Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened At Chickfest

Today is Chickfest. 

Chickfest is an incredible annual concert that is put on by Veet's in Mobile.
(NOTE: If you are unfamiliar with Veet's. It is my favorite watering hole/live music venue/family operated business/place to hang, see friends and eat. If you are ever in Mobile Alabama you owe it to yourself to go.

So once a year Veet's turns the spotlight on the ladies specifically. And when I say the ladies I don't mean just any ladies. I mean some heavy hitting international celebrity talent as well as our local super talented ladies. Well tonight is the night. The headliners are JoAnna Berlage, Sirius Plan (incredible trio from Belgium), the legendary Donna Hall, and international star Beverly Jo Scott. (Beverly Jo is the kind soul that set my entire visit to Belgium up and hosted me the whole time. Love her).

Well this is the second year I've been asked to be a part of the backing band. I am unbelievably happy about this. Not only do I get to accompany some of the best female vocalists I've ever heard , I also get to play along side an incredible backing band. 

So tonight will be a great time. 
(Come listen if you're in the area. 7pm at Veet's. You will not be disappointed).

But this year's Chickfest got me thinking about last year's Chickfest and it reminded me of one of my favorite music stories. 

There were plenty of remarkable, memorable performance moments from last year's show but the memory I had this time was a funny one about rehearsal. 

Since the backing band for Chickfest is assembled specifically for one night, we are inherently unfamiliar with the material and hence require a couple days of rehearsal.  

A couple of rehearsals is a relatively short time frame to cram a concert the size of Chickfest together. It requires a very experienced band. Luckily Veet's makes sure we can assemble such a group. Because of the casting each year has been a wonder show. 

Last year the concert was a little ambitious with the amount of material that was to be done by the backing band. It was more than double the songs for this year. 

Therefore during rehearsals the band was sweating and scribbling notes. Due to the volume of material in that show we only had about 8-10 minutes per song to rehearse. Then we had to move on to the next one and hope we had written notes well enough to remember the previous song when it was show time. 

Well I've been in this type of environment many times. And when everyone in the band is intensely and consistently focused on song after song for hours, a simple song can be a lifesaver. It is a chance to stop looking at a sheet of paper and just play from familiarity. It is a beautiful and necessary relaxing point (during rehearsal and subsequently the show) that refreshes the band and helps them regain focus when they return to less familiar territory. 

It is with this in mind that I tell you seeing "Respect" by Aretha Franklin on the list made every band member happy. Whew. That would be a recharging spot for sure. We had all played that one enough times that we could play it in our sleep. 

So we thought. 

The artist that would be singing this song at the show was the very talented Carmilla Ali.  

Unbeknownst to us, she had intentions of playing a version of "Respect" that was so far removed from the original version that it might as well be another song. 

Uh oh. 

That's even worse than being unfamiliar with a tune. Since the band were so accustomed to the original version, we were having to focus extra hard to fight our instincts to play it like the record. (So much for the relaxing spot in the rehearsal and show. This instantly got flipped into the most intense section of focusing and remembering in the whole shebang). 

Well after me and my flustered brethren fumbled through the twisted version of the tune a couple times, I could see the uneasiness on everyone's faces This song was understandably shaky on our part. We were shell shocked by the odd version, plus (as I said before) we were struggling to NOT play it like the classic version everyone is familiar with.

As we were trying to soothe the shrapnel wounds we just received to our psyche, we were given a harder task. We were informed the song was going to have a syncopated James Brown type ending. 

Oh lord. This song was gonna be the death of us. 

But we are all experienced guys so we buckle up for the onslaught. 

We worked and we worked and we worked. 
The instructions for the ending were all kind of vague (i.e.-"when y'all do the DAA NAA NAA NAA DAA DAA part twice then come in with ....NAA........DAA DAA DAA .....NAA NAA.....DAA DAA DAA DAA!") but we were determined to get it right. We all tried things, asked questions and attempted to write out the actual rhythm notation for NAA........DAA DAA DAA .....NAA NAA.....DAA DAA DAA DAA! Or at least a notation that would remind us individually how the part went. 

Fast forward through a lot of toil and grief. We finally got it after about 40-50min. Remember that we had been spending 8-10 per song up until this point, so this "simple song" had eaten up a bulk of a rehearsal just for itself and most of that time was spent hammering out the 7 second ending. 

But all of our efforts were worth it. This surprisingly tricky song was locked in now. The band was solid on the whole thing, even the ending. 

Now Fast Forward to the show. We have a few equipment glitches initially but other than that it is smooth sailing. The ladies are all on their A game. They are dazzling the crowd song after song and we are providing the backdrop for them to do so. 

The band all looks on the list and see "Respect" is next. We exchange a quick smile as if to say "Hang On. We got this."

We kick off into it and the song feels good. Carmilla is putting on a performance that would make Aretha jealous. She is killing it. Her energy is infectious. The crowd is feeding off of it. The band is feeding off of it. 

The band really sinks into the groove and the tune feels great. I'm thinking  maybe this strange version of this tune was worth the brain hemorrhage after all. Well only if we "stick the landing". 

We are approaching the end of the tune. The eyes of each band member widens. I could see the anticipation on each of their faces. 
I gripped the guitar a little tighter and braced myself. It all came down to this. The NAA........DAA DAA DAA .....NAA NAA.....DAA DAA DAA DAA! Was coming in 4 measures, 3 measures,2 measures....

Then Carmilla (who was understandably wound up giving the performance of her life and having the crowd eat it up), turns toward the band and gives us the unmistakable , be all to end all hand gesture that she was about to end the song. In that millisecond I saw her hand held high I thought, "She's not about to forego the ending. I mean THE ENDING. You know the NAA........DAA DAA DAA .....NAA NAA.....DAA DAA DAA DAA! We spent most of a rehearsal (and untold brain damage) learning"

But sure enough, she swung her arm down and like any professional group of musicians would do....stopped on a dime. 

The bar before the NAA........DAA DAA DAA .....NAA NAA.....DAA DAA DAA DAA!

Well, the crowd erupted in applause (and they should have. That was a great rendition of that song and Carmilla had truly delivered a stellar performance). The audience felt no lacking because they had never been exposed to the NAA........DAA DAA DAA .....NAA NAA.....DAA DAA DAA DAA! In the first place. So they didn't miss it. 

The band however was staring at each other in a state of disbelief. Our ending. The hours of toiling. The chunk of soul with which we paid for the learning of said ending. All passed with one drop of a hand. 

In retrospect it is hilarious to think of those band member's expressions. It was part terror, disappointment, shock, and bewilderment. 

We were so knock back by that shock that it took a song or two before we really found the groove again but I have to commend that group of guys. 

Due to the amount of effort and that went into NAA........DAA DAA DAA .....NAA NAA.....DAA DAA DAA DAA! Without it ever getting performed would have caused lesser men to collapse in a heap. 

Although it was definitely jarring to them, the improv abbreviated ending didn't stop the band from doing our job. 

Although I know we are much more prepared for tonight's show, I can't wait to see what little magical moments await. 

Hopefully they won't entail a missing ending this year. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Focus On The Revolution

Focus on the Revolution.

I've been absent from the blog for a little bit. This was not intentional. But a neccesary byproduct of life.

I've been revolutionizing some things. And revolution takes time. Revolution takes....focus.

Since my last blog I've written two songs, started collaborating with two (way above my pay grade) songwriters, started working out and eating right again, booked a 3 month Australian tour, booked two weeks of session work/writing time at a studio in LA, started a new side business and highly edited my business model for my main business/"real job" music career.


But I also did one more thing. I realized I had a focus problem. I don't mean that I found out I have ADHD, or that I lacked focus. Far from it. I have always been one of the most focused people I know. I realized I was misusing my focus.

Part of my new "lifestyle change" if you will, is that in addition to actual exercise I'm going to walk a little every morning as a kind of meditation and mental focus time. I love being outside. But I rarely just walk. I usually like doing something more aggressive or active. Usually if I simply walk I eventually get bored and then jog or run part of my journeys. Therefore I devised a plan. I will bring a ball with me everyday and bounce it. This will keep my pace slow and therefore allow my mind to be what is exercised (My physical exercise is going to be done at a different time slot). The walk is for meditation purposes.

Since this was day one , I had to find a ball. Well I'm a guy plus I am a former athlete. I didn't figure finding a ball in my house would be an issue. I went to grab a ball.

No ball.

Ummm....surely there's a tennis ball around here somewhere. Nope. Basketball? Dang. I am embarrassed that I do not have a ball in my house. Well I eventually came across an old hacky sack. It isn't a ball but I figured it would be a suitable replacement (for today anyway). I'd just have to toss it hand to hand instead of dribble it.

So I set out on my walk, hacky sack in hand. I tossed it from right hand to left. Then left to right. Repeated. Well after a couple throws my mind drifted to all of the career/life things I listed above. The throwing of the hacky sack was subconscious.

Well until I thought , "Wow, I'm throwing a hacky sack without focusing on it". That thought struck a chord with me.

I could have easily been staring at the hacky sack each throw, contemplating exactly how to let it roll off my fingers, exactly how much force to put behind the toss and exactly where to position my other hand to catch it. But I didn't. My mind was a million miles away from that hacky sack yet the task of catching was still accomplished.

This thought excited me.

How far could I take this?

I mean I had been mentally elsewhere, but I had still been keeping my eyes on the hacky sack as it flew through the air. My mental focus had definitely been elsewhere but my visual focus had stayed on the hacky sack.
Could I pay even less attention to the task and accomplish it?

For the rest of the 2.5 mile walk I intentionally focused my gaze nowhere near the hacky sack. I purposefully fixed my eyes on a point far down the road (my metaphoric and simultaneously real destination).

I tossed the hacky sack and still caught it. Again after a few tosses I let my mind drift back to all my new exciting affairs.

I kept catching the hacky sack.


I will admit that I dropped the hacky sack once in a while but with no more regularity than when I was keeping my eyes on it.

This experiment in peripheral vision and subconscious movement had some profound effect on me.

As I walked along I realized that my over active focus on music and business had been wasted (well partially wasted). I realized that just having focus isn't enough. Focus needs focusing too (if that makes sense).

Just like my attention to the hacky sack, many things that I had been devoting huge chunks of time and focus to were able to be accomplished with little or no focus. My over active focus is a good thing ......if and only if it is aimed.

So I've had a revolution in life approach. Some would just call it prioritizing. But it is slightly different than that (at least in my mind).

In addition to prioritizing (keeping my eyes down the road , focused on the "destination" and the most important things) I'm also not going to spend much time or focus, if any, on things that are on autopilot (I will treat them like I treat the catching of the hacky sack. Paying a little extra focus when an error occurs. Otherwise let it run on autopilot).

I believe there are tons of things in my life that have been time suckers and attention suckers. If those things require attention and time to work, THEN I have to decide if they are worth saving. If they can work on their own, I'm going to set them in motion and let em run. As I said, if a problem arises surely I'll have to spend a little time and effort fixing issues. But the time and effort will be minimal and more importantly it will be temporary.

I feel like I let lots of tasks consume a low level of my attention all the time. Not anymore.

The important things will now have more of my attention. The smaller (autopilot) tasks will fend for themselves. I'll tend those when needed.

I've only just begun this approach but I can tell you it feels great. It feels right. And I recommend you try it.

As a matter of fact try my experiment.

Get a ball or a hacky sack. Take a 20-30 min walk tomorrow morning. Start tossing the ball hand to hand. Initially you will need to focus on that action. But slowly move your focus to a spot down the road. Think about the things you plan to accomplish today or your grocery list or just let your mind wander. But let the tossing back and forth slide into your subconscious.

If you drop it , so what. Pick it up and start again.

When you return home, think about your figurative "spot down the road" that deserves more of your time and focus. Then find 3 tasks that you worry or toil over that could really be put on autopilot.

Then repeat tomorrow.

Hopefully it's as rewarding for you as it has been for me.

Friday, September 14, 2012

I Played the REAL L.A.

Last Night I played in L.A.

I was honored to be one of the artists featured at the L.A. Song Writer Festival. Getting recognition in L.A. is a pretty big deal. I remember being a 13 year old kid with a guitar and a dream. I used to imagine how it'd be to wow the regulars at some L.A. venue. And last night I was there. I had made it. Last night I played along side some of L.A.'s finest talent. And I felt like I belonged. ......Finally my songs had made an impression on L.A.

Lower Alabama.

Sure the show was at an American Legion in Lower Alabama ("L.A.") and not the Viper Room on Sunset. Sure  the room was filled with regular, salt of the Earth folks instead of movie stars. But as I sat there last night I had to smile to myself. I sat there and absolutely enjoyed listening to, playing with and playing for a true listening room audience and a group of amazing seasoned songwriting veterans. I had accomplished my "L.A." dreams without knowing.

I realized that my "L.A. Dreams" had come true a long long way from California, but they had come true nonetheless.

The reality I experienced last night was drastically ......almost unrecognizably different than the ideas that were in the head of younger me. But as I sat in that room last night it was blatantly obvious to me that those kid's dreams of mine were reality.

I sat among some of the best song writers and performers I have ever heard and I played my creations. I played them to the full house and people enjoyed them.

You see the "L.A. Dreams" I had in my head as a kid involved celebrities and velvet roped V.I.P. rooms and all sorts of pomp and circumstance that was missing at last night's show.

But the thought occurred to me: My younger dream had surely come true. It may have appeared that the Fairhope, Alabama American Legion post failed to live up to the grandeur of that Hollywood Club I envisioned or that the good people of the Gulf Coast were paltry in comparison to my imagined star-studded crowd , but that couldn't be more incorrect.

It was a different scene than I imagined it'd be, but that was because my young mind couldn't grasp the power and beauty of the simple.

The show last night was powerful not inspite of its simplicity, it was powerful because of it.

All the goofy trappings I had fantasized about in my youthful ignorance were nowhere to be found. That didn't lessen the power of the situation. It increased it. By having the silly , unnecessary sparkle and glitter of Hollywood stripped away, I saw what my actual dream was. I saw what the dream had always been.

The dream was to create art that I am proud of. I had done that.

The dream was to garner the respect of my fellow artists. I (felt like) I had done that.

And the dream was to play my songs for people who actually care about songs. I was currently doing that.

I was "Living the Dream". Truly.

Don't get me wrong, last night wasn't the first time I realized I am "Living the dream". As a matter of fact I feel like the luckiest guy alive most days. I truly get amazed a lot of the time that my life is so full and happy and filled with great people. But last night I did have a revelation about that younger dream of mine.

Had the 13 year old me stuck his head in last night, he would have ignorantly thought it was far beneath his ideal dream gig. But that wasn't because the gig was lacking. Far from it. He would've thought the gig / venue beneath his fantasy gig because his understanding was lacking.

All the additional elements of the fantasy gig I used to have were fake. Last night was real. The people were real. The artists were real. And most importantly the songs were real.

Last night, that American Legion WAS the dream gig. Last night was what all the struggle has been for. And worth every bead of sweat I've shed chasing it.

So I wanna say Thank you to every one in Fairhope who came to the American Legion last night.

You made the "L.A. Dreams" of a young man come true in ways he couldn't even imagine.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On the Other Hand....There's Humiliation

I'm sure everybody has had a moment where they wished they had kept their mouth shut (or I don't know.........a moment where they wish they hadn't basically flip off a machine gun toting Turkish guard with both hands :

Well I have a long list of such embarassing stories.

Over the years I've told these stories to the amusement of myself and my friends.
Eventually they all began telling me THEIR embarrassing stories. I now have compiled dozens and dozens. I may write a book of them one day (changing the names to protect the less than innocent). I have loved telling these stories and hearing others' similar stories for years (so feel free to leave one of your own in the comments). But the first humiliating story for me, the story that started my infatuation with embarassment was the following:

I was 16 years old. It was a Friday night. I had played well in the baseball game earlier. School had been easy that week. I had no homework. I had just picked up my girlfriend and I was meeting all my close friends at the movie theater.

It sounds like a pretty spectacular night doesn't it?

Well it most definitely was. I was having the time of my life. Me and my girl laughed all the way to the theater. Once we arrived we met up with the rest of the gang.

We were being loud and obnoxious I'm sure. I , of course was being the most Loud and the most obnoxious as we waited in line to get our drinks and popcorn.

Once we completed the concessions transaction , I led the way toward the theater.

As our group of 8-9 teenagers rolled closer to the entrance to the movie theater hallway (and therefore the man who tears the tickets) , I was at the climax of whatever story I was telling. With animated gestures and overly exuberant boisterousness I turned to face my "audience" as I backed the last few feet toward the man who tears the tickets.

I continued wrapping up my story (which I am sure had zero importance) and turned my head back slightly so I would know where to hand the ticket. Because my focus is much more locked on entertaining my friends than paying attention to where I'm backwardly walking, I only see the ticket tearer in my periphery.

98% of my attention is still aimed at the lobby and my listeners, 2% noticed from the corner of my eye something miraculous.

The ticket tearer had grabbed my ticket, torn it, and returned it to me. He had grabbed it in his right hand, instantly popped it with his two fingers and thumb, leaving him pointing just the stub towards me.

This lightening fast motion and the fact I was highly involved in my self importance and storytelling , made the man's action dazzling.

It had lasted less than a second but my brain was enthralled in the magic.

Again wanting to entertain my friends, it was more important for me to tell them what had just happened than to turn and see for myself what was going on.


It was like seeing a sleight of hand for the first time. It was dazzling.

I was very genuinely impressed and very genuinely amazed.

I was more amazed when I FINALLY turned my attention back towards the direction of the theaters and the ticket man......because that was the moment I realized....

He had torn the ticket with one hand.......because he only had one hand.

Every drop of blood drained from my face. I instantly fell silent.

Apparently the expression on my face told the man that I was mortified and that I in no way meant to harm him with the words I had just spoken. He and I never spoke a word (I literally couldn't speak), but he gave me a smile that said, "Pay attention to your surroundings, kid. Some people aren't as kind and understanding as I am."

The potential anguish I COULD have dealt that man with my careless words really hit me hard.

I feel very lucky the man had a cool temperament and a kind heart.

It took hours for me to accept my error and get back to having fun. But the lesson has stuck with me ever since.

I still love to cut up. I still love to get loud.

But I always pay attention to the people and things around me. Always.

I suggest you do the same. Or don't and contribute your embarrassing stories to my collection.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reggie's Ukulele Moment

One of the most exciting and fun times of my musical career was touring with Victor Wooten.
For those of you who are unfamiliar Victor Wooten is a revolutionary musician. He is a bassist who has literally changed the face of music. He is an innovator. He is a 5 time Grammy award winner. And he just so happens to be a friend.

My band, The Ugli Stick has had the honor of performing with Victor at his Bass/Nature Camps many times and we have been fortunate enough to have him jam with us at our NAMM shows in Anaheim, CA multiple times. (Here are some clips: , )

Although it still feels very strange for me to say, I can now say Victor is a friend of mine. (As a matter of fact he has agreed to an interview, which I will soon be posting here for you all to read).

But when Victor hit the road in 2010 he asked us to open the south east shows. This was a huge honor for us of course.

Victor's band was incredible. It consisted of : Derico Watson on Drums, Steve Weingart on keys, Reggie Wooten on Guitar and of course Victor on bass.

Watching them perform was like going to the circus and church all at once.
They play with fire and brimstone intensity but with childlike uplifting creativity. They jam in complex time signatures and odd progressions, but they do so in such an accessible way. It is so much fun to see a bunch of people dancing and smiling to a tune that is in 4 keys and has bars of 5 amid 7/4 time.

The band made complex stuff cotton candy simple. And they were having a great time doing it.

It was complex music without the slide rule. They were partying.

Anyway, getting to be a prat of all that was exciting to me. I was grinning from the beginning of the shows til the end.

But the one show in particular I wanna tell you about was at the HandleBar in Greenville, South Carolina.

We played our show to a very responsive crowd. I was beaming as I went out to meet and sell CDs. I danced and smiled along with all the rest of the audience as Victor and the boys took us all on a musical adventure.

When they finished their "last song" and walked off stage the crowd erupted. There was no doubt that the crowd wanted more. After a few moments, Victor and the band came back on stage. Of course the crowd went wild.

Victor got on the mic and called us back on stage.

Then both bands proceeded to jam together for a few minutes. The entire crowd was moving to the music. Then Victor looked at me and kinda nodded towards the mic. I had been so caught up listening and dancing I hadn't even thought about getting close to a mic. I was an audience member. I just happened to have been invited on stage.

But when Victor asks.....well he won't have to ask twice. I was walking to the microphone and time seemed to stand still. I can still see the packed out club. I will always feel the intense groove being produced partially by my band and partially by a group of my heroes. It was very surreal.

I sang a little , I rapped a little then I turned it back over to the remarkable instrumentalists. But that was the most comfortable I've ever been while singing/rapping. The groove those guys were laying down was monstrous and the crowd was so into it too. It was a ton of fun.

After I did my few minutes, Dale sang some then we went into Sly & The Family Stone's "I wanna thank you for letting be myself again". That was probably the most fun I've had during a song. Everybody in the building was smiling.

We finished and the crowd again went wild.

At this point Dale and I adjourned to our dressing room. We were still in there smiling and laughing and letting the moment soak in.

For some reason we had brought Dale's Ukulele into the dressing room earlier, so we picked up the Uke and passed it back and forth (I think we still had some happy excited energy from that amazing encore we had just been a part of).

As we were laughing and playing songs on the Ukulele we heard a knock at the door. It was Reggie Wooten.

He said , "Can I come in?". We said of course. He told us he LOVES playing the Uke and as a matter of fact Ukulele was the first instrument they had. He played ukelele before learning guitar.

It was so cool to be hanging with one of our heroes and have him obviously feeling the same excitement as we were. He was beaming and didn't wanna stop playing for the night either.

Of course we handed him the ukulele and asked him to play. He was playing and singing and laughing. We were having a great time.

After a while there was another knock on the door. This time it was the tour manager. He said, "Reggie! Where have you been, man? They are waiting on you! Come On!"

Apparently there was a second encore about to commence but they were waiting on Reggie. We had accidentally confiscated his attention with our Uke.

Reggie just looked up and said, "Just a minute".

I'll never forget that moment. There was a thronging crowd awaiting an encore, there were 3/4 of a world class all star band on stage about to play and yet this musical master wanted to finish his Ukulele song before entertaining the idea of returning to the stage.

To see the look on his face and the enthusiasm with which he was playing that Uke, the tour manager had to concede.

Reggie finished his song (Which was "Mary, Mary" by the Monkees)...THEN he agreed to go play the final encore.

It was a beautiful moment to me. He wasn't by any means being a diva. Or saying "I will return to the stage when I'm good and ready". He was excited by the encore we had all played together and he was genuinely playing that Ukulele with excitement he had when he was a small child. He had been transported back to that time when he was first getting his hands around this magical stuff called music....and the power of that moment lit up his face. I could see it, Dale could see it and the tour manager could see it. That was more important than rushing back to the stage. He needed that extra minute and thirty seconds. And I did too.

Dale and I went back to side stage and watched Reggie join the band and then we watched them bring the house down one final time for the evening. They bowed. The crowd gave them a huge ovation. And the show was over.

But after seeing Reggie's Ukulele moment back stage I've been more aware of those magical musical moments. Reggie had been transported back to his childhood for a few moments and it made him as happy as I have ever seen a person. When he went back out on stage to perform some severely non-childlike music , this happiness brought the music an innocent simplicity.

It is from this that I noticed the entire band was playing with this attitude. That was how they made deeply mathematical music seem light and fun. They were all playing with the fearlessness and happiness of children.

Seeing my heroes approach complex music this way altered how I have approached music ever since. When I am fortunate enough to bump into moments, I cherish them. I love being transported back to the time I was just learning to play or just learning to sing or write. It fills my current writing and performing with so much passion and fire.

Of course technique and study are very very integral to making great music. However after seeing the excitement with which Reggie played that Ukulele spill over onto his jazz fusion playing I am more convinced than ever that all the technique in the world will not rival finding your own  "Reggie's Ukulele Moment".

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain. But almost didn't.

When I was a young man I was fortunate enough to become friends with Sally Taylor and subsequently her family. Sally is such a wonderful person and as it turns out so is her family.

Well the next time Sally's dad, James Taylor, was on tour he left me tickets and backstage passes to the Pensacola show at will call.

I was very excited. I've always been a huge fan of James' music and after meeting him and his family I had even more respect for him. I asked Dale if he wanted to go with me (of course he did).

It turned out that our friend Bobby was going to the concert too. Bobby found out we were and invited us to meet him for dinner pre-concert at Mesquite Charlie's .

Dale and I were still headed home from a gig while we were discussing all this with Bobby. We got to my house with just enough time to change clothes and head to Pensacola.

When we got to Mesquite Charlie's we didn't have much time before we needed to get to the show (maybe 45 minutes). We ordered, ate fairly quickly, then asked for the check.

When the check came, I reached for my wallet. wasn't there.
It's ok. Dale and Bobby both immediately offered to cover the meal.

Then it hit me.....It is NOT ok!!

I'm an hour from home, headed to watch and hang out with James Taylor and my tickets are at will call (which will require the ID I do not have).

Oh no.

Well drive to the venue, park the car , and begin walking.

As we approached the arena my heart was sunken. I had about .0001% chance they'd let me take those tickets without any ID.

We said bye to Bobby then he entered the venue with his ticket. Dale and I waited at will call. The longer we waited the more convinced I was that I wasn't getting in.

The guys in line two people in front of us reach the window:

Guy: "I have two tickets for Chad Franks"

Will Call Lady: "I just need to see a photo ID before I can give you the tickets"

Chad produces his ID, will call lady hands him the tickets and away he goes.

Next person in line: "I have 4 tickets for Denise Sanders"

Will Call Lady: "I just need to see a photo ID before I can give you the tickets"

Denise produces ID, will call lady hands her tickets and away Denise and friends walked away, tickets in hand.

Then it was my turn.

Fully expecting the worst I approach the window.

I explain my situation
to will call lady and plead for her understanding.
She was extremely nice but was under very very strict orders to NEVER release tickets without the person having ID.

Of course I understood. As a matter of fact I had fully expected this to be the final scenario.

I thank the will call lady for trying. I look to Dale and apologize for being an idiot (therefore not only making him ride to Pensacola without seeing the concert but also making him miss his only opportunity to meet James Taylor).

I dropped my head and turned to slink away back to the car to head back home.

Right as every ounce of hope had drained from me and I realized there would be no concert nor hanging with James for us, I heard an oddly familiar voice very faintly yelling "Birdman".

The voice was so faint I thought I may be imagining it but I looked back anyway.

Way in the back of the will call room was a friend of mine from college. She was running toward the window screaming "Birdman. Birdman".

I was so depressed about missing the concert that the happy face of an old friend was even more helpful than it typically would be.

I walked back toward the window to say hi. As I was approaching I realized ......This wasn't just a great chance to catch up with my friend.......she could vouch for me being who I said I was and get the tickets!!!!!!!

I explained my situation to her. She grabbed the tickets and passes and handed them to me.

She and I talked for 3-4 minutes (during which I'm sure my sentences were probably more scatter brained than normal being as I was trying to process the whole will call scene and the random chance that had saved my night). she explained that she had moved to Pensacola a few years back. She had been in the front office where she works and just happened to walk down to will call to grab a stapler. As soon as she stepped through the door she had seen me.

What are the chances of that?

After talking with my friend for a bit and thanking her about a million times, she went back to work and Dale and I went into the concert.

We had perfect 7th row center seats. We went and hung out with him after the show and he was as cordial, funny and cool as everytime I've met him.

It was one of the more spectacular nights of my life, but when I think back to it I think of how extremely close it came to being a disaster.

Had I been half a second quicker in turning away from the will call window in dejection , my friend would have never seen me and we would have driven home having not seen the concert and not hung with James.

When I think back to all the magical amazing moments in my life , the moment at that will call booth has to be the most movie-like.

I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't experienced it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How to Get Lucky

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" - Elmer Leterman


The young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale, and as he talked with his sales manager he lamented, “I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The manager replied,

“Son, your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.”


People come up to me all the time and tell me how lucky I am that I get to do what I love for a living. I always smile when I think of how great my "work" is and then I whole heartedly agree with them.

As I sit alone in front of this screen I'm having a change of heart. I guess I most-heartedly agree with them. No. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure I agree with them at all.

The sentiment that one is lucky when one does for a living what one truly has a passion for has been adopted and adapted into our vernacular and collective consciousness so strongly, that virtually everyone concurs. But does anyone concur because they have thought it out and feel like the "lucky" person is lucky to have a job doing something they love? No. They say it because it sounds good and they have heard countless other people say it.

Here is what I am trying to say. My life is awesome. I wake up happy pretty much everyday. On the days where I don't wake up happy, I find that a cup of coffee and a little breakfast cures what was ailing me.

I create music. I love creating music. I record or perform music with phenomenally talented friends. These friends add their flavor to my creations and bring them to a better place.

I travel. I love to travel. Music has taken me to places that I never dreamed of and I have 3 more international trips already slated to yet more places I've never seen.

I connect with people and make new friends. I love interacting with people. Music allows me (via all that travel and performing) to meet really interesting people that I wouldn't have met otherwise.

It is sure starting to SOUND like I am lucky. Everything I love doing is presented to me on a silver plate.

Yes. I love my life. It's a perfect comfortable place (for me anyway).

But I think people are too quick to attribute this to Luck.

It has nothing to do with luck….at all.

Being in a career that truly makes you happy and fired up is a choice.

When people attribute my happiness and success to luck, I feel like it is unfair to them. I get up every day and attack because I'm happy with what I am doing and I have seen what can be accomplished when I do. It wouldn't matter if it was attributed to horseshoes or leprechauns or anything else. I wake up and make music, travel , and meet new people. These are all things I love.

But by thinking of my situation as being "lucky" people aren't changing MY situation one way or another, they are changing THEIR situation.
What I mean is this, I have worked exceptionally hard for a long long time and sacrificed a bunch to find myself in a happy place. Things are going well for me. When people throw out the word "Lucky" they are putting obstacles in their own way to similar happiness and success in their lives. Reaching a dream career seems unachievable if it requires luck. It seems like winning the lottery. But it is not.

If you see a glassblower, that has worked at his craft for 30 years and is now a master. He wakes up every morning with a smile, goes to his shop and makes superb glasswork and makes a sustainable living, would you say he is lucky? No. He has been determined and persistent.

Everyone can do the same.

If you are in a job you hate. Make a plan to get out of it and in to one you love. I'm not saying that will always be simple. As a matter of fact, I'm almost assuring you it will be difficult. It may take years and years, but make the plan and do it.

It is peculiar to me how some people misunderstand their station in life (like the salesperson in the story at the beginning of this post). It is easy for people to get sucked into the cyclic drudgery of day in day out grind and the rhythm of it lulls them to sleep.

The preconceived notions of what they "have to do" or are "Supposed to do" are keeping them from happiness and fulfillment.

I say start a revolution in your life. Ask yourself if you love what you do.

Imagine you are a stranger that has been observing you work for a week. Would you walk up and say, "You are lucky. You get to do what you love doing."?

If not, CHANGE your situation. It doesn't have to be immediate. As a matter of fact it probably can't be immediate. But break the cycle. Set your long term plan into motion. You don't have to arrive at happy, fulfilling career by the month's end, but you should turn your sights toward that destination.

It may be a decade before you get to the point where you are sustaining yourself doing what you love, but you will get there.
And when you do , you will not only be helping yourself but you will be helping the world.

Because the world doesn't need a bunch of drones plugging away at meaningless monotonous tasks. The world needs people who have come alive and attack each day with passion.

Do what you love and you will have no choice but to attack each day with passion (and a smile).

Your journey will be tough but worth it.

Good Luck!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Friendship is the Litmus

I have been close friends with the members of an Austin based band, Full Service, for many years. The guys are simply great. They are certified geniuses (they have the diplomas to prove it), they are all super athletic (they have the physiques to prove it), they make incredible music (they have a string of great albums to prove it), and they are simply genuine, great guys (and they have a large supportive friend group to prove it). It's this latter of these attributes I want to address.

Due to my touring and their touring it had been a couple years since I've had the chance to hang with Full Service.....until yesterday.
Man it was such a needed reunion. We biked around Austin. We swam in the creek. We had fun.

Well in addition to just hanging out with me, they decided it'd be cool to host a house concert for me and invite all their friends since I was in town.

I was excited to get to see Full Service again but I was also excited to play their party. The guys of Full Service always do things right. I had no doubt the show would be great.

It exceeded my expectations.

Even though they had just gotten off tour themselves, Full Service hustled and worked to turn their back yard into a cool music venue. Then they reminded all their friends to come see the show.

Their friends came out in a remarkable numbers for a Tuesday night. They all sat there and quietly listened but still interacted with me and clapped when appropriate. It was an incredible show for me. They seemed to enjoy themselves too.
(it was a "listening room" enviornment that epitomizes what I wrote about in the post : )

But the overwhelming show and turnout made me think about friends.

I had of course already thought plenty about how fortunate I am to have friends like Full Service that would go out their way and work so hard to accommodate me.

But during the show I thought about friendship from a different angle.

Is there a better indicator of how a person has lived their life than the quality of their friends?

I think not. And although it isn't surprising to me that the guys of Full Service would have great friends, the amount of quality people they were able to gather on short notice to watch me play proves to me ......they have been living right.

Sure the guys of Full Service have been friends of mine for years. We have had plenty of gigs together, time together on the road. They have visited my house in Mobile.

But what about all these house concert guests tonight?

These people had never heard of me. These people came simply because Full Service asked them to.

Once there, these strangers to me were genuinely nice and welcoming. They went out of their way to make me feel at home. They listened to my stories and songs intently.

When I was done performing I met all the folks that had been listening. They were all so nice and interesting I hated for the night to end because I wanted to hang with them more.

Seeing how authentically kind these people were made me even more proud to call the guys of Full Service my brothers.

There is no way to amass such a quality friend group without being quality people.

The fact Full Service shared their friend group with me for a night reminded me of how giving and friendly they are. But that fact that they have built such a quality group of friends tells me so much more about them.

Well done, boys.

And Thank you.

Don't Be a Dummy

I love to travel. I feel like I'd go crazy being in one spot all the time. But traveling can be hard on ya.......if ya let it

You have to decide before you ever crank the vehicle: Are you gonna be the ventriloquist or the dummy?

Are you in control of the trip or is something or someone else in control.

I can tell you, it's a lot more fun when you aren't the one with the hand up your butt.

I've traveled through vast expanses of countryside with mom and Leon. Today we explored eastern Colorado, the panhandle of Oklahoma and part of Texas.

Covering this amount of distance may seem exhausting but it's not. Well let me quantify that statement. Traveling vast distances CAN be exhausting if you approach it incorrectly. It's brutal if ya choose the dummy route.

The trip we are on is fun. It's fun because we are making it fun. We took control and refused to let it be any other way.

Today we have chosen to be the ventriloquist. We are in charge of pace. We are in charge of direction. We are in no hurry. If we see a roadside attraction that strikes our fancy we go see it. If we are hungry and see an interesting local restaurant we stop and eat. We aren't on any time schedules.

After looking at corn fields for days, it may seem like 10 more hours of corn fields would be maddening but it hasn't been.

It's been fun. We've been singing, we've stopped at some cool little stores and historic sites. But the most important part of the trip is the fact that we are in control.

When you start the trip with a ventriloquist's mindset you have fun along the way. When you have fun along the way the "boring miles" melt.

I realize it is not always possible to to be in command of the logistics like we are on this trip.
But when life allows you to, I suggest that you leave early, enjoy spots along the way , and most of all......refuse to be the dummy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

"I'd Put Money On That": Rolfing and Zucchini Races

I am in Boulder, CO. I have been out here for a few days. Tonight is the last gig here then I head south with my parents.

Today's gig is going to be a cool one. I'd put money on it.

It's not always easy to make that assessment in advance but with this one I can. I would put money on it being great.

We are playing at the Boulder Creek Hometown Festival.

This is our third time here so we know what to expect. And what we expect is a great responsive crowd, a well organized festival and fun. I'd put money on it.

The cool thing about the Boulder Creek Hometown Festival is that it is a family oriented festival and they have all sorts of fun activities to do during the day.

They have Zucchini Races (kids pick a zucchini from a huge mountain of zuchinis, decorate them with eyes and paint and all sorts of sparkles and other accessories, then they mount wheels to their zucchini and they race them down a big inclined race track).

There are lots of vendors advertising their products or services and offering free samples.

I like free samples.

I got some cool local Colorado honey, a couple different energy drink shots, I drank some locally brewed Vanilla Root Beer (which came in a bad ass stainless steel souvenir mug), and I got Rolfed.

Don't worry. Rolfing is not as nasty as it sounds. I had never heard of Rolfing but the people by the Rolfing tent seemed very pleasant plus from their advertisement (before and after pics) I could tell Rolfing was somehow involved with spinal alignment.

Playing guitar for 20 plus years has left me in constant need of spinal and back muscle attention so I was intrigued.

By the name alone, Rolfing sounded weird enough to try. I walked up and handed them $10 for 10 minutes.

I was welcomed by a young Asian guy named Ryu. He asked where most of my problems were. I started to say ," you're gonna massage my brain?" but figured my humor may be misconstrued as an insult so I just said, "between my shoulder blades".

Ryu told me to lay on my back. He slid his hand under my shoulder , gently and gingerly pressed his fingers against my back and lightly pulled. I felt like I was getting a massage from the weakest person alive.

I thought that maybe he was warming up and maybe he was kidding but surely this wasn't Rolfing. If it was it was a laughable process.

I know from experience that my chronic condition is only slightly helped by intense extremely hard massages. My upper back is just basically one knot after another. And Ryu was pressing into my back with all the force of a 105 year old arthritic grandma. This was doing nothing. I'd put money on it.

Once I realized that Rolfing was apparently a new agey, "align your humours", witchcraftery silliness I decided to simply enjoy laying on a table for ten minutes.

Ryu seemed like a very nice guy so I figured I would try to entertain us both by starting a conversation.

I said, "I've never heard of Rolfing before"

He said , "In a massage, the therapist presses hard into the muscles to force the muscles to release tension. That's not what I'm doing with Rolfing.."

I thought , "Oh. Ya don't say. Maybe THAT's the problem. Hahaha "

Ryu continued," what I am doing is holding presurre against the connective tissue until it releases the tension. Connective tissue covers all the muscles and organs. When someone works hunched over a computer all day for example , the connective tissue can kinda get stuck or frozen in that shape and cause issues with muscles, nerves and eventually skeleton. This causes further issues and then starts a downward spiral."

I said , "I see."

But I thought, "That does make sense but the ridiculously weak pressure you are putting on me wouldn't release any tension from any thing"

I spent the next 8-9 minutes idly talking to Ryu and basically waiting for the Rolfing to be over.

At the end, Ryu said ," ok. Sit up."

Once I did I realized that my back felt looser and more relaxed and limber than it has in years and years.

I was in complete shock.

How was that possible?
It didn't feel like he did anything. Obviously he did. My back felt like a million bucks. I had a spring in my step that wasn't there prior to Rolfing.

I thanked him and walked away smiling. I walked away smiling partially because I felt so good but partially because once again life showed me I was comically mistaken. It showed me that my brain sometimes gets in the way.

(Note:Let me say that I'm not the new poster boy for Rolfing. I'm not even suggesting you go out and try it. But I'll try it again due to how much it helped me today.
My point isn't that Rolfing is amazing. My point is how my prejudices made me drastically mistake my situation).

I guess the lesson I will take away from my Rolfing experience is ......I should be more careful with my prejudices lest I become known for my great judgement as much as Floyd Mayweather is.

Unlike Mayweather, so far when I have been saying "I'd put money on that" it has been figuratively.

So as I approach tonight's gig, I HOPE that it will be phenomenal and a ton of fun but I'll keep my "I'd put money on it" in quotation marks.

Artist Spotlight: Russell Mefford (of the Fiddleworms)

I began thinking about how many incredible people I have met through my gigging and traveling. It is truly a great great benefit of my career. As I thought about it I suddenly felt bad. I have been stingy without realizing it. I have been letting my friends and fans down by not introducing them to these incredible musicians/characters.

Well this is the first installment of my efforts to right my wrongs.

I'd like to introduce you too Russell Mefford.

When I moved to Muscle Shoals to record "Nostoi" with The Ugli Stick (and subsequently became a writer for FAME) , the Fiddleworms were the first people I met.

Russell is one of the most kind hearted people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. He is a generous soul.

When it comes to music, Russell and the rest of the Fiddleworms are authentic. the Fiddleworms have realness that is undeniable. When you hear them and see them perform you know they are artists. The music they create is raw ,uncut, and direct.

The Fiddleworms' music draws on the muscians' Muscle Shoals roots but I assure you they aren't regurgitating new versions of old songs. The 'worms create music that is unique , moving and fresh.

I recommend it highly. Go check out their stuff.

Well since I love the Fiddleworms so much as musicians and people AND they happen to be finishing up their latest album "See the Light" (which features me singing on a couple songs as well a couple songs I helped write) I thought , they'd be a great first group to introduce you to.

So I sat down with Russell and the following was the resulting conversation:

Eric- I've been a fan of the Fiddleworms since I first heard you. Y'all have always created songs that blend genres into a beautiful fresh music. Is this genre blending a specific decision or is it a result of letting each song direct the production?

Russell- "We try to let the song lead us. We also want to error on the side of letting things in. All the fellas each have their own influences and interests. They also have a great respect for the song. We try to let it all seep in and pay no mind to what we might call it."

Eric- The Fiddleworms have enjoyed longevity in a time when longevity is extremely rare. Do you have any explanation as to how that has happened? or Do you have advise for other musicians as to how to keep a band together and moving forward?

Russell - "DON’T EVER STOP"

Eric- Muscle Shoals is renowned for producing musical talent. However having lived in Muscle Shoals for many years, I couldn't help but notice a renaissance or a resurgence of talent from the area recently that is more than normal. You guys are a huge part of that in my opinion. Since you are a native and a big part of the scene, can you tell me if YOU can tell a difference over the last 4-5 years?

Russell-"Big difference. I will say the Shoals music scene took a big hit when you guys had to move. Having a band like Ugli Stick move to Muscle Shoals was a message to people that we are a destination. It was also encouraging to those of us here as a reaffirmation that we are relevant. You and I have not really gotten deep into the reasons but I would guess not having venues here would have to be a reason for your move. I understand that all too well. I think that despite the lack of support from our local governments the music of Muscle Shoals is thriving because of Social Media. The world can see us. You can see John Paul on youtube and follow Jason on Twitter. Billy Reid moving here has really helped. He is someone who has invested into the scene here. He also introduced me to Eddie Hinton’s music. Billy seems to be a great guy, he definitely has great vision. Talented writer Cherokee Lair has written an article about 12 Muscle Shoals Bands/Artists that is featured in the September/October issue of Relix Magazine. It could be even better if we just called all 4 of the Quad Cities simply Muscle Shoals. When I was playing coffee shops in Tampa, Fl. people would ask me where I was from. If I said Florence they would have no idea where I was talking about. Most people know or have heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. F.A.M.E studios, in Muscle Shoals, stands for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises and was originally located in Florence. Muscle Shoals Sound studio was located in Sheffield. Tuscumbia is home of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Its all part of the Muscle Shoal’s Sound so I think we should call the whole area Muscle Shoals. Again the local governments continue to ignore their greatest asset and yet the music continues to survive."

Eric- The music world has lost a lot of legends this year. Are there any musicians that passed away this year that you had personal ties to or that specifically inspired you

Russell-"Whew… yeah man, we are only 2/3s of they way through 2012 and it seems we have lost so many this year. There are those who were part of my childhood. Watching rerunds of the Monkees (Davy Jones), listening to Donna Summer on the radio and seeing “The Sting”(Marvin Hamlisch did the score) as a child. All you have to do is mention the word “sting”, bee sting, police sting…, and the Entertainer plays in my head. You can not be from Muscle Shoals and not have your soul ache for the loss of Etta James and Donald “Duck” Dunn. Levon Helm and MCA seemed to hit me the hardest. Anything I hear from Levon seems so real to me. If he told me the world was flat I would believe him. The first time I heard the Beastie Boys was in 1987 and I was real suspicious of them. I listened to Grand Master Flash and Run-D-MC in high school. It was a time when the industry suits seemed to be crafting images more than music. I wondered if their thing was all made up. Well, obviously it WASN’T. The Beasties are great and losing Adam is like having so many pages ripped out of an amazing book. We have been robbed of greatness."

Eric- Speaking of inspiration, can you tell me some of the artists that helped inspire you to be a musician, can you tell me some artists that have inspired/influenced your style of writing and production along the way, and can you tell me some new artists you listen to?

Russell- "When I was in 2nd grade a classmate told me I was an accident. When I got home I asked if that was true and Mom said “nooo… you were a blessing”. Mom was certainly quick on her feet. My brother is 15 years and my sister is 13 years older than me. The opening of Cameron Crowes “Almost Famous” reminds me of my childhood. Here is this young kid being brought up on great music. My brother and sister brought me up on the Beatles, Dylan, Rolling Stones, Who, Hendrix; the music definitely influenced and inspired me as a child and still does to this day. Lately I have been digging listening to Blackberry Smoke, Civil Wars, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Eric Erdman, and the Pollies.

Eric- "See the Light" is the new album. Describe how this collection of songs and the production came about.

Russell- "It has been a lot of fun for me. We wanted all fresh material so Rob and I sat down and wrote together for this one. We have usually brought things in written by ourselves in the past. I had the honor to write with You, Dale, and Rob on a couple songs for this record, I got to write a song with Donnie Fritts and Scott Boyer, and one with you and Dick Cooper. On top of that you guys all came in and played and sang. Corey Hannah is making a film to go with the release which is something new for us. There will be a CD listening party on October 29th at the Shoals Marriott Conference Center in Florence. "

Eric- How do you feel "See the Light" fits into the Fiddleworms anthology?
Is it a departure from previous albums?

Russell-"We are continuing to grow as human beings and musicians. I hope that shows on this record."

Eric- I've always loved the fearlessness with which the Fiddleworms (and producer Jimmy Nutt) approach recording. Your last album "Volkswagen Catfish" has audio clips of a shotgun on one song and a fishing reel in another. I love not only THAT non traditional ideas were used to enhance the recording but also HOW they were used artistically. Are there any sonic surprises on "See the Light" or are y'all sticking to the instruments only this go around?

Russell-"Plenty. I wanted this record to flow seamlessly from start to finish. My wife, Allison, gave me a Zoom hand held recorder which allowed me to record sounds as I stumbled across them. The theme is loosely based on a cicada radio show. Sounds from our present and past interwoven into the music. Bugs, busses, radio static, the University of North Alabama “Pride of Dixie” Marching Band, chickens, dogs...."

Eric- After the release of "See the Light" what is on tap for the Fiddleworms? Touring? Writing another album?

Russell-"To keep following the song wherever it takes us."

Eric- Can you list all the places people will be able to get "See the Light" and all other Fiddleworms stuff?

Russell- “See the Light” listening party Monday, October 29th, 6pm at the Shoals Marriott Conference Center in Florence, Alabama. Admission is free. “See the Light” available October 30th. The record will be available locally at Pegasus records and and on itunes Like us and get band info at

Eric- Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I'm a huge fan of your music and I can't wait to hear the new album in its entirety.

Russell-"I love you Eric. Thank you for sharing your talent and shining a light on us Worms!"