There is a lot about my musical performances in here, of course, but there are also observations about this new "life in the country" that I find myself involved in these days. I was born into a rural community in Indiana, but have spent my life, since early childhood, in very large metropolitan environments in Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area, so the way of life in this small (population: 5600) town on the Mendocino Coast of Northern California, has taken, and is taking, some getting used too.
A very busy time...
I finished up an amazing December a week or so ago - I had 9 gigs booked, although, due to circumstances beyond my control, only 7 of then actually happened. But still, it was a very busy month. 4 of the engagements paid $100 each. I played at Heritage House on the 22nd. And at a new venue in Ukiah called Crush Italian Steakhouse on the 16th. The Heritage House has been a defacto every-other-month gig since the late summer - and Crush is officially bi-monthly, on the 3rd Friday of each even-numbered month. With my bi-monthly Headlands gig on the odd months, plus a monthly show at Django's Rough Bar Cafe (3rd Sunday), and on the 2nd Friday at MacCallum House, and the twice a month shows at Cucina Verona I now have 5 regular monthly gigs - 6 when I am booked at Heritage house. I also sang for the Fort Bragg Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and at The Festival of Lights last month - each of which paid $100.
I am actually happy to ONLY be doing 5 shows this month - I really needed some time off after the brutality of December. 2 of my January gigs are happening tomorrow (Headlands) and the next night (MacCallum House), then I'll have 5 days off before my 1st January show at Cucina, which was delayed by a week because they decided to close down from New Years until the 14th. I will then be off 4 days until the following Sunday at Django's, which may or may not happen depending on the weather, then another 4 days off before my 2nd Cucina gig.
By the way - it has been raining off and on (more on then off, actually) since the beginning of the January. We are experencing the closest thing too a regular winter season for the first time in about 5 years.
Well, that's better... :-)
Since my last post (3 months ago) I have added another monthly engagement to my on-going schedule. I am now performing every 2nd Friday at MaCallum House in Mendocino - so I am working at least 3 nights every month. This month was pretty hairy - I had my 2nd Wednesday at Cucina Verona on the 11th, then played at Headlands Coffeehouse solo on Thursday, substituting for the Groovinators, who weren't available that night, and then performed a 3rd night in a row at the 2nd Friday MacCallum House gig. It was brutal. Don't get me wrong - I loved every minute of all three nights. But in the aftermath I was exhausted. I started playing professionally when I was 14 - and during the 54 years since then I worked a lot sometimes, and not so much at others - but I NEVER worked three nights in a row playing music professionally until I moved to the North Coast! Now it happens every 3rd month or so.
This place can be a veritable gold-mine for an entertainer - there are so many established and maybe plausible venues. I walked into a local restaurant for lunch with my wife two years ago and gave my business card to the manager (who was also one of the owners) and got an immediate offer to perform that Friday night. I continued to play the place regularly for several months until the winter season made it un-profitable. They still have music there from time to time in tourist season - so I sort of "invented" that venue. The point is that in a relatively small environment like the Mendcino Coast, it is much easier to cultivate a reputation, and once you have that resume established it helps you keep moving forward.
Today I started putting up posters for the 45th Annual World's Largest Salmon BBQ. The event is on July 2nd. Lonna and I drove to Gulalla - about 35 miles south of Fort Bragg, to visit the Art Center there, and I took several of the posters with me and put them up in Little River, Albion, Elk and Point Arena on our way home. The Groovinators are opening the show, and I am still deciding whether or not I will go electric this year. I have my Fender amp and my Gibson ES-125 that I could use. And since I now have an electric bass player, it might balance things out better. On the other hand, I am going to be using my regular set-up, with the acoustic instruments and playing through a microphone when I act as MC, so it would be much easier to stay with my traditional set-up, which always works just fine. Like I said, I am still deciding...
We have a new group called the Coastal Rangers following our act. My former partner, Butch Kwan, with local legend Tommy Brown and several other local favorites - Lee Rider, Bruce Graves and Peter White. Then there will be a John Fogerty/Creedence Clearwater Fest with Steven Bates, Jon Faurot, Phil Dunn, and guests and finally the closing act, Steven Bates and Friends. This will be my 11th year appearing at the event, and my 8th time as MC.
What do I always say...?
As usual I have been neglecting this page again. 5 Years this time!
A lot has happened. Since that last post the TV station closed (2013) and I lost my job. Now I am living on Social Security payments and a small pension I got from the last corporation I worked for (2005). I do have a Saturday job at the local Chamber of Commerce Vistor Center, answering traveler's questions - mostly "Where's Glass Beach?" A famous local landmark.
I also still have a modest income from my musical pursuits. I retired from the Skunk Train the same year the station closed - by then the gig had been scaled back to one night a week (Saturday). I would go out on the train each Saturday evening. The passenger count averaged around 60 per trip - but often had much less - I went out with only 8 people on several occasions. I just couldn't justify financially the waste of EVERY Saturday evening during the summer while I have to turn down other offers that might pay better.
These days I ply my trade at dining venues for the most part. Doing light blues and jazz and still throwing in a cowboy tune occasionally. The audience seems to be ignoring me, I play to a buzz of conversation. But the tips are substantial, and eveyone who drops a dollar or $5 or $20 into the jar, always thanks me for my music in very complimentary terms. I currently am working at the restaurant that used to be V'Canto but is now called Cucina Verona on the 2nd Wednesday and the 4th Thursday of each month. The Thursday gig is excellent financially. The Wednesday one varies - sometimes good, others not so.
I also work occasionally at upscale venues like the Heritage House, or MacCallum House, and at our local big-time jazz venue, The North Coast Brewing Company, with my band, The Groovinators, which is still active in the area. We play at Headlands every other month and were at the Brewing Company in November. The band is also scheduled to play a Valentines Dance at The Hill House in a few weeks.
I am also the go to-guy that the Chamber depends on to provide entertainment, especially for outdoor engagements like fairs and such. I performed a few weeks ago at the annual City Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, a Chamber sponsored event, and frequently perform in the summertime for sidewalk sales and such. I also work at least once a month in the summer season at the Fort Bragg Farmers Market, and do both summer and winter events at the North Coast Botanical Gardens with the band.
Another change that has happened is that I have gained some recognition on the local jazz scene by sitting in as a vocalist with various jazz ensembles, mostly at Headlands Coffeehouse. There is a pianist named Dorian May from Willits who comes over to Headlands several times a month, hosting the 2nd Sunday Jam Session, and performing with a latin jazz-band called Bongo Latte, and with his Namesake Trio, which includes my drummer, Tom Rickard, and Dorian's wife, Dorothea (no kidding!) on the bass. I have played at weddings and anniversary parties with the trio on several occasons. I have also sat in many times with local legends like pianists, John Gilmore, and Richard Cooper, who recently passed on after a long battle with cancer, and saxaphonist, Francis Vanek, who used to play every Tuesday evening at Headlands.
So I am keeping busy...
Catching Up again...
I don't seem to get much chance to write here. I have just finished a 5 day stint on the Skunk Train. I worked Friday morning, Saturday evening, then Sunday, Monday and today, Tuesday, on the morning trains.
I had worked mostly evening trains throughout the early part of the season (my seventh), then last week switched to my current schedule, which doesn't include Friday (I subbed for The Train Singer on Friday last week.) It has been an exhausting seasson and I am looking forward to it being over. I really felt like I connected with my audience better then ever before this season. Here's a video I put together from a couple of recent days on the train:
The Groovinator's gig at the Casino I mentioned in the last post turned out to be a bit of a bust. The pay was great, but we had to drive all the way over to the central valley, set up our sound system, then play then tear it all down and drive back. We didn't have a big audience because nobody there knew who the hell we we're, and what was there was composed of gamblers resting between their games. Soon after our appearance there, they stopped hiring anything but Indian and Latino bands.
We are scheduled to appear at Shanachie Pub in Willits this Saturday, and Frankie's in Mendocino on Friday. We don't go to Willits as often as we used to because they stopped charging at the door, which made it economically unfeasible for us to do it regularly. But we are at Frankies' once a month, and Headlands every second Thursday. We will be at TW's Grill & Bar in September - as far as I know we are still the only acoustic band that plays that venue.
I have also been performing solo at V'canto - they moved the stage into the dining room, which meant that the band was too loud for the place. So I have developed a dinner music repertoire consisting of some of the band songlist mixed with some jazz standards that I haven't worked out with the band yet.
A couple of days ago the Groovinators got their best booking yet - January 8th at the Coyote Valley Casino in Redwood Valley on the Pomo Reservation there. It is a major dance venue in the central valley. They run photo ads in the Fort Bragg Advocate-News, in color - almost nobody does that! Needless to say we are collectively pretty stoked about it. Seriously, if we are successful in this engagement it will pretty much prove that we can handle any venue. Also, the fee is higher then anything we've gotten so far :-)
This weekend we are at the Shanachie pub for the fifth or sixth time, I don't remember which. We also have our third appearance at TW's coming up in February.
I mention in my last post that we had a busy Summer in front of us, and so it was. We played the Salmon BBQ and the Albion/Little River Fire Dept. BBQ again. This year I brought my field .wav recorder to the Fire Dept. show and got a beautiful recording off of Jama Packard's stage mix. It was so good that I immediately recalled all previous recordings of the band and put out our first commercial album - "Groovinators!". It is about 50 minutes long and has most of our very best material on it including: Killer Joe, Song for my Father, Honny Don't!, Moondance, California Blues, Fascinatin' Rhythm Blues, Jump City, Crosscut Saw, Mack the Knife, Time of the Season, and several others.
We also played at Art in the Gardens for the third year in a row and we recently played a benefit dance at the TW's Dance Hall for MCTV - the public access TV station where I work. We only made a few hundred dollars for the station, but the point was to do what we could to help the financial situation of the company. I provided the band free of charge by paying a minimum fee to the guys out of pocket.
We played another Mendocino Music & Stories engagement at The Hill House over the Labor Day weekend and that one was a bust. The Holiday weekend didn't help - there were a ton of events happening that night - also a couple from the Swing Dance Society decided to get married that weekend and kind of stole our thunder.
But every other show we've played has been a great success. At Art in the Gardens we knocked them out and I got a great video of the entire show. Our second TW's gig in July was a hit - though it took us almost 6 months to get in there again. And Shanachie Pub has been a great venue for us. Our third appearance was when the owner was there and he loved the band. They have had us back twice since then, so it is our 6th appearance coming up.
We've been back to the Westport Hotel and Frankie's has also been super - we have been there monthly for almost a year now.
A couple of months ago, V'canto moved their stage into the dining room. That caused a problem for the Groovinators, we were too loud for the room! The diners weren't interested in dance music, I suppose. It is ironic because I actually developed the trio to perform at that place. I was doing a solo thing there, but felt like I needed more instruments to make a fuller sound to overcome the rather loud bar crowd where the stage used to be. Anyway, I have now gone back to playing solo in that venue, and have no problem being heard.
On the train, I worked less this summer. Greg Schindel has been cutting back his hours the last few summers, so this year they brought in his son Malakai to train as his successor. I had to give up my day trains so the kid could get some seasoning. I worked the the four evening trains each week and had a few day trains at the beginning and toward the end of the season. It was a far cry from last summer, when I was working two day jobs AND performing on the train 7 days a week. But it was a blessing because the band was busier than ever with several major summer events plus two regular monthly gigs and more sporadic regular appearances at other venues.
I keep remembering my days in the Bay Area where I was considered successful because I had a couple of gigs each month...
My show with the Symphony of the Redwoods and other stuff
Last Saturday I sang with the Symphony of the Redwoods at Eagle's Hall. It was a Pop's Concert featuring the music of Cole Porter. I sang Night & Day about 20 minutes into the two hour show. Then they brought me back about ten minutes before the end, to sing All of You. It was fun. Not the way I would have performed either of the two songs, of course. Both were slow, lush orchestral pieces that more or less demanded that they be sung in a certain way. I do Night and Day as an uptempo jazz tune, so this was really different.
I brought a small digital recorder and left it running on the table when I went up to sing. You can hear the two performances by clicking on these links:
Night & Day
All of You
Sunday at 5 PM, the Groovinators appeared to entertain Mother's Day moms during the dinner hour at TW's in the Motel 6 complex. We got a nice little crowd. It was our first appearance there after trying to crack the place for about two years. We got our band name up in lights on their sign on Main Street. And we got a second engagement. We will be there again on Saturday night, July 17. Here is the Peter Gunn rendiition we did on that show: The theme from Peter Gunn
Tuesday morning, Lonna and I piled into the Taurus and drove up to Arcata. It is a few miles north of Eureka - a suburb really.
On the way there and back we drove around to different venues and dropped off our promo package - a brouchure and a DVD. We went to 13 different places and dropped off 8 packages to places like the Benbow Hotel and Resort, the Bear River Casino lounge, Humboldt Brews, which has a magnificent venue with a dance floor and a full sound system with an engineer. There is a real nice venue in Garberville - a New Orleans style Bistro called Cecil's. I had to mail that one.
I found an Italian restaurant in Arcata that was very upscale - looked like a real nice place to perform - that one I just stumbled across in my search for some place that apparently doesn't exist any longer. Instead I walked right by this place and happened to glance at it and realized it is a music hall. Mozzotti's or something like that. I also stopped in at the headquarters of the Redwood Coast Jazz Festival and talked to the promoter's assistant for several minutes.
I found a place called the Peg House, which has a nice outdoor theater area behind it, just north of Garberville in the Redwood parklands there. There was bar in Eureka called the Red Fox Tavern that appeared to be an active music venue, so I sent them a package by snail mail because they weren't open either time I stopped there on the way up and on the way back. So there are several possibilities there.
Meanwhile, I got a call from the Westport Hotel - The Abalone Bar has just started featuring live music - Steven Bates has played there a couple of times. They want us "probably" on the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend.
We also picked up a second Hill House gig via Mendocino Stories & Music Series, for September 4 - the Labor Day weekend.
Tonight we were at Headlands for our regular second Thursday on the month gig. We had some crossover from the TW's gig - a few people who were there showed up at Headlands this evening. Nick Rodseth stopped by and sat in with us on piano at the beginning of our last set. That was fun. He's very good.
Next Friday we are at Frankie's in Mendocino. It's going to be a busy summer...
Winter in the Redwoods and other stories
Two Saturdays ago, on March 13th, we played Winter in the Redwoods at the College of the Redwoods. It is the big annual fundraiser for their scholarship fund.
The Swing Dance Society were a major influence in getting us the gig, but I think we lived up to their faith in us. It might have been the best show we ever put on, although it is hard to tell because my judgment was greatly influenced by the energy in the room. We were there specifically for the after-dinner dance portion of the event - and those people were there to dance!
I made a recording of the show which turned out awful because because I placed my built-in mic too close to the speakers - but it certainly caught the intensity of the crowd, and as I listened to it I have to say that the band was really hitting on all 8 cylinders that night. It was the best time I've had with a band in over thirty years, a larger crowd than the Hill House dance - there were hundreds of people there - besides the 100 or so who stuck close to the dance floor.
If you go out and look at the front door of this site you will see that I have changed it completely over to promotion of this band. The Groovinators are everywhere you look. There is a little mention of the Walkin' Blues Man and the Skunk Train over on the right at the top of the page and there is section devoted to him, just above the Coming Engagements section. But the engagements section nothing but the Groovinators, except for the current mention of my upcoming solo appearance with the Symphony of the Redwoods.
Speaking of that Mother's Day weekend gig, we now have an actual Mother's Day gig at TW's (the bar at the old Tradewinds Restaurant at what is now the Quality Inn on Main Street).
I have been trying to get us a gig there for about two years. I went over twice with CD's and never heard a peep from them. But then, last Friday I delivered a DVD of the TV show we taped a few weeks ago, and that did it. They booked us to play on Mother's Day from 5 to 8 PM. They're going to throw open the partitions between the bar and restaurant so that the folks in the dining area can hear the band.
Yesterday I drove with Lonna to Santa Rosa to have a root canal performed on my #3 molar (upper right). That turned out okay, though it cost a fortune - but the guy is really good. I had complete confidence in him as soon as he sat down and started talking to me. Anyway, it was "out-of-pocket" - all the more reason to try and have some success with the band :-)
So, on the way home I made several stops at places like the Bear Flag Republic in Healdburg. I also stopped at the Park & Rec Department there. I left a DVD and brochure for the lady who is in charge of the Summer Concerts on the Square programs. I also dropped DVDs at the Albion River Inn and the Little River Inn.
Taping "The Gift of Music"
This was my day off from the station, but I spent most of the afternoon there today, taping the pilot episode of "The Gift of Music", a new in studio music showcase at MCTV. A local musician named Nick Rodseth is the producer, and he meant to do the first episode using his own band (which includes Tom Rickard), but they lost their singer and decided to ask the Groovinators to do the show so that they could get the first episode on the air.
It was a great session, the band was almost flawless (I bunged the guitar lead up a little on Time of the Season, but otherwise it was all really good). The volunteers in the studio and the professional crew were all very impressed. I can't wait to see the DVD. I was able to see what was happening in the monitors and it really looked good.
Saturday night we played at Shanachie Pub in Willits again, and this time we had a pretty good crowd for most of the evening. There is a theater around the corner in the alley, and we got some spill over from that late in the evening. Again the band was really on. Our last several shows have been uniformly good, and outstanding in some cases.
A night at Hill House in Mendocino
Saturday night (this is Monday), the Groovinators played our first engagement for the Mendocino Stories & Music Series at Hill House in Mendocino. It was a dinner/dance evening sponsored my the Swing Dance Society of Mendocino.
It's funny because we never thought of ourselves as a dance band until a local artist named Sunshine Taylor heard us at Art in the Gardens last August and immediately said, "You know, every song you guys do is dancable." She then showed up at CasperFest later that month with her husband and they proceeded to dance during our entire set. In September, her club, the Swing Dance Society arranged for us to play for one of their weekly events at the Caspar Inn, and sure enough, the group loved us and danced throughout our appearance. That appearance was actually an audition for their New Years Eve party, which we didn't get, but they liked us enough to promise to arrange another event for us to play.
Since then, we have been booked for another dance event at the College of the Redwoods in March. Their annual fundraiser is called "Winter in the Redwoods" and features one band during dinner, and another for the after dinner dance. We are the after dinner band.
So, Saturday evening was the culmination of all that. About 40 or so of the Society's members attended and we had a jam packed dance floor all evening.
We also had a special guest sit in with us. Ben Wade, also known as "the Coach" was a star of the reality TV show, Survivor. He plays the trumpet, and is a serious musician, being the artistic director and conductoir of the Susanville (CA) Symphony. Seemed like a real nice guy, although he was considered a villian on the TV show. We brought him up about halfway through our second set and he acquitted himself pretty well, especially considering that we didn't have time to rehearse anything.
And I guess we must have done something right because during our first break I was approached by a member of the Symphony of the Redwoods, who told me that she is putting together the symphony's annual fundraiser at Eagles' Hall in May, which is going to be an evening of Cole Porter songs performed by the orchestra with guest vocalists. She invited me to come and sing with the orchestra! I'll be perfoming "Night & Day".
Next Saturday we are back at Frankie's of Mendocino for our third engagement there. We like the venue, which I have played as a single for the last two years. We are also going back to the Shanachie Pub in Willits on the 20th and have a gig at V'canto the following Friday the 26th.
Normally I would be hosting the Open Mic at Headlands Coffeehouse tonight, but being that it is the first week of February, they are closed for their annual cleaning so the Open Mic was cancelled.
A long skip indeed...
The summer season was real grind this year. I was on the train 7 days a week (twice on Tuesday), although I took a number of Saturdays off to play with the band and we continued our 2nd Thursday gig at Headlands. Still, it was a hellacious schedule and inevitably led to my getting sick and missing the entire last week of the season. I learned a lot this year about pacing myself during the trip, and keeping my repertoire broad and variable. I started incorporating more of my jazz and blues selections into the banjo act at the request of some of the staff. I also cut down the number of tunes I perform on the train. I used to never do anything unless I had time to do 3 songs. This year I learned how to walk into the car, make some witty remark and then launch right into a tune. Then make another joke and get out. Maybe do a second song if they really make me feel like they want me to do it. That's my act for each car on the way out. At the station in Northspur, I work my butt off. 5 or 6 tunes during the 35 minute layover - virtually non-stop. On the way back I do 3 songs tops in each car. Less if there are a lot of cars. One song on the open car each way.
The trio - now officially called the Groovinators, has been playing out more and more. We have our first appearance at Frankie's this Friday. I've been playing there for a year or two as a solo with my banjo, but this will be the first time I've brought in the trio for a show in that venue. I figure it will be easy - just post 1 speaker in the corner behind us and use my usual mic coverage. 3 Mics - one each for John and I for vocals, and my C-1000 as always on the guitar. I have recently changed my PA from the ancient Peavey 5 channel PA head to a 6 channel NAD system. The Peavey output was 150 watts per side RMS and I loved it for its great volume at low gain. The NAD mixer is a bi-amplifier that drives a monitor system besides the mains, with separate controls. It is advertised as 300 watts - but actually it feels like it is is a bit wimpier then the Peavey - but capable, nonetheless of doing the job in pretty much any situation. I used my NAD for this year's Art in the Gardens - out on the event lawn at the Botanical Gardens. Wide open against backdrop of trees - looking out about 50 yards to where the actual garden event was going on. And yet - the sound carried just fine - we got noticed a lot that day.
One of the local artists there, who is also into swing dancing, got us a gig to play a Friday night swing dance party at the Caspar Inn in September. That night some board members of a local college were in attendance and ended up recommending us for the college's big annual fund raiser, and dinner dance event coming up in March. We also have another Swing Dance Society dance at Hill House on January 30th.
We played the the Salmon BBQ, July 4th weekend. We opened the show and got the crowd warmed up pretty good. I wasn't able to do the MC thing so much this year because I had to be out on the train that afternoon. We also played the Albion Fire Department BBQ the weekend after that and the CasparFest in late August.
Soon we are going to be getting off the Coast for a few dates. We have a gig in Willits, at the Shanachie Pub on December 19th and again in February. In March we are scheduled to play at the Ukiah Brewing Co.
On the day-job front there's bad news and good news. The bad news is that I lost my job at the health club - laid off by the owner who decided to do the opening shift himself. The good news is that I don't have to get up at 4:00 am anymore. And my job at the TV station has picked up in both hours and responsibilities. We recently began to make our inhouse produced programs available on the web for viewing and downloading. I was tasked with figuring out exactly how to do that, and I suceeded! We now have a full spectrum of our output available, including every local government meeting we cover, civic and artistic shows like band concerts and healthcare lectures. Altogether we have about 100 videos available currently with new ones posted each week.
In the middle of all of this activity last month, a blue whale washed up on one of our local beaches and MCTV was asked to come and document the process of salvaging the whale's skeleton. I spent 12 hours out on the bluff overlooking the carcass, and sometimes right down next too it, manning a camera for the cause on four separate days during the 8 day process. Our team is working on producing first a half-hour news show about the event, and later a longer documentary.