Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Showcase Gig, Monday January 11

I'll be performing a short set (maybe 20 minutes) at Jammin Java in Vienna next Monday night as part of a showcase run by host Ron Goad. The show starts at 7 pm and I'll be on about 7:45. For this set, I intend to dig quite deep into the catalog; back to the beginning in fact.

I started learning to play the guitar in the late 70's when I was living in Chicago after graduating from college and dropping out of Graduate School. I took lessons at Chicago's famous Old Town School of Folk Music. After lessons a group of us would often walk a few blocks over to a bar called the Single File, which had an open stage on Wednesday nights. When I started to perform there, it was with a couple of classmates, Terry Shapiro and Ed McCarthy. If we were lucky, Alvin (the host and a teacher at the OTSFM) would let us play around midnight. Terry was pretty much the front man, since he was the ham and Ed and I were both pretty shy. We would practice together some on weekends. I can't recall how long this lasted, but eventually it got pretty difficult to find time to practice (or perhaps we were all losing interest), so I started performing on my own at the open stages.

Alvin took me aside one night and pleaded with me to get back together with Terry, since I'd never make it on my own. Besides, Alvin explained that I had the musicianship and Terry had the stage presence, so we really needed each other. I said that he was probably right, but it just wasn't working out. Anyway, Alvin relented and let me play after midnight and eventually I got more comfortable and the rest is mostly unrecorded history. Soon after this, I started to get a little bored playing cover songs and thought I should really try to write my own songs. I had written poetry in high school and college, so I didn't think it would be such a stretch (except for the music).

So I enrolled in a six or eight week songwriting seminar at the OTSFM which was being taught by Bob Gibson (NOT the famous Cardinals pitcher). Bob had started hanging around at the School, doing some performing (this was 1978). I didn't really know much about the history, but Bob was a pretty big deal in the late 50's and early 60's before drugs and alcohol derailed his career (I really didn't know any of this at the time, other than his being a "famous" folk singer in the 60's). He'd met Pete Seeger in the early 50's and quit his job to learn the banjo (and 12-string guitar) and become a folk singer. He'd been a mainstay at the legendary Gate of Horn (Chicago folk club, long gone by the time I was living there) both solo and with his sometime partner Hamilton Camp.

During the seminar, I wrote the first two songs that I still perform. The first was a song called "The Psychologist Song", which is the only song I ever wrote about my mother. Terry was also a Psychologist in real life, so it was sort of dedicated to him. I don't remember that much about the content of the seminar and only a few pieces of Bob's wisdom. He did ask all of us to read Studs Terkel's book Working and write a song based on one of the stories. I chose the story about a Gravedigger and wrote "Miguel's Song" for the assignment. Actually, it started to write itself as I walked home from the OTSFM one clear, cold night (from Armitage to Diversey) in the bright moonlight. I remember walking past the Lincoln Park Conservatory as words started to tumble around in my head, shifting the guitar from one hand to another as it got too heavy to carry. When I got home, the words tumbled out on paper in about 20 minutes and some chord changes that I'd been playing around with for a couple of weeks seemed to fit it perfectly (AMaj7 - A7sus4).

As I mentioned, I was pretty shy about performing at that time, so I never got up the courage to play either of the songs for Bob and the class. I did show the lyrics to a couple of my classmates and they seemed to think they were pretty good and eventually I started to perform them at the Open Stages. A couple of years later I took another shorter songwriting seminar with Bob and that time I did play him a song, "I'm not the One", which he was not that impressed with, although it won me a spot in the finals of the Kerrville New Folk competition about a decade later. The last song I plan to sing was written considerably later, but still has a connection to Bob Gibson. At the time I was taking his songwriting seminar, I was trying to learn one of his songs (by ear) and was having trouble figuring out one of the chord changes. So I asked Bob about it one time when I ran into him before class. Bob picked up a guitar and played the section for me, teaching me the diminished chord in the process. For years I tried to figure out how to use the chord in a song and finally did in my song "I want to live Forever".

Bob continued to live in Chicago, touring in the 80's with Tom Paxton and Anne Hills as Best of Friends. He died in 1996 from a neurological disorder similar to Parkinson's disease.

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