An Open Letter to The Rock n’ Roll Manifesto

an open letter to the rock n' roll manifesto ...

Dear Rock n’ Roll Manifesto,

On behalf of everyone who still believes in Three Chords & The Truth, thank you.

On behalf of everyone who sees a guitar cable, and instantly understands the connective tissue between potential and power, thank you.

On behalf of everyone who’s smelled the other band’s lead singer’s breath in an SM58, thank you.

On behalf of everyone who still believes in band names that start with “The,” thank you.

On behalf of everyone who knows Joe Strummer was a bluesman, thank you.

On behalf of everyone who understands that country, blues, rockabilly, and punk all belong together, thank you.

On behalf of everyone who is deadly serious about doing that which is ultimately very fun, thank you.

On behalf of everyone who understands that without independent radio, we die, thank you.

On behalf of everyone who is still surviving on Advil, Nyquil and nicotine, thank you.

On behalf of Total Massacre, The Filaments, Tommy & The Commies, Lovesores, Hank Von Hell, Sick Things, Amyl & The Sniffers, Scott Deluxe Drake, The Suck, Stevie Tombstone, Beggar Belief, and ALL Manifesto awards recipients past and present, thank you.

On behalf of everyone who knows that what The Manifesto don’t know, ain’t worth knowin’, thank you.

And on behalf of myself, and anyone and everyone who is a fan of Preacher Boy music, thank you. For this:

manifesto

In short, thank you.

Regards,

Everybody who still believes in Rock n’ Roll. Including me.


“Less is More,” and Other Lies about Writing

If anyone tells you that “less is more,” or says something like, “Don’t use two words when one will suffice,” please 1) Tell them to be quiet, 2) Remind them that puppies cry when they lie, and 3) Walk away, slowly.

 

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If you’re an aspiring professional writer, and you’ve gotten as far as subscribing to the notion that “less is more,” you can congratulate yourself on having gotten all the way to about Day Two of Copywriting 101.

Don’t feel bad. There’s a great deal of poor advice out there.

On that note, if you fashion yourself some sort of writing guru, and you’re out there preaching a gospel of “less is more,” stop.

Brevity, memorability, and accuracy

The only time length-without-context matters is when you have a specific character count to manage—social media post, design brief, copy block for a website, whatever it may be. In those instances, and only in those instances, do you need to worry about length. Otherwise, length in and of itself doesn’t matter.

Don’t get me wrong. Length IN context does matter. Let me share a quote with you:

“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.” —Joseph Pulitzer

Brevity, memorability, and accuracy. That’s an important trio to remember.

Juxtaposition is your friend

As to that nonsense about one word being better than two, remember this: juxtaposition is your friend. Here’s an example from Shakespeare’s Henry IV:

“… nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.”

Now, let’s look specifically at one particularly picturesque (to use Pulitzer’s term) line:

And like bright metal on a sullen ground

“Bright” and “metal.” “Sullen” and “ground.” Here’s what happens if you remove the juxtapositions, in line with the “why use two when one will do” way of thinking:

And like metal on the ground

Is it less? Yes, 28 characters instead of 40. Is it accurate? Yes, in the sense that the meaning is still correct. Metal on the ground. But is it picturesque or memorable? No. No, it is not.

Words are everything. They are our power, our gift, our magic. Words represent one of the defining capabilities of our species, honed over centuries of evolutionary adaptation: language.

Social media is the modern-day equivalent of the smoke break

I mentioned social media above. Let me tell you something about social media. Social media is the modern-day equivalent of the smoke break. It’s what we do when we’re in between two other important things. It’s what we do when we have a little time to kill—when we’re bored, restless, anxious, and impatient. Have you ever actually WATCHED someone when they’re using social media? They’re not focusing on much of anything. It’s a very twitchy experience. 40 years ago, if an ad agency told you they were going to base their entire demographic targeting budget on data accrued during people’s smoke breaks, you would have laughed them out of the room. Because it wouldn’t be representative of who they really are, or what they care about. The behavior people exhibit while on social media is largely not representative of who they really are, or what they really care about. People click on stuff that helps them kill time. That’s all.

Bad data, bad writing

Why do I tell you all that? Because by and large, all these “less is more” people believe it’s a good mantra because they’re looking at tainted data they think is telling them about people’s reading habits. They’re looking at largely useless data, and drawing inane conclusions about “snackable” copy, and the behavior of “skimmers.”

Should you write a magazine article based on data accrued about people’s reading habits in doctor’s offices? No. You shouldn’t. Nor should you write a blog post based on people’s reading habits while on Facebook.

Do you know what I think when I see a blog post that’s less than 400 or so words? I think, bullshit. No point in reading it. No way it has any value.

Unless you think you can do better than Basho, we don’t need you

If anyone is better at short copy than Basho, introduce me. If you’re all about “less is more,” call me when you can write like Basho. Want to know something about Basho? He didn’t only write Haiku. He also wrote long-form travelogues. Brilliant ones. They’re amazing. Why did he do that? Because some content needs to be longer.

For the record, the subheader above is swiped from a quote by James Michener:

“Unless you think you can do better than Tolstoy, we don’t need you.”

Also for the record, War and Peace is long. Long, and amazing.

Actionable value

We mentioned brevity, memorability, and accuracy above. Here’s the other really important thing you need to remember: actionable value. Great writing has value that can be acted upon; great writing imparts value, and makes us act.

Here are two great quotes from Joe Pulizzi, the author of Epic Content Marketing:

“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

“Good content marketing makes a person stop, read, think, and behave differently.”

First, we have a definition of what content marketing is, then we have a definition of GOOD content marketing. In a nutshell, it’s all about actionable value. As a writer, your job is to deliver valuable words that inspire a reader to act upon them.

Show me the glint of light on broken glass

Here’s another quote for you:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” —Anton Chekov

Chekov is generally considered to be one of the great short story writers of all time. Note: short stories. Short.

As a reader, when you tell me the moon is shining, that’s all I know. That’s all I feel. That’s all I take away. When you show me the glint of light on broken glass, I am transported. I am in the story; a participant. I am moved. I am awakened. I am inspired. I have seen that which I had not seen before. The moon is shining is not “less is more.” It is just … less.

I’ve been a professional writer in some capacity for most of the last two-and-a-half decades. For the past 10 years, a great deal of my writing has been “business” writing. In my role as a “business writer,” I get asked a great many questions about writing, and one of the most common is, “How long should my article be?” The answer to that question is simultaneously very simple, and very complicated:

Exactly as long as it needs to be.


20 Hard Musical Truths—19 of which are true. (The Roots, Blues, & Rock n’ Roll Edition)

Hard Musical Truths

Go ‘head. You figure out which one’s the lie.

  1. Americana as a genre has never really bettered The Basement Tapes.
  2. Car Wheels On A Gravel Road notwithstanding, Lucinda Williams can’t actually write, sing, or play her way out of a box.
  3. The value of The Old Crow Medicine Show began and ended with Wagon Wheel.
  4. In John Bonham, we have the starkest example of a great rock n’ roll drummer in a terrible rock n’ roll band, and in Max Weinberg, we have the starkest example of a terrible rock n’ roll drummer in a great rock n’ roll band.
  5. There are no more than 10 truly great Beatles songs.
  6. The TajMo album is a piece of shit.
  7. Had he lived out the full measure of a musical life, Buddy Holly would have had more of an impact than Jimi Hendrix, had he done the same.
  8. Jeff Buckley’s Hallelulah is better.
  9. Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End Of Love is the only acceptable instance of rhyming “love” with “dove.”
  10. The Velvet Underground’s debut album sounds like a bunch of low-rent Dylan outtakes.
  11. Tom Waits can’t play the blues.
  12. The Beach Boys are unnecessary.
  13. Carole King’s Tapestry is not a great record. It’s not even a good record.
  14. Hellhound on my Trail is a straight-up Skip James rip.
  15. Plant, Page & co. are thieves and criminals, and should be stripped of most of their earnings.
  16. The only good “tribute” albums are made by Hal Wilner.
  17. For every 1 good “Chicago Blues” artist, there are 3 good “Country Blues” artists.
  18. Hank Williams said it, I believe it, and that settles it.
  19. Eminem is a better lyricist than 98.5% of all “singer-songwriters.”
  20. This Land Is Your Land should be our national anthem.

A Good Song Is …

Song

A good song, insofar as one can describe one’s own creation in such a fashion, is a kind of controlled frenzy,  sort of a bucking bronco ride where a certain kind of practiced, angry madness meets several degrees of deliberate lunacy.

A good song is both much wilder and much more sedate than that. It’s homemade alcohol at 160 proof that burns your throat, and drum mountain white cloud tea that promises you something more than meditation and steam.

A good song is words on a page and notes on a staff.

A good song is right up there with the novel, the poem, the play, the sculpture, the painting, as a great thing.

A good song often comes in a rush so overwhelming you can’t write fast enough to put it down. I don’t mean to suggest that this is objectively a good song, or that it’s a good song to you, but I’ll call it a good song all the same, because I think it’s a good song, and to me, it is, and it’s called “The Fine and The Weak,” and I really can’t understand how it came out, or why it’s like it is, but when I listen to it or read it now, I’m sort of staggered by everything it contains inside it:

The spoils of life are both fine and weak
A circus mirror for the grotesqueries we won’t speak
We won’t speak that name, we won’t name that wound
All the songs that we sing have all come un-tuned
It’s all come un-tuned like a dancer’s slip
Like a drunken old captain down with the ship
Gone down with the ship, as dust to dust
To rejoin all the bones that preceded us
They preceded us to the farther shore
Where the wheel of fire won’t spin anymore
Won’t spin or even light or even offer up change
So farewell to the wild, unruly, and strange
Unruly and strange, like the dreams we duck
Like the black on the glass from the stack of a truck
From the stack of a truck comes a hovering guilt
Blacking in the white lines where somebody got killed
Somebody got killed where the spool melts down
Where the strip of our life comes fully unwound
So fully unwound in an amber slick
That when we try to walk through, our soles all stick
Our soles all stick to the way we were
And the less we know now, the more we once seemed sure
Oh, we once seemed sure that the future was close
As the father to the son to the holy ghost
But the holy ghost plays unholy games
He might blink with hope, but he bets with shame
Yes, he bets with shame on an un-rollable rock
Until there’s no more dust left on anyone’s clock
Now, anyone’s clock has a chance to be right
And still we can’t divine day without invoking night
When we invoke night what we mean is the moon
We feel the tides of our women in the ocean’s womb
In the ocean’s womb every secret splays
For the alphabet of history to spell its own days
To spell its own days, to write its own wrongs
To bend in the pitches of the un-tuned songs
All the un-tuned songs, all the hollowed-out pelts
All the unsung saints, and the way they all felt
That’s the way it all felt, when the patient and meek
Finally came to inherit both the fine and the weak

A good song is an answer that makes you ask the question, “Is the idiot in Idiot Wind actually the narrator?”

A good song has a narrator.

A good song is a built thing, like a model airplane. It starts with a picture and directions, and ends up with glue problems and a missing decal, and a splinter, and a moment of flight so exquisite that you remember it when you’re fifty, along with the smell of grass, and the taste of dandelions.

A good song is more than just a clever couplet, but sometimes, a single couplet is how I convince myself I might have a good song on my hands. Is this a good couplet?

Blister and a bottlecap, fetch my skippin’ stone
Get a bone, get a bone, fetch my skippin’ stone

It might not seem like it, but it healed me from nearly a decade of musical sadness.

A good song is not a melody.

A good song is more about phrasing than it is about words, except when it’s more about emotion than it is about logic.

A good song is a sort of memory ritual that can’t be tested for efficacy until you’re years and years away from the moment that birthed the song. But if you are years and years away, and then you listen to that song again, and it takes you right back to where you were, then you’re onto something, particularly when you can’t even recall what some of the images even mean, or how they came to you, or whether they’re real, or something you imagined:

Deep in the dark Californian night
Driving straight into the stars
Half of the moon sits on top of the hillcrest
To x-ray the clouds and their scars

Spanish accordions dog all the handprints
But changing for change sake was soothing
The bargain begins at the first sight of mountain
To obey the mystery of moving

Damp in the cold Californian morning
The eye behind the wave
Brown into green, into green, into blue
Into blue into some deeper grave

Apple-skin fledglings supine on wood
That’s been waxed to slide over violence
The bargain begins at the first sight of ocean
To obey the mystery of silence

Sometimes I wake with the lightning in my eyes
And the echo of some thunderclap
Jesus, man, what a motherfucker of a storm
I have never seen nothing like that

Deep in the dark Californian night
The iambic frame of the naked
Pushing the screen up against all the water
Listening for sounds that sound sacred

Belatedly praising the roots for their honor
Grateful the earth remains porous
The bargain begins at the first sight of breathing
To obey the mysteries before us

A good song belongs to no one.

A good song is there at the beginning of time—it just needs someone or something to put it together.

A good song is kind of like “Lincoln Logs”; a building toy to build log cabins with, and there were X amount of pieces, and X amount of variation between the pieces, and pretty much just one way you could put the pieces together—notches—and pretty much anyone who played with it built a log cabin or possibly a fort, and once we stopped following the directions and just started building, some of us built paddocks and fences and second small buildings and windows and not-windows and really we all just built log houses.

A good song begins differently when you begin it on piano than when you begin it on banjo.

Cemetery Stout, which is another song that I don’t mind saying is, I think, a good song, began on a piano in Ballyvaughan, County Clare, Ireland, and ended on a National Resophonic in Manhattan, New York. There is, in a shoebox of mine, a cassette tape of the very first demo of Cemetery Stout:

The rain was on the grass, and the wind left a letter.
The morning was a wish, and the dreams got better.
The handles went backwards, and the smoke curled a waltz,
and the lazy conversations turned from true to false.

The nicotine thumbs took the bulls by the reins.
The shovels hit the rust with the passion of saints.
Boys became girls, and the girls became tomorrow,
and the clouds paid me back for whatever they had borrowed.

and Matilda got the coat,
and Mikey got the hat.
Desmond’s gone to the hospital,
and he’s never coming back.

The high rises, elsewhere, expanded their boxes.
We skipped out on the funeral, to sleep with the foxes.
A rifle of wood, and a castle made of plastic.
The night was a wish, but the dreams got too drastic.

Everyone was preparing for yesterday’s battle.
A pint in the boot, and a spike in the saddle.
Let’s bury the laws, and dig up the mugs,
paint shadows on the windows, and footprints on the rugs.

and Matilda got the coat,
and Mikey got the hat.
Desmond’s gone to the hospital,
and he’s never coming back.

There’s a battery in the bath, and the animals are listening.
The radio is out, but the newspaper is whispering.
Put a trunk in the shelter, and title it well,
and no matter who begs you, don’t ever tell.
All the words got smaller,
because the troubles were brewing.
Put a target on the barn,
and quit whatever you’re doing.
Take a moment with the cows,
and get a taste of the dead.
One fed the words,
while the other one said…

…that Matilda got the coat,
and Mikey got the hat.
Desmond’s gone to the hospital,
and he’s never coming back.

A good song is always at least a little bit about death.

A good song is homeless.

A good song is a house that will break somebody’s feelings when it becomes an Estate Sale.

It’s a very common question for a songwriter: “Which comes first, the lyrics or the music?” It’s hard to answer that, other than to say, “Neither.”


Deep Bows, Tony Joe White, Deep Bows.

Tony Joe White

The list of songwriters and musicians that I love is a long one. There is also a shortlist.

This shortlist is reserved for those artists who go beyond just being songwriters and musicians. They are the artists whose very existences are, have been, and will continue to be, life lessons to me. The way they think, feel, speak, walk, move, dress, sound—these people are the alpha and the omega of what I understand of the world.

To these songwriters and musicians, I owe a debt that goes beyond influence. If I am anything resembling a whole person; a thinking, feeling, living person who is mindful and aware in the world; then it is due in no small part to these artists. If I myself am anything resembling an artist—a poet, a musician, a storyteller—it is on their shoulders that I stand. If I live, it’s because I have breathed their air.

Tony Joe White is on my shortlist.

For one thing, “Willie and Laura Mae Jones” is probably the greatest song about racism a white person has ever written.

Tony Joe is, to me, what was once the impossible. To hear Tony Joe for the first time was to begin to believe that maybe there was a home for someone like me in the world.

He brought together the country and the city; blues music and folk music; poetry and rock n’ roll; pathos and funkiness. He did it all, all while being so fucking cool. He wasn’t the first or the only to do any of the above, but he did it all like no other. There is no put-on in his songs, no over-earnestness, no dogmatism, no self-righteousness, no sanctimony. He is just straight up raw and beautiful.

Tony Joe is, to me, like Sleepy John Estes—a true blues storyteller. The characters in his songs—just like those in Sleepy John’s—are just right there, and real. Roosevelt and Ira Lee. Willie and Laura Mae Jones. Old Man Willis. Polk Salad Annie. The High Sheriff of Calhoun Parrish. The Backwoods Preacher Man. These people are as good as alive to me.

Tony Joe White is Carson McCullers with a harmonica rack.

Tony Joe White passed away on October 24th. As recently as last month, he was still giving us more music. Fittingly, a blues album. Of it, he said:

“I’ve always thought of myself as a blues musician, bottom line, because the blues is real, and I like to keep everything I do as real as it gets.”

Tony Joe White is as real as it gets.

The cotton was high and the corn was growin’ fine 
But that was another place and another time.

~

image credit: Heinrich Klaffs


Can You “Win” at The Blues? Thoughts On “Competing” in the International Blues Challenge

The International Blues Challenge Solo/Duo Competition, presented by the Golden Gate Blues Society, and hosted by Mission Street BBQ, begins at 2pm PST on Sunday, Oct 21, 2018. All are welcome to attend and listen, and those who purchase a ballot may vote on who to send to Memphis to represent the region!

IBC - BANNER

Call it what ya wanna: Folk Blues, Delta Blues, Country Blues, Original Blues, Early Blues, Classic Blues, Vintage Blues, Acoustic Blues, Ragtime Blues, Gospel Blues, Roots & Blues, etc. Ultimately, the name doesn’t matter, as long as we know what we’re talking about.

What we’re talking about is music that doesn’t come from money.

Woody Guthrie, as much of a blues musician as anyone in my book, may have said it best:

“It’s a folk singer’s job to comfort disturbed people, and to disturb comfortable people.”

Underserved and marginalized communities have to stick together. But the powers-that-be don’t want it that way. Divide and conquer. Get folks squabblin’ amongst themselves. That’s how the man runs the plan. The man is comfortable. And we’re here to disturb him.

We take care of each other, and we sound our horns.

The Golden Gate Blues Society is presenting an event this weekend in Santa Cruz, CA. The International Blues Challenge Solo/Duo competition. Three acts will “compete” for the opportunity to represent the region in Memphis, TN.

But do we “compete?” We do not. We celebrate. We exalt. And besides, you don’t “win” at the blues. What this is, is the comin’ together of the community. Where there is good BBQ, where there is good drink, where there is good music, there be the people.

The Westside Sheiks - Photo

The Westside Sheiks are one of the acts that will “compete.” I am a proud half of the core that comprises said Westside Sheiks. The other half is Jonathan “Captain Ahab” Dryden, the most talented musician I’ve ever known. He’s like Jaki Byard, Errol Garner, and Bill Evans meets Garth Hudson, Benmont Tench, and Leon Russel. In the Sheiks, I have the honor of being Scrapper Blackwell to his Leroy Carr.

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Also to “compete” is the incomparable Rob Vye, within whose fingers the ghosts of Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, and Blind Willie McTell roam. He is the ragtimiest of fingerpickers. The gospeliest of soapboxers. The footstompiest of bluesmen. He’s a mendicant at the altar of Mt. Zion. He’s Zen and the Art of a Dog and a Van. He’s a crooner where others might holler. He’s a tune-down when others might tune-up. He’s a syncopating, three-finger alchemist of the country soul. In short, he’s the real deal.

 

maxresdefaultThird in this line-up is Mr. Pete Madsen, accompanied by Celeste Kopel. They have recently bequeathed unto the world a phenomenal album entitled “From The Delta and Beyond,” which aggregates their performances of the almighty delta canon—the canon built on the works of Son House, Skip James, Tommy Johnson, and more. Mr. Pete is a scholar and a teacher, yes, but he’s also a player. A finger-bouncin’, thumb-thumpin’, swinger of the steel strings, yes, but also a rocker, a fiery electric bluesman who can grease up and pull down some Albert King from the sky as needed. That said, this competition is about the down home, the back porch, the boot on the ground; it’s about the intimate on the parapet, and Mr. Pete and Celeste’s rare muso chemistry is meant for rakishly downtrainin’ the downtrodden blues into the wood and steel light.

In short, such a night!

The point is, there is no “competition.” There is only the music. You, and the night, and the music.

IBC

 


The Rumble Strip – Coming September 23!

Preacher Boy – The Rumble Strip

Coming September 23!

Pre-order on Amazon TODAY!

The Rumble Strip - Black Trim

 


The Totally Useless (But 100% Real) History of The Useless Bastards

Bastards-Pinwheel

The truth is, The Useless Bastards began as a joke. But something funny happened along the way. A real band was born. And not just any band. A genuinely great band.

Sure, the live shows were loose, boozy, and raucous, with audiences perpetually in a good-natured battle with the band themselves to see who could heckle the band more. But behind the irreverent exterior was a group of five singer-songwriter-bandleaders who took their fun pretty seriously.

But we’re getting ahead of the story a bit.

The Useless Bastards were the brainchild of Jonathan “Captain Ahab” Dryden. He’d been a successful jazz pianist in New York for years. But in a post-9/11 NYC, gigs were down, stress was up, and Ahab needed an outlet.

The Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - Ahab

A lifelong fan of classic American music, and a bit of a Machiavellian trickster, he got an idea—a band in which every member played an acoustic instrument with a bad reputation.

Thus, the now-immortal Bastards slogan: “Songs you love, on instruments you hate.”

He sought out some of his close musical pals whom he knew had a few aural grotesqueries at their disposal, and the line-up began to coalesce around said unloved instrumentation—accordion, banjo, harmonica, ukelele, trombone, etc. It was a junkyard symphony in the making.

Ahab lived in Park Slope, which at the time was still affordable, and a great many musicians lived there as well. He picked a fave haunt down the road from his house as the venue to debut his project—Cafe Steinhof. Did he know they sold Il Bastardo wine by the glass before he made his choice? No, actually, he didn’t. But needless to say, the band members were thrilled with the discovery.

Who were these band members?

This is the part of the story where things shift from a joke to a jam. While Ahab may have picked them for their collection of loathsome instruments, what he got in his ensemble was in fact a group of professional songwriters and performers, each of whom was already a bandleader in their own right. Before he knew it, Ahab had himself a sort of Brooklyn version of The Band on his hands—think The Basement Tapes, but set in The Slope.

The Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - Sinnerman

On bass, Jim “Sinnerman” Whitney. Did audiences know that this doghouse bass player who was singing a song to his penis on stage at Steinhof, had studied with Dave Holland at the New England Conservatory? Did they know he’d also played with Bill Frisell, Tony Trischka, Anthony Braxton, David Grisman, Ray Anderson, Jamey Haddad, Richard Greene, John Scofield, Ricky Skaggs, and many more?

The Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - Bullpork

Would it have been mind-blowing to the audience to know that in J. Walter “Bullpork” Hawkes—trombonist and ukelelist extraordinaire—they also had a Grammy-winning composer? Or that the profane gent in the front going under the name “Preacher Boy” had a Gold Record on his wall from his work with Eagle-Eye Cherry? When they heard Bryan “Park” Miller singing about “Them Jeans,” did they know they were listening to a two-time Nashville Songwriter’s Award winner?

The Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - PreachThe Useless Bastards - Sum of our Parts - Park

And what of Jonathan “Captain Ahab” Dryden himself? As audience members gleefully sang along with the chorus of “Pentecostal Girlfriend,” did they know the song had been written by a graduate of the Berklee College of Music—a musician who’d performed with everyone from Lenny White and Regina Carter, to Norah Jones and Marcy Playground?

Ultimately, it wasn’t the pedigree that mattered. It was that the songs the writers brought to the table were seriously crafted. They were still funny, irreverent, and loaded with multiple entendres, but they were substantively sardonic. Best of all, they were never played quite the same way twice, and it was a virtual requirement that band members brought new songs to each new show. And not every song was played for laughs, mind you:

The number of songs in the Bastards’ repertoire made it a challenge when it came time to actually record. There were so many songs to choose from! But, the band had only booked the studio for a day, so they had to be merciless in their selections.

Ok, actually, the album was recorded in Sinnerman’s living room. But it was still done in a day, and what was recorded that day are the 14 songs that make up the first album.

“Sum of our Parts” is actually only one name of five for the band’s legendary debut. The idea was to have a CD release party, with each band member responsible for providing a chunk of the inventory that would be for sale. The CD itself was the same in all instances, but each member gave the collection a different name, designed a different cover, and brought their own custom-designed inventory to the show. Park’s title was “The Problem with Impotence.” Bullpork’s was “Place Drink Here,” and it featured a coffee stain on the cover. Sinnerman’s was perhaps the best of all: “It’s Hard Suckin’, Not Knowin’.”

It’s largely because of this custom-inventory approach, that the album never saw “proper” release. Being a rather useless bunch —but popular!—the group managed to sell out all their copies, leaving nothing for posterity.

Time would pass, Bastards would move away, and while there were the occasional shows at other venues with other guest musicians, the magical core of The Useless Bastards experience was the original 5 members, doing what they did, in the corner of Cafe Steinhof.

As it would turn out, the recordings weren’t lost after all—they were found!—and now, remastered for the digital age, the full selection of 14 songs is available for listeners the world over, under Preacher Boy’s original title “Sum of our Parts.” Preach’s version had a hand-drawn sketch of Captain Ahab on the cover …

ahab3

… but the remastered version is simply rendered in dignified black, white, and red. Because dignity is what The Useless Bastards were always about.

That’s not true at all, actually. The Useless Bastards were about writing great songs, playing our asses off, and having a really fucking great time.

If you want to understand the whole history of The Useless Bastards in one fell swoop, just dive right in and check out “The Useless Bastards’ 116th Nightmare.” It’s on Spotify if you want a quick stream, and the lyrics are below:

“the useless bastard’s 116th nightmare”

ahab in a bikini, makin’ a martini
accordion around his waist
has a dirty room once again, says he wants a lesbian
to come and clean up around the place
drinkin’ lots of makers, makin’ fun of quakers
tryin’ to make the raider’s bail
not so very PC, liquefied and greasy
tryin’ to catch the great white whale

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

yes, it’s very well known
j. walter’s got a big bone
and he’s the cause of so much hunger
that we all had to decide 
if he was goin’ outside
he’d have to cover up with a plunger
he told a very gross joke
about a broken egg yolk
i laughed until i almost puked
i felt so sick in my gut 
but he quickly cheered me up
with a song about a tulip on his uke

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

preach, he is a rare bird
a kind of living swear word
that you can’t say in front of guests
he got a job with good pay
shilling for the AMA
as poster boy for tourette’s
he won the nobel peace prize
sold it for a king-size
bottle of wine and a shuttle-cock
tripped and spilled the wine
when i saw him for the last time
he was lickin’ it off the sidewalk

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

park is in the park
singin’ songs after dark
and smokin’ a bali-shag rolly
havin’ sweet dreams about them jeans
and singin’ on the grand ole’ opery
had a little lovin’
got a bun in the oven
and now ya know he really does need luck
he’s tryin’ to save his pennies
but he ain’t savin’ any
’cause the pay sucks drivin’ a meat truck

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

if anyone’s got a problem
sinnerman’s got one
and it’s very hard to diagnose
every doctor that we know
came and had a good go
but they never ever even got close
it seems his penis
a schizophrenic genius
offended him with something it said
now, i don’t mean to be demeaning
but it brings a new meaning
to hearing voices in your head

i had a dream, and it was rather useless, all about the bastards i was in a group with

Have you gotten your copy of “Sum of our Parts” yet? If not, BUY IT today!

Bastards FB Ad source 3


Top 11 musical things I DO & DON’T like discovering via social media

Beefheart Video Social Media

Social media is equal parts fascinating and horrifying. For every one gift of a new bit of Mississippi John Hurt footage that gets uncovered and shared, there is … well … everything else. However, in the interest of trying to present a balanced assessment, I’ve done my level best to list out 11 musical things that I DO and DON’T like discovering via social media.

Today’s Top 11 musical things I DO like discovering via social media:

  1. Vintage Captain Beefheart video footage I haven’t seen before
  2. Unearthed guerrilla footage from inside recording studios when legendary albums were being recorded
  3. Anything about Thelonious Monk
  4. Stories about Kid Andersen saving vintage Hammond organs and putting them to use at his Greaseland studio
  5. Any kind of evidence that there are new and excellent songs being written within a broad definition of the blues idiom
  6. Anything about Mance Lipscomb
  7. News that artists I admire are releasing new music
  8. Examples of well-known and amazing artists sharing the music of lesser-known but equally amazing artists
  9. Videos of that that baritone sax guy with the drummer playin’ house music in the Union Square subway station
  10. Evidence that other people also miss and revere Chris Whitley
  11. Excellent quality upright basses for sale, within 5 miles of my house, for less than $400.*

Today’s Top 11 musical things I DON’T like discovering via social media:

  1. Home videos of people performing Beatles covers
  2. Videos of Beatles covers, of any kind
  3. Beatles songs
  4. Videos about harmonica microphones that last for more than 3 seconds
  5. New examples of Joe Bonamassa’s offensive claims to importance
  6. Snarky posts from people aggressively defending the fact that they’re a cover band/act, especially when they presume that “no one wants to hear original songs” but fail to take into consideration that their own original songs might just suck.
  7. Self-righteous posts from record labels posturing pro-artist stances when we all know behind the scenes that they f*&k over artists constantly
  8. Bad lyrics
  9. News about new Tribute Albums that don’t donate all their profits to organizations that work to ensure that new and talented artists don’t have to choose between starvation and giving up, the way the artists they’re paying tribute to did because no one was there to support them when they needed it most
  10. Anything to do with that TajMo album
  11. News about another good music club closing down

*note: this has never happened

 

 

 


Top 11 Most Influential Singers, Songwriters, & Guitarists

Top 11 most influential singers, songwriters, and guitarists

I was recently asked to prepare answers to the questions below, and be prepared to discuss my responses for a possible radio interview. The interview never happened, but it was instructive thinking through the answers all the same, so I’m posting what I landed on here.

Question:
You’re known primarily as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. For each category, please list the 11 artists who most influenced your style and approach.

Top 11 Vocalists Who Most Influenced My Style

  1. Blind Willie Johnson
  2. Bukka White
  3. Charley Patton
  4. Howlin’ Wolf
  5. Bob Dylan
  6. Dave Van Ronk
  7. Captain Beefheart
  8. Jim Morrison
  9. Townes Van Zandt
  10. Tom Waits
  11. Lemmy Kilmister

Runners Up:
Dr. John
Leon Redbone
Tony Joe White
Joe Cocker

Top 11 Songwriters Who Most Influenced My Style

  1. Bob Dylan
  2. Bruce Springsteen
  3. Neil Young
  4. Tom Waits
  5. Tony Joe White
  6. John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
  7. The Band (Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson)
  8. Nick Cave
  9. Kris Kristofferson
  10. Shane MacGowan (The Pogues)
  11. Phil Ochs

Runners Up:
Billy Bragg
The Clash (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon)
The Doors (Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger, John Densmore)
The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards)

Top 11 Guitarists Who Most Influenced My Style 

  1. Mississippi John Hurt
  2. Mance Lipscomb
  3. Fred McDowell
  4. Blind Willie Johnson
  5. Son House
  6. Bukka White
  7. Charley Patton
  8. Johnny Winter
  9. John Fogerty
  10. Willie Nelson
  11. Stevie Ray Vaughan

Runners up:
Mike Campbell
Tony Iommi
Brian Setzer
Marc Ribot

 


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