Music (or My solution to the Mid Life Crisis)

Jukejoint Handmedowns, music

I half considered a career in music when I was still in high school. It was a choice between music and art, and I think I made the right choice (as far as being able to ‘make a living’). But I’ve never quite let go of the music bug. My earliest musical memory, is when I was visiting some friends of my parents (who would later turn out to be my high school band director), and discovering a piano in their living room, where I began picking out melodies. Then in fourth grade, when the students made the graduation from ‘recorders’ to picking out a ‘band instrument’ for the following year, I was offered the trombone for some reason (being a ‘boy’s instrument’ I suppose), but made it clear that I was interested in the saxophone (I don’t remember why, I just remember thinking they looked awful cool, with all those shiny keys). I played the tenor sax throughout high school, but around 1976 or so, my sister was given a piano and piano lessons, and I started playing around with learning chord voices and picking out popular tunes that I could play and sing to (“Hotel California” was one of the earliest pieces of sheet music I actually went out and bought). I eventually got good enough to fake my way through most songs, and played for a few choir solos at school, and once the band director figured out I could play the keyboard, he put me on the xylophone for marching band. I also played a little piano in short lived “garage bands” that me and my friends would put together.

My Uncle Ken gave me a wonderful gift when I was about 13 or 14 years old, his old Harmony Sovereign six string guitar. I fiddled around with it a little bit, but I didn’t get serious about playing guitar until I moved away to college, and had to sell my saxophone for rent, and didn’t have a piano to play anymore. I think the first song I learned to play from beginning to end on the guitar was “Chuck E.’s In Love” by Rickie Lee Jones. I eventually bought myself a 12 string once I’d been working for a few years and had a little extra income (I saw a school chum playing a 12 string in high school and have thought they were the coolest thing I’d ever seen — little did I know how hard they were to play bar chords on).

From 1982 to about 1998 I contented myself with occasionally getting the guitar out of the closet and strumming through the songbooks I had on hand, sometimes playing backup so others could sing in living rooms and around the fire pit. But somewhere around 1999 or so, I got the itch to learn to play either cello or string bass (thanks to some movies that I saw that struck a chord with me: Sting playing Upright Bass in the otherwise forgettable movie “Stormy Monday”, and Alan Rickman portraying a dead cello player in the movie “Truly Madly Deeply”), so I picked up a couple cheap instruments on ebay and started taking lessons in cello (never took bass lessons, but managed to teach myself the fundamentals).

My cello teacher invited me to a ‘jam session’ at her house after a few years of taking lessons, and that was the first time I ever played either the upright bass or guitar with other musicians since high school, and boy was it an eye opener. I had no idea what I had been missing. Consequently, I started seeking out other ‘amateur musicians’ like myself who were interested in semi-regular ‘music parties’ that we would rotate the hosting of.

One of these new friends would occasionally trot out an original song or two of his. It had never occurred to me to try and write songs of my own, so I wrote my first song sometime around 2001 or 2002.

I purchased an 8 track digital recorder around that time and started experimenting with recording and overdubbing, and since I was starting to write my own primitive material, I used those as grist for the mill. I wasn’t all that confident in my lyric skills, so I enlisted the help of a friend to write and record some songs, but the more I wrote, the more confident I started to become and eventually discovered that I liked writing on my own better than collaborating.

Since then, I’ve been dabbling in songwriting and music recording in my spare time, and some of these recordings are available through iTunes, and CDbaby. Click on each cover image to get more information.

I’m currently playing upright bass and singing with a country duo in the West Michigan area called the Jukejoint Handmedowns. You can check out samples of our covers and original tunes on our website and find out where we’ll be playing, and you can also follow us on Facebook or find promotional merchandise at my Zazzle store.
The 5 song EP (cover pictured to the left) was recorded in 2010, and we are working on a full length CD for release sometime early in 2011.
UPDATE: The cd “Everything But the Squeal” was released in April of 2012, and is available on iTunes, Amazon as well as any number of other internet sites (or for sale at our shows).

I’m also playing electric bass with a group called ‘Neon Graffiti’, a group that has been around in various incarnations in the Grand Rapids area for the past 4 or 5 years. I joined in 2010, and we are currently putting together a cd of original material to be released sometime in 2011 (links to come). Part of this group has splintered off into a sub-group tentatively called “Blank Slate” which plays cover tunes mostly for the bar and private party market. ADDENDUM 2018: I eventually left this band when my schedule proved too hard to manage, but still keep in contact with the members.

Aside from the groups mentioned above, I also occasionally play jazz with my son and another friend as an impromptu trio (guitar, bass, saxophone), and to satisfy my ‘classical’ urges by playing cello in an adult student string ensemble. I’ve also been known to join informal pick-up groups of musicians to perform at a local liberal non-denominational church for special occasions.

In 2007, I challenged myself to write a ‘song a day’ for a period of about 6 months, resulting in a collection of about 130 songs. This CD contains 10 of those songs, and I’ll be releasing more of these compilations later in 2011. Click on the cover image for a link to the cdbaby purchase page. You can also preview much of the material from this period at my site, along with demo recordings of new material.

In 2005, I released this collection of 21 songs, with a collaborator, under the name ‘Monkeyshine’. These can also be found (along with an unpublished partially completed 2nd album) at a site devoted to this band.
Prior to this, I had recorded a collection of christmas tunes as a private gift for family and friends (along with the same collaborator for many of the songs), and some of these can be found on my personal site. Many of the songs were cover tunes, and are not included for legal reasons, but a few originals and public domain songs are posted for curiosity’s sake.

ADDENDUM: (Spring of 2018) The Jukejoint Handmedowns have been together now for 8 years, and have 4 CD releases to their name. We managed to win a local “Jammie Award” for our 3rd release (not much heard of outside of Grand Rapids, but locally, a certain prestige is attached to these awards given by our local independent radio station). Aside from the JJHD, I have been playing with a group called ‘The Willeys’ on bass, as well as a jump blues group ‘The Rhythm Aces’, and I still play with the St. Cecilia Adult Orchestra alongside my wife, and I am currently the principal bassist for the Kent Philharmonic Orchestra (a local adult orchestra made up of adult volunteers, mostly educators and college students). Still have quite a passion for music at this stage, but haven’t yet quite figured out how to make a living at it.

My son (who graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a Jazz Performance Degree) is currently playing with several pickup bands in the Chicago area, and his regular group ‘Bonzo Terks’ continues to tour and perform and just recently put out their 3rd collection of tunes.