Ever get a feeling about yourself, of suddenly noticing where you are, of what you’re doing with your life? Where you’re going and what it all means…any of that? It hits me occasionally, at weird, random moments but is fleeting and never lingers. Like I’m suddenly in a dream, floating, outside of myself, looking at everything. It’s a bizarre thing. Last night it happened. We were in the middle of a tune, I’m on stage (totally sober) and I suddenly have this hyper awareness of where I am and what I’m doing, but it was like I was watching myself perform. I was still able to play during this dream state, nothing was lost but (for a brief moment) it was like my spirit was dancing around me, sitting on my shoulders checking me out. Then, I was reminded of a passage I’d read in a wonderful book by Eckhart Tolle called, The Power Of Now, where he’s describing three different states of being…the first is just you in the moment, then next is your mind with all of your thoughts, but then there’s another self that is above all of that, listening, watching and that’s the one I felt last night. It’s hard to explain.
That’s his name and his game is Soul. Without going into it too much, (cause I think I already covered this subject somewhere in this blog) we wanted to make a record together, he asked me to produce, I happily accepted the challenge and promptly hired the best in Memphis to help make it happen and the results came out fantastic. Billy’s new record is totally smokin’ and available for all to own. Check it out, here
Literally, July marks exactly twenty years ago that I first made the journey westward from Memphis to California and it’s amazing looking back on where I was at that point. What a trip. Although this 4th of July, instead of boarding the Greyhound west, I’ll be getting on a plane and heading back home for several weeks, filling my days and nights with lots of hang time with family and friends before the summer tour with CRB. LA has been pretty good to me this time around and I feel confident about where things seem to be headed, although my disposition may have something to do with that, as I know I’ve changed a good bit since relocating here in 1991. Life was somehow simpler and less hectic, but I was idealistic and lacked a clear direction. A kid with stars in his eyes in the land of movie stars. Twenty years, wow. That seems like a lifetime ago.
Today, I’m happy, grateful and incredibly lucky for the amazing people near to me and to be sharing the stage with the wonderful musicians in my company.
Seems like I’ve been surrounded by death lately, which is a constant reminder to me of how precious our life is on this planet. Last week I got a call from my good friend Jim Austin, an amazing upright bassist who plays in a number of great west coast groups, one of them being Brawley, a total baddass honky tonk band of troubadours. It was a sad call, as Jim and his band members had just received word that their drummer, Johnny had suddenly passed away and they had a gig coming up soon that needed to happen. Touchy situation indeed, but everyone agreed that Johnny would have wanted the show to go on, with or without him. Apparently, he was just that kind of guy. He and I didn’t know one another, but somehow I feel like I might’ve met him at some point cause when I saw his photo, there was something familiar to me. Maybe I saw him play once.
I found some nice words written about him on a website solely dedicated to preserving the memory of great musicians called, The Music’s Over.
John Kulhken was an accomplished musician who took up the drums when he was just 8 years old. Born and raised in the San Diego, California area, Kulhken joined the Air Force after graduating from high school and later earned a Journalism degree from San Diego State University. A true journeyman drummer, Kulhken played in many local bands including the MacAnanys, the Nards, the Rugburns, and Sara Petite and the Sugar Daddies. A 10-year survivor of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for which he received a bone marrow transplant, Kulhken was hospitalized after not feeling well on May 20th only to learn he was suffering from a blood infection that ultimately took his life several hours later. John Kuhlken was 49 when he passed away on May 20, 2011.
What a great smile and from everything I’ve heard about this man, he was a true blue cat. Of course, I told my friend that I’d be more than happy to play with them and I’ve got about 15 of Brawley’s tunes to learn, which won’t be so easy to pull off, as there’s a spark and snap in his playing that can only come from years of experience with honky tonk music. Such a killer player he was and a perfect, relaxed feel for that music. I’m sitting here in my apartment listening to a live recording from one of their recent shows, thinking of the loss. I dig his playing…
The CRB played a show at the world famous Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown last week but we had a day off the day before, so I decided to head out to the high desert of Yucca Valley to see if I couldn’t gain some perspective on the world and such. As much fun as it is, touring life can often take a toll on your body, mind and spirit, so if the opportunity is there, it’s good to take some time to yourself every once in a while. I had a great time, hung out with old friends, played music, ate righteously and was able to sit quietly with my thoughts, although the altitude and dry air really messed with my sinuses quite a bit. Starry skies, Joshua trees and many lizards I saw, but didn’t get much sleep, that is, until I paid a visit to the pharmacy for some vitamins and meds. That helped me out a lot.
One thing I will say about people of the desert, they often have unique personalities and (some) see the world through a very different lens. Many folks I met seemed totally confused that I was a touring musician from Memphis and couldn’t believe I was visiting the desert alone. Trying on their best southern accent, “Really? Wow, Memphis. You kn0w I have a friend in Nashville. Maybe you know him?” Of course, what they don’t realize is that Nashville is roughly three hours away from Memphis and is a pretty big town. Funny.
A friend of mine introduced me to a lady he was dating and she immediately wanted to know how I was able to travel as much as I do and be away from home all the time, or in my case, no home at all. I told her I loved traveling and everything that comes with it, but when I described to her the rigors of the road, right away she seemed turned off by the idea. Waking up in a different city every morning, searching for good food in unfamiliar surroundings, working until very late at night then repeating everything the very next day. It’s a pretty good life, I said with a smile and I’ve gotten to see a lot of the world. But to my complete surprise and amazement, she looked at me without batting an eye and said, “And all of that for tips!”
It took me a second to realize what she was saying.
What do you mean, I asked?
“Well, you play for tips, right?”
Really…are you serious? You think that I play music for tips? I’m a little insulted, I said.
“I’m sorry. I just wasn’t sure that anyone could really make a living playing music. You mean, this is your job?”
Of course, I won’t bore you with the rest, but it was one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in a very long time and I realized she was (in no way) trying to hurt my feelings at all, just terribly misinformed. I went on to tell her that as a salaried employee, things were good and although I wasn’t getting rich or anything, my life was full and my bills (for the most part) were being paid. Later, I discovered she was quite wealthy herself and thought that music was something that people did for fun, on the side as a hobby. I guess there are those who do.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of walking into a vintage shop, seeing a gorgeous Stetson hanging on the wall, trying it on and having it actually fit. It’s a rare occasion, indeed. Although an avid fan and owner of many, I’m usually not very lucky when it comes to vintage hats due the size of my noggin, but two days ago I happened upon this lovely right here and my name was written all over it.
This is my last day in town, my stuff is put away in storage and my apartment is almost empty. I’m ready to go. Tomorrow morning, my best friend Joe and I are hittin’ the road, straight across I-40, heading westward to Cal-ee-forn-eye-aye. Should normally only take about 3 days, but we have plans on stopping in Arizona to see the Grand Canyon…don’t think my buddy has ever seen it and I’ve only been once, so it’s a must for us. For the past several weeks, I’ve been hanging with close friends and soaking up as much of this city’s goodness as possible, in order to fill my being to the absolute brim with Memphis soul. Trips to my favorite BBQ spots, soul food restaurants, dive bars and late night joints have taken up the majority of my time and my plate is certainly full. Stay tuned…
…the days when someone jumping onstage in the middle of a performance would warrant an ass whoopin? Just wondering. I can remember my father telling me that if someone ever does this to you, it’s the ultimate sign of disrespect and should not be tolerated. Well, in today’s society, it’s a behavior I’m seeing more and more of. This weekend’s show marks the third time in the past six months this particular thing has occurred while I was in mid-set with a group and it has me totally perplexed. I just don’t get it and this time the culprit was (apparently) a musician himself or rather, a rapper who is known for this sort of rude behavior. So much so, that audience members and folks throwing the party were used to his antics and showed no look of surprise when he completely took over during our last song of the night, grabbing the mic in the middle of the tune, shouting expletives in a drunken, garbled voice. When asked nicely, “Hey man, can you please let us finish our song?” his reply was, “Naw, it’s cool!”
Hmm, really? Well, how about a kick to the balls…would that be cool?
It’s true. Many years ago I was in a terrible quandary and wasn’t sure what to do or how to make the right decision. I had just been accepted into a music school out in Los Angeles and for a young man of 23, the west coast sure did seem like a wonderful and enchanting place. As the saying goes, when it came to the idea of living in Hollywood, I had stars in my eyes. This was my second attempt at getting into this school and the second time I’d been accepted. My first try was a few years prior and even after I received my acceptance letter, I chickened out and never left town. Time went on, but something kept gnawing at me to go for it one more time, so I did and I got in, but this time I was leaving and nothing was gonna keep me from it. The trouble was, I’d been playing drums with a band called Big Fish for almost three years and things were going pretty well for us. We’d just signed a development deal with a production company in Nashville and were in the middle of working on a demo to shop to record companies, when I just up and split town, leaving no word to the guys in the band as to what my plans were. It was a stupid, cowardly act and I knew it, but somehow I feared that if I didn’t leave right then, I would never make it out of Memphis and I was willing to take the risk of burning a few bridges to see my dream fulfilled.
I’d felt that same fear grip me several times in my past. I remember once my dad took me to Sears for a new pair of cowboy boots and I was too excited. I’d been watching a lot of old westerns with him and we were both big fans of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and all the great cowboys. My personal favorite was Lee Van Cleef. He just had that look that said, I will kill you and that’s what I dug about him. Total baddass. Anyhow, Dad and I made it over to the shoe department and right away he found just what I’d told him I wanted…brown leather with a square toe, just like they wore in the movies. He told the clerk my size, but Dad hadn’t realized that I’d grown a couple of inches since my last pair of shoes, so when the guy came back with my size, I tried them on and they didn’t fit. But I didn’t say a word even though my toes were getting squished in the top of that boot. Something came over me right then and I just knew that if I told them that those boots didn’t fit, then I wasn’t going to ever get a pair. It was like they were the last ones in the world and they were gonna be mine whether they fit or not. “How do they feel, son”, Dad asked? Great, I said! And that was that. A few weeks later, my dad noticed I hadn’t been wearing my new boots and asked me where they were and when I told him that they didn’t fit, he just about lost his mind.
It’s funny to me that after traipsing the U.S. for more than 15 years, taking up numerous residences in San Diego, LA, NYC, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Austin, I end up right back where I started from all those years ago and it makes me wonder about my life, how it’s mapped out. It’s so crazy. Anyway, upon my return home, I was surprised and happy to learn that my friend Andy still had the band going and had made quite a name for himself in the Mississippi casino circuit. When he found out that I was back, he quickly made his way out to one of my gigs and we were reunited once again. He said he liked my trio very much and couldn’t believe how much I’d changed from that skinny little kid he knew so many years earlier. Smiling, he embraced me and I was so glad he’d forgiven me. A few months passed and one day he called to see if I might be interested in coming to play with them and I was overjoyed.
Although the members may have changed some, the music is still very much the same and we’ve now shared the stage together dozens of times. I feel lucky to know these guys and have them as my peers. My motto is, don’t beat yourself up about the decisions you make. Just make ’em and keep moving on, even if you feel you’re being selfish. Time will take care of the rest. Take it from me.