkes-barre this past weekend, but the gig was cancelled, and i ended up playing with my ex-sister in laws’ band at a friends’ party instead, and had a blast. jayda got up and sang two songs with me, and dylan got up and played two songs with me as well. i also had a conversation with my ex-mother in law that was really nice – she said some really sweet things about the kids and their relationship with me, dylan in particular. and i think a lot of that is true…i think my bond with my kids is probably its strongest right now. i think we enjoy each others’ company more now than we ever have in the past. and i think that, for the most part, i can say that about a lot of areas in my life. i don’t feel anywhere near as discontent and restless as i’ve felt almost perpetually for most of my previous years. i enjoy my family, i have a good job, i’m as active musically as i’ve ever been with no apologies or pretense whatsoever, i surround myself with good people…for the most part, i’m having fun.

so, if something were going to happen, now would be the time.

that’s the way it works, right?

anyway, tonight is my only real night off this week…i’m embarking on something of a tour this week, playing three dates in three nights with charlie degenhart, and i entertained sneaking in a fourth this past saturday night, but i knew somehow there was no way i’d be able to make it there in time to set up my gear and play the gig, and i was right. there was discussion of a stone road rehearsal tonight, but i haven’t heard anything of it yet, so at this point, i’m ready to assume that it isn’t happening. which is just as well, there’s much to be done at home right now, and not enough time to do it in.

and, warren has planted something of a seed…i think i need to get out the pencil and paper and start making use of all that equipment upstairs at my house.

it’ll be lunchtime soon…think i’ll have a sandwich for warren.

there, but for fortune…

so i came home from an excruciatingly long rehearsal tonight with a sense of purpose…and i got halfway there.

a neighbor of darryl’s called him while i was there recently and asked if he knew anyone who could help her sell off some of her late husbands’ belongings.  darryl had hipped me to this lady some years before, but she had never made contact, but now she was…so i made an appointment to go meet with her and her daughter (who was preparing to move in the very near future) and look at what they had.  well, without getting into too much detail, i ended up committing to helping her sell this stuff on eBay.  it took two trips in my trusty blue VW van, but everything is now hopelessly cluttering my dining room.  now isn’t really a good time to be cluttering my dining room, but cluttered it is.  so tonight when i got home at midnight, i started going through the boxes of books and tapes and cds and magazines and various and sundry “miscellaneous” items…wow.  what a huge pile of crap.  it is amazing to me the sheer amount of crap that we amass over time.  it should come as a surprise to me least of probably every person on the planet, as i’ve amassed a pretty huge pile of crap myself, largely by doing exactly what i’m doing now…taking on other people’s stuff.

this guy, however, was a guitar player…as evidenced by his belongings.

and one that i would have been pretty simpatico with, based on everything else i’m finding.

so i’m going through box after box of this fellas’ stuff, and my own mortality is looming pretty close overhead.  all the typical cliches are flying through my head, including the ever popular “can’t take it with you” and such…and they’re cliches for a reason, ya know…most of them are true.

this exercise, combined with the walks through the family graveyards this past weekend, make for some pretty somber thought.

the lesson that i seem to come away from it all with is that i should find ways to enjoy my talents and use them in a way i’m satisfied with, and enjoy them for both myself and that which i think of as a higher power – because nothing lasts forever, and someday someone is going to be faced with the task of going through my accumulated crap.

my hope is that when that time comes, that my assembled souvenirs will paint a picture of someone who used his time here memorably.

a lot of thoughts of my grandfather today…todd hit a vocal riff at practice tonight that reminded me of faron young, the country singer…and i remember how my grandfather used to loathe seeing him on tv.  “i can lissen to ‘im on the radio all day long”, he’d say, “but i sure cain’t stand seein’ that bastard on the tv.”

my grandfather taught me about peppermint and saltines (two things i’d have never tried as a pair).  he knew better than anyone i knew up to that point how to make a fashion statement…his overalls and grey baseball cap were synonymous with him.  i remember my grandmother putting mason jars of water in the freezer in the mornings, and sending me out to the field where he was plowing at lunchtime with the resultant ice, only to have it turn into water by the time i’d get to where the tractor was.  i can still remember clinging to the fender, next to his seat, holding on as he drove back to the house for dinner.

he and i never really had a relationship…i think we both knew how different we were before we were able to know how different we were, if that makes any sense at all.  he knew i didn’t have the mettle for farming or hunting, and that’s all he really had to give me.  i can respect that now, but then it just felt like a barrier.  i wish i still had him around to talk to now, now that i think i know a little better how to deal with allowing each other to be different without letting our differences be an alienating factor.

i think he would have liked me as an adult.  i don’t think he liked me much as a kid.

my sister told me something once…not this past trip, but a conversation from a long time ago, that she was privvy to a conversation that circled around to discussing my old habit of building drums out of whatever i could get my hands on, and about my makeshift “drumkit” constructed of lard buckets, crisco cans, hubcaps and the like…and he reportedly said, “yeah, we all made fun of ‘im while he was back there beatin’ on them cans, but it looks like he’s the only one of the grandkids whos’ made anything out of ‘imself.”

i could sit here and write all night long and not quite convey how it felt to hear that.

i came home with a bunch of old pictures, some of him, some of other family members, which are stacked here in my house, alongside the belongings of what could have been a good friend and fellow musician, had i had an opportunity to meet him.

he wasn’t that old, either…hadn’t made 60 yet, was barely 50, from what i understand….

there but for fortune indeed….

thomas wolfe and selective hindsight

“…and down in the canyon, the smoke starts to rise
it rides on the wind ’til it reaches your eyes
when faced with the past, the strongest man cries….”

“souvenirs”, dan fogelberg

“you can’t go home again.” thomas wolfe

“you may ask yourself….how did i get here?” david byrne, “life during wartime”

i guess that, if enough time passes, you can allow yourself to forget just about anything. or, if forget isn’t the appropriate word, perhaps “gloss over”. i think that i’m past glossing over where i’m from, or who my family is – that’s all pretty clear, even given the distance involved. but, given that distance, it’s easy to ignore it, because i don’t have to look it in the eye on a regular basis.

and, the truth is, i don’t have a problem with who they are or where i’m from or any of that, in principle. because, after all – if they’re ok with it, then who am i not to be? at some point, i decided that the life i wanted to lead needed a few more options than hanging out in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly with my buddies and their pickup trucks and waiting to meet up with whoever was going down to the river to drink and shoot at beer cans with our shotguns, and my hometown didn’t offer much more than that, for me.

now, i don’t know what any of this has to do with music or songwriting, but here it is nonetheless…

my family consists (in my eyes) of my mom, my grandmother, and my brother and sister. I have a half brother whom i like a great deal, but i don’t really get to see him enough for him to be a factor, and that’s a shame…but anyway –

my mother has been ill for quite some time…she has had some pretty intense brushes with mortality in the past couple of years, and has to have constant, perpetual oxygen and breathing treatments…but, of course, none of this has deterred her from her multi-pack a day smoking habit. her attitude is, essentially, that the damage is done and that there’s no point quitting now. her health was really the primary reason for the visit to begin with…my kids have heard all my stories about growing up there, about my family and such, and i thought that it was time that they met these people and saw the places that i had told them about.

dylan proved to be the most appreciative of the opportunity. jayda had a passing interest in most of this at best, but dylan made every stop, asked questions, met everyone…jayda didn’t bother to take her headphones off for a lot of the “sightseeing” portions of the trip, and didn’t get out of the car for a lot of it, either. she said she didn’t feel well on sunday morning, but she couldn’t be bothered for most of the trip. i don’t fault her or take it personally…i guess i feel that if i’d made more of an effort to involve my family in her life, she’d feel differently, but i think it was basically no big deal to her. dylan asked specifically to go to certain places and walked through the graveyards with me…came in and met my first music store mentor, david phillips from the world renowned maxines’ house of music on florence road in savannah. they both loved the food at sonic, which was just as i remembered it…the water tower at north elementary school had a new coat of paint and a barbed wire capped hurricane fence around it. freds department store was replaced with an entrance to a new strip mall across from the courthouse. cherry’s truck stop was gone, as was the last of the dilapidated houses that we had lived in out in walnut grove. martha goodmans’ store was the one thing that remained largely as it was when i was a child…the same gas pumps are still there and everything. miss martha is gone, but the store is still there.

sunday morning, we drove out to the house that my grandfather built, where i was largely raised as a child, but no one seemed that interested, and the occupants were home, so i felt like i was imposing not only on the kids, but on them as well, so we turned around and left. i wasn’t really ready for that anyway.

then we did the graveyard tour. after all, that’s where damn near everyone is nowadays anyway.

i won’t get into all those stories…the cousin whose throat was cut at the wheel of his own car, the cousin who hanged himself, the stillborn babies, the decapitations in car accidents…the list is pretty harrowing, believe me…but most of them reside in one of two cemeteries, so it was an easy tour. i took pictures of the cemetery at big ivy – it’s in the same sad-assed shape as it was when i was a child. it looks like what you would picture a slave graveyard in the 1800’s…a few legitimate headstones, but lots of glorified rocks and pieces of slate with makeshift carvings depicting who rests there…yet another indicator of the stark poverty that hovers over the area.

i also made a point of taking the kids to see their great grandmother.

i had been warned to the point of overkill as to what i should expect – she didn’t talk to anyone, she didn’t know anyone, etc., and i thought i understood all that…i think that what i expected was a frail shell of a woman staring at the ceiling, completely oblivious to what was going on around her, but i wanted the kids to get an opportunity to see her nonetheless. i mean, i don’t know what that motivation was about, save to at least create that opportunity for them.

when we got there, though, she was in the tv lounge with some of the other residents, and she was awake – penny went to where she was sitting and began (in her typical impatient way) to try to get her to talk to her…and she wasn’t what i expected. she looked conscious to me. she didn’t speak – in fact, she looked as though her mouth hadn’t opened in weeks…like it was sewn shut or something. but she looked directly at me and made eye contact and didn’t look away, and i felt like i knew that she knew who i was. so i took her hand and said to her that if she knew who i was, then she should squeeze my hand…but she let go of my hand and reached up and touched my face and then reached down for my hand again. i had to get up from the chair then and try to keep the kids from seeing my face – i think there were equal measures of feeling small in the face of death and guilt due to not having brought my kids down to get to know her when she was lucid and able to talk to them…

i sat there with her for a while, i had the kids come over and showed them to her and told her who they were and how they were doing and then when i left, dylan came over to me and gave me a huge hug and we both started crying then.

i’d do it again, though.

i remember going to see my father’s mother in a nursing home when i was smaller than dylan, and her asking me “not to let them take her to that cold, dark place”, begging me to keep them from putting her in that cold, dark place…and it just broke me. i couldn’t go back to see her, and it was the last time i saw her alive. but i had memories of who she was when she was still my grandma. given that choice, i’d have kept them away, but it was that or nothing, for them.

i did see david phillips, and i took dylan and wendy to WKWX where i used to work and introduced them to the folks there, and we went to the dairy queen and to the sonic a few times…i think we pretty much got in the whole “savannah experience”. oh, i also took the kids to pickwick and took a picture of them standing by the water like the one of them i have on my desk…it’s always been one of my favorites.

i’ll probably update this page with links to some of the pictures we took on the trip, but i wanted to get the gist of the trip down while it’s fresh on my mind…and i’m sure there’s more once i’ve gotten some much needed sleep in my own bed….

…train leaves here this morning…

…everyone’s ready for the trip – i’ve got myself close to together, i think…

i have to put my lap steel, dobro and mandolin in the van, as i may or may not have a charlie session when i get to tn, and i typically am a pretty light packer, so it’ll basically involve throwing some clothes in a dufflebag.

but i did take some time to get some old pics of the kids together for my mom – i’ve got quite the backlog of them waiting to go back that i’ve been holding onto for ages.  some of them, i’d forgotten even existed as i was going through them…kinda funny to see my daughter, now completely engulfed in the throes of adolescence, as an awkward 6 year old.  i can’t even fathom what my mother probably has, in terms of old pictures.

my friend jay told me today that i should prepare myself for the age that my mom will have accumulated when i see her this week.  i think i’ve given that some room, but i’ve also had to give some thought to the fact that this could very easily be the last time i see her alive.  heavy stuff.

anyway, i should be sleeping now, preparing for the trip…so i think i’ll do that, if i can close my eyes.

preparing for the long trek home

so the phone calls have been flyin’ around this week like you wouldn’t believe…

i’m about to do something that i haven’t done in over a decade.

visit my family in tennessee.

the kids are getting older now, they’re curious about the stories that i’ve told them, and they want to know where i come from. they want to make up their own minds and form their own opinions about the other slice of their heritage, and shit, man…who am i to deny them that?

so i’ve been calling and emailing people that i know in that part of the country – i’m having dinner with ed king on thursday night, and i’m also trying to work out logistics to add a lap steel track to a song called “concrete charlie” by my old buddy charlie degenhart while i’m there, too. not sure if we’ll be able to pull that off or not, but i’ll know within a couple of days. might have to plan on packing my sixty year old rickenbacher lap steel in my dufflebag…

left a message with george grantham from poco about possibly getting together, but they’re going to be in NJ on thursday night and in UT on saturday, so travel may rule that out, since they’re going one way and i’m going the other…but that’s just nashville.

i’m completely unprepared for what i might see and have to deal with at home…ten years can be a little or a lot, depending upon where it’s added…and i’m approaching the age where every ten becomes more visible – and so it is with a lot of the people and the places i grew up with/in. i want to take my kids to the places i grew up, and i know already that a large number of them won’t even be there. the last time i went, i took pictures of a house that i lived in as a child, which was totally uninhabitable at that point…i’m sure it’s gone now. the one i would so love to show them wasn’t even there the last time i went.

i have this vision of driving back to “the grove” and getting lost – not even being able to find my way around. it’s been a source of preoccupation for a while, now. it’s as if it’s becoming pretty obvious to me why i’ve avoided this for so long…something about this makes me vaguely uncomfortable, but i’m not sure what the source of that is. i do think, though, that this trip is going to be a bit more emotional than i probably was thinking it would be when i started planning it. the kids are probably expecting all funny stories and landmarks and such, but i think it might be a little more intense than that.

i’m taking a couple of instruments, though, and may even end up playing some while i’m there – who knows?

nashville will be a good time…savannah will be the revisiting of old wounds.

stone road is off until 9/6, which gives us some time to break in our new guitar player and solidify our setlist…the week we return from tennessee, charlie is coming up for a week, and we’re doing a handful of acoustic shows, in philadelphia, phoenixville, and reading, before he goes back. then it’ll be right back into stone road with a vengeance.

gonna try to get as much stuff done this weekend as possible around the house…need to feel less like i’m living in a warehouse. want to get the studio squared away as well…conversations with blake are starting to turn towards finishing the record, both at “the dungeon” and at target studios in delaware. there was a final aunt pat show recently, and i think that blake was really uncomfortable with how it went, so there seems to be some renewal of purpose after that…i think he’s starting to get a very real sense of finality where they’re concerned.

ok. my son needs to be returned to his room, to the sanctity of air conditioning – from the spot on the sofa where he’s fallen asleep watching TV. and i think that i hear the sanctity of AC calling my name, too.

i am so sleeping in tomorrow.

my favorite Aunt – and the perfect first date

so this past saturday saw the demise of Aunt Pat.

i’ve never understood where the motivation for that name came from, but aunt pat was (hell, still is) my favorite Philly band. they were on life support for a long time to begin with, but the death knell came on saturday, when they played their last show with the family lineup, before scattering to the four winds. brian is moving with his wife melissa (who is absolutely wonderful) to northern california, and michael hasn’t actually been in the band for three years now, but played this last gig with them.

a little history, before there are too many vague references…

aunt pat came up through the philly ranks at the same time i did, and the first time i saw them, i thought they were amazing. the entire band was related by either blood or marriage..the mcshanes – kerry, mollie, brian and michael – were joined by mollies’ husband blake and various drummers (a la spinal tap) passed through at various times, but the core of the band was always blake, mollie and kerry and the amazing vocal blend they had. kerry was a compelling stage presence – when she sang, you had no choice but to look at her. not because she was a classic beauty in the typical sense (certainly not unattractive, either), but because she had charisma. blake, however, was the songwriter of the band. they presented an interesting dilemma, where image was concerned – they had these two female vocalists who were obviously focal points, but blake was quietly churning out these amazing songs while everyone else was mesmerized by other members of the band…

i loved them from the first time i heard them. i was hooked.

and boy, did i wish i were a mcshane.

i did, actually, secretly lust to be part of this band for years…we did shows together often, at steel city coffeehouse in phoenixville, at the fire in philadelphia, and at the youthfest show at the camden waterfront complex…it got to be a common thing for me to do their songs or sit in with them when we’d split shows. the last show we did together, though, was without michael on guitar – and i started to ask what the deal was (as he was tending bar in the front that night), but i decided it was none of my business and didn’t say anything…

and that was the last i heard of them for a year and a half.

until i got this phone call from blake…

turns out that michael has left the band, had left the band when i played with them all that time ago…but now there was another dilemma.

kerry was pregnant.

pregnant, and preparing to leave the band – and he was wondering if i knew anyone..or if i myself might be interested in joining the band.

i told him i’d been waiting for this call for years…

so we played one show, and one show only, with kerry, and then she was gone – i remember feeling like i’d just joined fleetwood mac as stevie nicks and lindsey buckingham were leaving – but blake and i were developing a mutual sympathy to each others’ sensibilities, and while i don’t think we were doggedly determined to keep aunt pat alive, we were starting to formulate our own agenda.

so while everyone else has been busy with their lives and doing other things, blake and i have quietly constructed a masterpiece of a blake allen album. great blake songs, with big, sloppy helpings of instrumental support from yours truly. and i love the record. or, at least, i’m pretty sure i’m gonna love the record once it’s a record.

but without blake playing the mick fleetwood-slash-rodney king “can’t we all just get along?” role, the band went even further into auto-pilot than it already was, and i think saturdays’ “goodbye brian and melissa” party proved to be the disappearance of the blip from the radar screen, as the analogy goes.

bummer i missed it.

yeah, you read that right…i missed it.

i got a call from blake about it last week, asking if i’d be interested in playing bass, since brian wanted to drum, and i said, “sure”, even though i’d never played bass on any of these songs, and my knowledge of them on guitar was kinda sketchy at best, anyway – and i waited until 8am on saturday morning to learn the songs. think of of it as a combination of slackerness and total schedule saturation. but, by 11am, i had them all down pat, and my son dylan and i went to my guitar techs’ shop and then came home to leave for this party….where, upon arriving, i’m told that AP will be going on between 6:30 and 7:00 or so…thus negating my ability to participate since i had to be back in reading for a 7:30 load in.

so i missed it.

but – in hindsight – i’m glad i was where i was.

i had been looking forward to the debut of the 4 piece lineup, and playing without our old guitar player, if for no other reason but to prove to myself that we could do it without him – i never thought that it’d be an issue, but the set we did without him at the carnival earlier in the summer left some doubt, because of the whole outdoor sound issue, but the first set went great…better than i ever expected. i did slant the setlist toward stronger songs that we could pull off without him, but i could tell that things were going in the direction that it was supposed to be…the band sounded so much cleaner, so much tighter with one less person…it was uncanny.

but then the clouds parted…

quin had called me to tell me that he had remembered someone that might be good for the job, and he called me to tell me about the guy – he sounded pretty promising, but i was pretty skeptical after a few bombs that had gone off during the whole audition process, and i wasn’t gonna get hopeful until someone came in and laid it down and showed me something.

and when the second set started, the clouds parted, man.

donnie ortner walked in, plugged in and was in the band two hours later. what a player. and when he came in and started playing, it felt like everyone else’s playing elevated a step..or two steps…we played songs we’d never played before and kicked the shit out of them. and the songs we all knew went somewhere else that they’d never gone, too. the people that were there seemed to sense it, too – there weren’t a lot of them there, but they were absolutely tuned in to what was going on. i know that some of them were picking up on the fact that there was something happening that didn’t happen every night.

and that was definitely happening. we were smiling, for christs’ sake.

the end of the night came waaaaay sooner than i expected it to – i could have played another two hours if we would have been allowed to, and it would have still seemed like the night was over too soon.

i didn’t get to talk to don as much as i’d have liked to, but from what i gathered from the snippets of conversations we did manage to have, we’ve been going through the same things – trying to find other musicians to play with who are sympathetic to what’s best for the song, who are interested in being good, as opposed to good enough. i don’t have time in my life for good enough, and i don’t think he does, either. his girlfriend said the same thing that wendy said, after watching the show…

“it sure is good to see him having a good time for a change…”

so first official rehearsal with this guy is tomorrow night.

the sky’s the limit, man…

i said to the crowd on saturday night something to the effect of, “y’know, sometimes being in a band is like dating…you go out with women who just don’t measure up in some way or another for a while, but once in a blue moon, you go out with someone who seems to be tied to you in some way, and everything is perfect – you have a lot in common, you talk about the right things, everything surrounding you is exactly the way it’s supposed to be, and you feel like you might have soulmate potential…then you go home and you can’t sleep because you’re still wound up from what’s just happened to you…”

saturday night was one hell of a first date.