Author Archives: pbistyping

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


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 …


… 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

Tom Waits vs. Captain Beefheart in the Battle for my Soul

Tug of War for my Soul

Do I admire the music of Tom Waits? Absolutely! Have I been influenced by the music of Tom Waits? Absolutely again! Do I still listen to the music of Tom Waits, decades after I first discovered it? Actually, not really.

Now, ask me the same three questions about Captain Beefheart‘s music, and my answers to the first two questions will be the same, but my response to the third question will be different. Because I still listen to Captain Beefheart today. Quite frequently, actually.

Why is that?

Tom Waits is undoubtedly the better lyricist, and in all honesty, he’s better with melody as well. And he has certainly contributed more “songs-with-a-capital-S” to the canon. So why do I listen to Captain Beefheart so often, and not Tom Waits?

I think it might have something to do with bravery and risk. There is a genuine wildness, a genuine danger, in the music of Captain Beefheart, that is not present in the music of Tom Waits.

In some respects, Tom Waits is theater. He creates characters for us, then portrays them. He tells their stories and moves us accordingly. I think of Nelson Algren, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Frankie Machine is a real person to me, someone that I know, someone I’ve had real-life experiences with. But at the end of the day, there is something almost workmanlike about Waits. His characters are so well created, and so well portrayed, but they don’t come home with me. I always kind of get the feeling that, after the stories are told, he punches that time clock, and heads home to his safe and sound house. It’s like that cartoon with the coyote and the sheep. They clock in as mortal enemies and clock out as friends. I kind of feel that way about the songs of Tom Waits. When they clock in they become savage to watch, but then they clock out, the curtain goes up, and you realize it was all for show. It’s great theater, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about it that has failed to keep moving me over the decades.

Captain Beefheart is different. Captain Beefheart gets inside you and stays there. It’s kind of frightening. There’s no sense of there being a punchcard at all. There’s no sense that a curtain is ever going to go up and make you feel safe again. It’s like you entered that weird carnival movie, but then never got out again.

There are a great many reasons why I’ve listened to both these artists over the years.

As a kid with a sketchy voice, they both meant a lot to me. They made it seem possible that one could be a singer—or at least, a teller of musical stories—despite the less-than-beautiful sounds coming from one’s throat. To a kid in love with the Delta Blues who grew up the son of a Marxist English professor, these two artists meant so much to me, because they combined the raw and rough power of the country blues, with unbelievably rich and poetic lyrics; lyrics that were involved, sophisticated, literate, elliptical, eclectic, amazing. As a kid who nearly cut off his index finger, and was never able to be really great at the guitar, the multi-instrumentalism of the music these artists’ made meant the world to me.

To be honest, it wasn’t just the lame finger. I just wasn’t interested in being a single-instrument virtuoso. I liked texture too much. I liked sound too much. I liked soundscapes. I liked layers. I just liked too many different instruments. I loved big, loud, inhuman electric guitars, and I loved beautiful soft-spoken nylon-string guitars. I loved percussive banjos and slithery fiddles. I loved bleating trumpets and groaning accordions. I loved poppin’ funky electric basses, and I loved stomping, stridin’ acoustic basses. I loved resonant acoustic pianos and squelchly organs. Ultimately, I loved rich stories that asked for, and received, rich instrumentation to support them. But I didn’t want symphonies of the traditional kind. Those instruments, those melodies, those environments, didn’t do it for me. I wanted raw, primal, swamp symphonies. That’s what Beefheart gave me. And that—for at least a few albums—was what Tom Waits gave me.

So back to the original question. Why do I still listen to Captain Beefheart all the time, and why don’t I much listen to Tom Waits anymore?

Some of it may have to do with overexposure. I found out about Tom Waits after I’d already started my music career. He wasn’t accordingly a truly canonical, original influence. But when I found him, It was like a lifeline had been given to me. It was an affirmation, it was the help I needed. I was so sad, so depressed, so hopeless, I didn’t think it was possible to have the kind of career I wanted, or to make the kind of music I wanted to make. But then along came the music of Tom Waits, and suddenly it all seemed possible. Suddenly, it seemed like you could create a language of your own, both lyrically and musically. Suddenly, it seemed possible to become a genre unto yourself.

The music of Tom Waits was kind of like a therapist to me, kind of like an affirmation ritual. I needed him and his music so bad during what was such a difficult period. I discovered that holy trinity of albums—Swordfishtrombones, Frank’s Wild Years, and Rain Dogs—at a time when I really needed them. Accordingly, I kind of wore them out. So that may be at least partly why I don’t listen to them as much now; just simple overexposure.

It may also be a resistance to—or an uncomfortableness with—reconnecting to that period of time. Those really were very hard years, and I really was very depressed. It only got worse when I started releasing my albums, and so many Tom Waits comparisons came raining down on my head; not always kindly. It was very frustrating. I just wanted to scream at everybody, haven’t you heard of Blind Willie Johnson? Haven’t you heard of Howling Wolf? Haven’t you heard of Charley Patton? And yes, haven’t you heard of Captain Fucking Beefheart?

My blessed, sacred, therapeutic relationship with the music of Tom Waits suddenly became a bit tainted. So maybe that’s part of why I don’t listen to his music as much now. Maybe I’m just uncomfortable doing so? I kind of also think I may have just outgrown it. I really needed it then. I don’t need it now.

Captain Beefheart is something else altogether. I really think he’s kind of like a disorder that you get, and then never recover from. He kind of just gets inside you, and you’re just kind of forever changed. So I keep returning to Captain Beefheart. I say I keep returning to Captain Beefheart, but really, I’m kind of just returning to myself. The myself I became after being infiltrated by Captain Beefheart.

Jeffrey Halford – West Towards South – Liner Notes

West Towards South - Liner Notes

This is really one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me. I wrote liner notes!

Jeffrey Halford’s new release, West Towards South, is such a beautiful album, and to be accorded the honor of penning liner notes for the vinyl edition is something I will remain proud of—and humbled by—for the rest of my life.

Liner notes have really been a kind of school for me; I think I’ve learned more about music from the backs of albums than just about any other source I can think of, and with this album, I did my very best to live up to my heroes: Samuel Charters, Chris Strachwitz, Dick Waterman, and oh, so many more …

I can’t encourage you enough to listen to this record, and if you’re able, please get the vinyl. Not because of my liner notes (though I’ll of course be thrilled if you read them!), but because these are the kinds of songs that should be savored the way we used to savor our LPs; we listened to them over and over again, song by song, in order, as we read, and pondered, and felt, and were moved.

Congratulations to you, Jeffrey Halford, on a remarkable musical achievement, and thank you for inviting me to play a small role in the story of Ambrose and Cyrus …

Jeffrey Halford – West Towards South

liner notes by Christopher “Preacher Boy” Watkins

Mostly, there is the story.

West Towards South recalls the work of Sam Shepard or William Goldman who do similarly expert jobs of transporting us to other tragic worlds with fierce degrees of rustic authenticity. But this is music, and there is of course precedent for what Halford has done here—after all, it’s not the first time we’ve heard rebel tales in roots leathers rendered with dirty slide guitars and trash can drums. But Halford has something that sets him apart; something at his disposal reserved only for the true masters of the form—a life deeply lived, and a craft finely honed.

Where Halford hits his most killer musical stride is on songs like “Three-Quarter Moon,” with its laudanum-laced shamble ambling along like an opioid “West towards South”; or on “A Town Called Slow,” with its percolating minor-chord syncopations swinging out a warning: “This is how this deal goes down.” In both cases, the lurching grooves and atmospheric spackling act as sonic enactments the broken narratives they share.

As he sings on the beautiful folk ballad “The Sea of Cortez”:

I got a notion I can’t explain
I never been here, but I feel like I’m home again

One of the great pleasures of gifting yourself the experience of repeated deep listening to an album such as this one is the opportunity to discover little kernels of magic not necessarily consciously registered the first time around; little repeating tropes, little bits of flavor and color that recur in blurring whirls that last only long enough to provide a sense of fragile continuity. One such reappearing motif is the notion that something won’t end well. I’ll offer no spoilers as to how the story actually ends for the brothers—you’ll need to listen to the record for yourself to find out—but picture the scene: Ambrose with a noose around his neck, spitting invective at his judges:

Any last words Ambrose?
Well, you can all go to hell
But I just want to tell you
That this might not end well

Three bell chimes later, the hangman is dead, the preacher is face down on the ground, and the music goes careening off into a sadistic spaghetti western march. I got chills the first time I listened to “Gallows.” You will as well

Jeffrey Halford’s reputation as a songwriter is hard-earned and well-deserved, and his rough-hewn voice and urgent slide guitar are hallmarks of his soulful sound. But with West Towards South, Halford can now confidently add “storyteller” to his byline, for he’s created something so many strive for, and yet too few achieve—a genuine Americana concept album that is simultaneously devoid of pretension, and richly authentic. If Cormac McCarthy played guitar, he’d have a regular slot at The Sad Cafe, and folks would come from miles around to hear him sing “The Ballad of Ambrose and Cyrus.”

—Christopher “Preacher Boy” Watkins

San Francisco Nights, San Francisco Days

Preacher Boy - 1

Image from the very first Preacher Boy photo shoot, for the very first Preacher Boy album. Photo by Pat Johnson.

Sad Bastard Club, Monday, April 15, 2019, feat. Tom Heyman, Matthew Edwards, Ted Savarese, and Preacher Boy.  Make Out Room. 3225 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94110.

San Francisco was my home town for many, many years. It’s where I came of age musically; and in fact, literally. I was on stage at the Full Moon Saloon when I turned 21. The audience sang me a hearty Happy Birthday, while the bartender looked on a bit perplexed, given that I’d already been playing (and drinking) there for at least a year.

Of course, the Full Moon Saloon is now gone, as are so many of the great venues from those days. The Blue Lamp (name-checked in the Preacher Boy song “At The Corner of the Top and the Botton), Boomerang, the I-Beam, the Kennel Club, the Last Day Saloon, Nightbreak, Paradise Lounge (one of my personal all-time favorite venues), and far too many more.

Mercifully, some are still going strong. Bottom of the Hill (I was fortunate to play there the first week it opened), Hotel Utah, Biscuits and Blues (played more shows there than I can count), and of course the Great American Music Hall, possibly my choice for “final gig” venue. And of course, there is Slim’s, where, thanks to the benevolence of Harry Duncan and Dawn Holliday, I played some of the most important shows in my career. Dawn was especially important for me, and she invited me to open for so many incredible artists I can still hardly believe it. From The Texas Tornadoes, Uncle Tupelo, and Peter Wolf, to Jimmy Vaughan, Diamanda Galas, and Ratdog, I was fortunate to be part of a musical era I will always recall with awe, fondness, and gratitude.

I signed my first record deal in San Francisco. Blind Pig Records. I signed the contract—literally, physically signed the contract—on a table at a bar in North Beach.

There were so many memorable musical things happening then. So many memorable bands. Sister Double Happiness. Red House Painters. American Music Club. Richard Buckner. Chuck Prophet. The list went on and on and on.

On Monday, April 15th, I return to San Francisco, for precisely the kind of show that made San Francisco such a remarkable musical city in those days. A show with imaginative, unique, diverse musicians, performers, and songwriters, who come together in the spirit of rock n’ roll craftspersonship to deliver serious—and seriously fun, music—The show will be at the Make Out Room. I join a bill comprised of Tom Heyman, Matthew Edwards, and Ted Savarese.  The show is one of a series called the “Sad Bastard Club.”

If you’re anywhere in Northern California at that time, I hope you can come. It will be a night to celebrate the city, its music, and its musicians.

There’s This Musician …


There’s this musician. He has a world-class reputation and has contributed staggeringly influential works of art to the world.

But you know what? There were many, many, many times he suffered from bouts of poverty, poor health, self-doubt, and more.

He fought with publishers to get paid. His compositions alone didn’t produce enough revenue to sustain himself. So he sought other opportunities to make money from his musical skills. He wrote on-demand for people who needed specific kinds of music. He gave lessons throughout his life, even as, from the outside, he seemed wildly successful. He still needed the money. So he kept working hard. Really hard.

He dedicated his music to people who supported him. He wrote letters to fans, supporters, detractors, publishers, benefactors, promoters, venue owners. He got in fights with people who he thought had slighted his creative work. And he wrote lots of apology letters in the aftermath.

He gave opportunities to younger musicians, lionized his elders, and could give praise where praise was due. He was also often defensive, prickly, demanding, and disrespectful. He was complicated. But in the end, he knew his livelihood depended on people loving his work, and subsidizing his efforts. So though he never compromised his art for commercial reasons, he engaged with people, and he worked hard. Really hard.

He begrudgingly made peace with what he wasn’t good at. There were certain kinds of music he just didn’t seem to have a knack for. That was hard for him to accept. There were other areas where he realized other artists had pretty much already cornered the creative market, and he just wouldn’t be able to compete. So he really focused on the kinds of works where he thought he had a chance to stand out and carve a niche for himself. It was hard. Really hard. But he kept working, hustling, struggling, and—inch by inch, row by row—gained some traction.

You know what he didn’t do? He didn’t sit around and blame everyone else for his problems. He didn’t act like the world owed him something just because he created something. Sure, he was furious when his works didn’t receive the uniform praise and rewards he thought they deserved, but you know what he did? He channeled that fury right back into his work, and he created even greater music. In between having to write publishers, give lessons, attend social events, and “network” with “influencers.”

I put the words “network” and “influencers” in quotes because I’m pretty sure they weren’t in use during his time. But the idea is the same. You had to play a bit of ball with the powers-that-be if you wanted to get a professional leg up. So he played ball. He didn’t like it, and he actually wasn’t very good at it. It was tough. There were far too many times he had to come face-to-face with the reality that he was, in the end, a working man, a commoner, a service provider, at the mercy of the wealthy. That was brutal. But he sucked it up, and he played, and he worked, and he performed, and he wrote, and he worked. He worked hard. Really hard.

Throughout it all, he had to contend with an increasingly debilitating disability. He didn’t have health care. He had to work, to pay to take care of himself. That was hard. Really hard.

Today, his music ranks as some of the most excellent music ever created.

Do you know who I’m talking about?


And I’m pretty sure he didn’t’ sit around all day bitching about Spotify and Facebook.

Et Tu, T-Bone Burnett?

T-Bone says: “In that way, we’re becoming puppets. We’re becoming marionettes that have these electronic strings attached.” I say, bollocks. 


T-Bone Burnett is one of the more visible voices out there bemoaning the demonism of the big tech boogeyman, and his umbrage is uniquely distasteful given the extent to which he seems driven to simultaneously exult the purported nobility of artists.

I am referring, of course, to this drivel, distributed to us by the PBS News Hour:

WATCH: ‘Artists are our only hope,’ T Bone Burnett says in critique of big tech

Really? Artist like U2, who literally digitally force-fed us a new album? Artists like the oh so rebellious Radiohead and Trent Reznor, who loudly sung their own praises for having given music away for free online?


Listen, Burnett’s right in a way, but not in the way he thinks.

TBoneThere’s an easy solution. Don’t use Facebook. Don’t use Google. That’s the power of the consumer. The power of the purse. If we don’t give them our money and our attention, they change, or they go away.

At the end of the day, Burnett’s self-inflating polemic is just another tiresome instance of a musician blaming someone else for the problems we ourselves have wrought. Facebook doesn’t pay themselves. We pay them. Spotify doesn’t pay themselves. We pay them.  

T-Bone says: “In that way, we’re becoming puppets. We’re becoming marionettes that have these electronic strings attached.” Bollocks. Those strings are easy to remove. Don’t use those services. If those strings remain in place, it’s our fault. Not theirs.

He blames YouTube and Google for, “returning between nothing and a small fraction of that money to the owners of the material posted on their platform.” But nowhere does he acknowledge the culpability of the artists who PUT their music on those platforms. That content didn’t get there by itself. If you don’t like a product or a company, don’t use it. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

At the end of the day, it’s all OUR fault. But that’s also good news because that means WE can also change things. Stop blaming the big tech boogeyman, and start behaving yourself by putting your money and your time where your values are. That’s the only true solution.

The Internet Made Music Free, and Other Wrong Ideas

The real story of the devaluation of creative content, and what we can do about it.

The Devaluation of Creative Content

There is a story making the rounds online right now titled “A brief history of why artists are no longer making a living making music.” I came across it on the Roots Music Canada site, where it’s described as follows:

“Today’s column from veteran Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Tamblyn is adapted from a speech he gave at a symposium at Trent University.  It’s a long read, but we decided to post it here all at once in its entirety because, well, it’s just that good.”

My two cents, it’s not that good.

Still, it’s gotten a deal of traction. It’s my suspicion this is because it panders to musicians who want to believe some things about their careers that are not in fact true.

To be fair to Mr. Tamblyn, I appreciated his attempt to build an argument into an exhortation, and I’ve no doubt his heart is in the right place. He also makes some decent points along the way, but whatever thematic momentum he manages to develop derails at an all-too-common stumbling point, that being this notion:

“The internet makes music ‘free.’”

If we’re ever to move beyond our current state of affairs, it is REALLY critical we do NOT accept this statement—the internet did NOT make music free. We did. All of us. Listeners and creators alike. The internet introduced a new way for free to be possible, yes, but we didn’t have to use it. Yet we did, and then some, and this renders us the architects of the very changes we so love to complain about. Every artist who has ever made something available for free, and every listener who has ever consumed music for free—we are the culprits.

I have this disagreement with fellow musicians all the time in the context of Spotify. Musicians are generally angry at—and about—Spotify. But if you need an enemy in that scenario, turn your sights away from Spotify, and train them on the 87 million users of Spotify. They’re who make Spotify possible.

in this way

Revenue on the internet mostly follows an elementary model when it comes to creative content. Think of it like a garage sale that never ends, and never charges anything.

Let’s say I put a sign up in my neighborhood that says I’m giving everything in my house away for free. Guess what happens? LOTS of people come to my house! So then, I go to the local coffee shop, and I say, “Did you know there are 1000 people coming through my house, just today? You should really pay me $500 to put a sign for your coffee shop in my living room. Think of all the people who will see it!” Now, obviously, this won’t work in real life, because after the first day, all my stuff will be gone, and I won’t have 1000 visitors anymore. But if I’m YouTube, people will keep coming, because I always have free stuff I’m giving away. So businesses keep paying me money to advertise on my site.

That’s how monetization of creative content now works on the internet. The money doesn’t actually come from the content. The content is just the bait. The money actually comes from the traffic. Because not only are there visitors, those visitors are also generating data. So sites sell the traffic (you should advertise on my site, because I have SO many visitors!), and they sell the data (if you only knew which items in my house people most wanted to take, and which rooms they went to first, and which rooms they stayed in longest, think how much better at advertising you’d be!). This is the result of creators being willing to let their content be used as bait, and this is the result of consumers being willing to have their behavior sold in exchange for free content.

How do we change this? It’s on us, and no one else. Listeners, and creators. Listeners have to stop allowing their data to be sold in exchange for free content, and creators have to stop allowing their content to be used as free bait.

To put this more tangibly, all of us would have to remove ourselves entirely from the current marketplace and take our goods and our business elsewhere, to a marketplace where content itself has value.

The good news is, this is already happening. Sites like Bandcamp allow creators to sell their music directly to consumers, and consumers can make their purchases there without fear of their behavior being re-sold in the form of data. (See Bandcamp’s terms of use for details). And, Bandcamp does not make money through advertising, they make it through revenue sharing with their artists. Full disclosure, I am a commercial musical artist, but I don’t currently use Bandcamp. I just happen to appreciate the value of what they offer.

So, that’s it. The internet didn’t do it. We did. We started it. But we can also end it. But not in the way that Ian Tamblyn honorably—but naively—suggests:

“If we as artists attend to the work at a professional level, if we support the community in every way we can as artists, and you have invested in us, is it not incumbent on the community to support in kind?”

While this may seem noble and right, it’s nonsense. It’s not upon the community to DO anything.

In a content marketplace, value is determined by demand, not effort. You can work really hard to create your music, but if no one likes it or wants it, your effort doesn’t matter—your music still has no commercial value. And as musicians and creators, we’re not OWED anything, just because we created something.

What ACTUALLY needs to happen, is creators need to set a realistic price, and consumers need to pay it if they want it, in a marketplace with no interference from advertising and data tracking. If no one pays, the creator can remove their product, change their product, or lower their price. At some point, ideally, a sweet spot emerges, and the creator and the consumer can, in effect, strike a deal. In this way, creators can create, and consumers can consume, and those that deliver value to those who value what they deliver, will make money.


note: the above post began as a comment on the article referenced in the opening paragraph

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:


In short, thank you.


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.


Typewriter keys (1).png

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.

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