by Earl Oliver

This is a diary of my professional life since moving here to Ft. Bragg in October of 2003.

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.

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August, 24, 2007 22:34

V'canto! again...and more gig opportunities

I was at V'canto again tonight, sort of by accident. I was over that way putting up flyers yesterday afternoon and saw Frank Cosian (the guitarist formerly with Go Dog Go) sitting in the music corner, jamming with Mike. I went in to say, "Hello", and got roped into the jam session. Basically Mike offered me his Martin and invited me to have at it. I sat down and jammed with Frank on a few tunes. We did Outskirts of Town, Deep River Blues, and one or two others before I had to plead time constraints and head out of there.

Before I left, Frank invited me to stop by this evening during his scheduled gig. So I did. Only he wasn't there! He'd called in sick. I had sat over at Headlands listening to Richard Cooper and talking to my friends, until a little after 9 PM, then went next door with my guitar.

Mike again extended the invite, so I sat down and sang for about 45 minutes. I made a few tips and had a coke. I might talk to Mike about picking a week night and doing it weekly - just stop by and perform for an hour or two once a week - or maybe bi-weekly. Bi-weekly on Wednesdays, maybe.

I talked to a jazz drummer friend for the second time today. I have this idea of offering a guitar/drum duo. East to book, easy to rehearse, stripped down for action. Perfect for restaurant works, or winery gigs. I am also contemplating a brochure with options to choose from. Me solo, me with Butch, me with the drummer, maybe a trio with a bassist added, the Walkin' Blues Man character, etc.

September 4, 2007 01:27 PST

Train season ends - Winter Plans

My Skunk Train season officially ended the day before yesterday (Sunday, today is Tuesday). I am scheduled to perform on the train next Sunday, for a special event called "A Celebration of Steam", and also on Saturday, September 22, for the "Grand Old Time on the Train" old timey music festival, but both of those are outside my regular schedule, which ended Labor Day weekend.

From now on until late May, I have only those two train appearances to count on, so far. I might be asked to do something for their Halloween and Christmas trains, assuming those events actually happen this winter. My impression is that there is nothing definitely scheduled after the Halloween event, and I haven't seen any advertising about that. Last year the train closed down from the end of December until the first week of April - and I didn't go back to work until after Mother's Day.

So now I am out looking for work again, as I am every year at this time. Fortunately, I had my best summer yet on the train and also have experienced an upsurge in my other bookings, more and more through recommendations, and through contacts I made during my months working with the Coconuts. So my income is up and I managed to put some away over the summer for a rainy day.

I have a plan for the winter. I spent several weeks last month working on a brochure for my business, Jump City Productions. Jump City basically offers entertainment services featuring Earl Oliver & Friends. I am putting together a promo package using the recordings I got from the show at the Botanical Gardens a few weeks ago. The brochure talks all about the various configurations I can work in, from solo artist to full band. In between is Oliver & Kwan, which I intend to concentrate on the Winery circuit. My solo work will appeal more to intimate venues like restaurants and inns. I am also talking to a drummer about doing duo work in the smaller venues. I will give out my different CDs with the brochure, according to what venue I am shooting for.

The area I live in is largely rural, but what little urban culture there is here is geared toward the tourist trade, so I just have to be personable and glib to take advantage of those opportunities. Tourists are looking to be entertained, that's why they come here - so a professional entertainer finds a gold mine. Our coastline draws romantic day trippers with money to burn. That's why I am able to be so successful out on Main Street and on the train.

I found out over the summer that my Banjo Man character works well for a winery crowd. I am perceived as "quaint" and so that makes me cool for the wine-sipping elite. I mix a little more jazz into that presentation - for one thing, it is a more set-oriented show. On the train I perform in short bursts - 2 songs in each car on the way out. Then a roving set at Northspur, try to let everyone hear at least 2 songs in a row. On the way back I do a three or four song set in each car, according to how many cars there are. Those short sets allow me to stick to the tried and true cowboy songs for the most part on the train. I do slip in a Fats Dominoe or a Gus Kahn tune at the station occasionally.

September 8, 2007 02:40 PST

Gallery tonight - Train tomorrow

Tonight I am performong at an art gallery in Mendocino called Dreamscape. They are a new gallery and tonight is a "Second Saturday" event. "Second Saturday" is Mendocino's version of "First Friday" in Fort Bragg - a day set aside for local merchants to put on special promotional events, either singly or in conjunction with neighboring businesses. I will be set up on their porch with one speaker outside and a second one inside, doing my jazz/blues solo act.

Tomorrow is the final day of the "Celebration of Steam" event on the Skunk Train. Greg Schindel wanted to go to church, so I got the after season event put on my schedule.

September 22, 2007 02:40 PST

4th Annual Grand Old Time on the Train

Today was likely my last train gig for the season (sigh). It is really great to be working 4 days a week on the train in the summertime, but it sure does hurt when that suddenly ends and I go back to scrambling to make ends meet.

Today was the Grand Old Time on the Train event on the Skunk Train. An annual bluegrass concert - this year it took place at Camp Mendocino. The Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco owns and operates it. In the winter time, they have a skeleton crew that lives there full time. So the train hired them to provide the barbeque lunch for this special event.

Our concert featured two top Bay Area bands: The David Thom Band, and the Barefoot Nellies - an all female bluegrass ensemble.

David Thom is an old acquaintance of mine. We used to share the services of the same bass player, until Dave's band got so busy that the bass guy no longer had time for me! Dave is a heck of a nice guy and a really astounding guitar picker. He was joined on this occasion by Butch Waller, who with his brother, Bob, founded a band called High Country way back in the 1970's. I remember seeing them at the Freight & Salvage - the old one out on San Pablo Boulevard, around 1973 - but they were around there for years before I saw them. Basically, the guy is Bay Area bluegrass royalty. Plays the mandolin, by the way and sings up a storm. Him and Dave really ripped it up this afternoon. I believe the banjo player was Andy Webb. It was quite a band.

The Barefoot Nellies feature a sparkling vocal trio among their five members, and they have covered all the bases instrumentally with guitar, bass, fiddle, banjo and mandolin. They specialize in tawdry songs about love lost - "Lyin, cheatin' and drinkin" as they put it.

The concert was a nice format for each of them. They took turns doing 45 minute sets through the afternoon until the train loaded up and took off back to Fort Bragg. Each band appeared twice beginning with the Nellies, who were already playing as we got off the train.

I entertained in both directions, but not at the concert site. There was no sign of the Train Singer. I guess he didn't want to drive out to the Coast and then have to drive back after the train ride. There were 180 passengers on the train - a big train, considering how late it is in the season. I had a good day, well worth the effort.

This evening, Lonna and I had an early dinner and then Lonna conked out (she was up and at work at 6 this morning in order to finish in time to join me on the train at 10 AM). She has to work tomorrow morning, as well - though not so early - 7:30 or so, maybe :-) Anyway, I decided to hop over to Headlands Coffeehouse to catch a set with my friend Annierose and her husband, Gary Moran. They call their band Sweetgrass - tonight it was the Morans and an accordian player that I didn't recognize, but she was quite good. On my way over I peeked into V'canto and noticed that Frank Cosean was playing guitar with someone I didn't recognize. I decided to keep going and strolled on into Headlands in the middle of Sweetgrass' set. I enjoyed the remainder of the set - they did a fine version of City of New Orleans, and Annierose sang Don't Fence Me In - which is a Cole Porter song written for a Broadway musical. Gary is another great guitar picker.

At 9:00 I slung my guitar over my back and headed back to V'canto to see what was going on there. It turned out that the stranger playing with Frank was George Schroder - who wrote a song made famous by the late, Kate Wolf - The Redtail Hawk. I also ran into Tom Rickard, the drummer. We talked again about getting together and this time we actually set a date - a week from Friday. I have this idea of doing a duo with just me and a drummer. Tom is real understated and instinctive - I think we might just find some good grooves where I can work in some lead lines to keep it interesting.

Frank noticed me (and that I had a guitar with me) about 30 minutes later when he and George took a break. The next thing I knew, I was hustled on stage and Frank and I ran through a few tunes. I remember we did Deep River Blues and WPLJ - a couple of others. A brisk little set. George came back and rejoined Frank and I sat back down. About two songs later, Sue Sisk showed up and crashed the stage. She sang Redtail Hawk with George then he accompanied her on torchy version of (You Give Me) Fever. Dynamite stuff! I am appearing at V'canto one week from tonight.

October 10, 2007 09:55 PST

V'canto shows - a monthly booking. 1st brochure mailing

I am getting to be a regular at V'canto now. I have found that if I wander in there on a Friday or Saturday, about 3 times out of 5 I will end up playing a couple of hours and making a few tips. The other two times I'lll be invited to sit in with whoever is performing that evening. Tonight it was the "Black Connollys" - Sean Connolly and his brother Hugh. Sean is a tremendous keyboard player - a founding member of a great band called "Go Dog Go". They do very ambitious tunes - like Pink Floyd stuff and complicated Beatles songs like "I am the Walrus". Hugh plays guitar and bass and sings.

I recently spoke to Mike and set up a regular fouth Friday of the month gig starting this month on the 26th.

Today I sent off my first brochure mailing. I sent it to about 50 wineries in Anderson Valley, Redwood Valley and Ukiah. The brochure advertises myself, basically, and all of the various ways I can present a show. Jump City presents Earl Oliver & Friends is the title on the front. I included a cover letter that emphasises my solo and duo configurations - "a high quality, low cost alternative to hiring a band". I figure those acts will be the easiest to book. My next target will be resorts between here and the Oregon border.

November 2, 2007 21:40 PST

More brochures go out - Working on new material

This week I sent out another 35 brochures to Art Galleries mostly right here in Fort Bragg and Mendocino, a few in Gualala and Pt. Arena.

Meanwhile I am working on new material. I have dug up some stuff from the 60s. The old Youngbloods classic "Darkness, Darkness", and a rather obscure hit by a British Invasion band called the Zombies. The song is called "Time of the Season". I have been working up the old RB nugget, "Flip, Flop and Fly". I was starting to use that tune with the Oliver&Kwan Electric Band, but when that ensemble fell apart I stopped working on it. I am also reviving a couple of songs from my Coconuts repertoire, "Brazil" will the Bill Kamen lyrics, and a calypso tune, which I will probably do as a reggea, called, "Men Smart, Woman Smarter".

November 9, 2007 20:55 PST

Another monthly gig at Headlands

Headlands has just offered me the second Thursday of each month. This will be in addition to the first Monday Open Mic, which I will continue to host. I stopped over there tonight to listen to Richard Cooper for a while and then stopped across the alley to confirm an appearance for tomorrow night at V'canto. Maybe I'll make a few bucks. I hope so.

It is supposed to rain this weekend so I may not be able to earn any money on Main Street. You never know, actually. I have had some fairly good days with a scattering of light rain to make people take pity on me :-)...usually that would be in the springtime, however. Tomorrows forecast says 70% chance of rain. Sunday is supposed to be partly cloudy, so maybe I'll have better luck that day. Fortunately I have had a chance to take on a few more hours at my morning job so that is helping my bottom line some.

Lately I have been looking around for a second part time job. My problem is that I have to be honest with anyone I apply to. They have to know that I will disappear on to the train in the summertime. That kind of limits my desirability for potential employers.

November 16, 2007 20:55 PST

Butch Kwan on board for 2nd Thursday at Headlands

I called Butch today and he agreed to work my first 2nd Thursday gig on January 10th at Headlands. I'm really glad because circumstances have been such that he and I have not had many chances to perform together - or even just have a jam session - for several months. Our last gig together was in September, at the Paul Bunyan Days event. We didn't even get a rehearsal for that one.

He has been busy. For a while he was working stuff up with Mitch Holman and Hal Wagenet (founding members of a band called Its a Beautiful Day). At the same time, he has hooked up with a former partner from years ago, Rick Brumballo, and has been doing some gigs with him up in Eureka, and at the Caspar Inn. He also plays in an Irish band and with the Contra Dance Band that plays for the dances at the Caspar Community Center. Of course, all summer I was tied up with the Skunk Train, so that didn't help the situation either.

He kind of surprised me by agreeing right away when I invited him to play some of the Headlands shows with me. We soon realized that we can't fit in a rehearsal until the first week of December :-)

December 2, 2007 03:55 PDT

A busy weekend

I had kind of a whirlwind day yesterday. I started at 11:30 AM when I arrived out on Main Street in the Village. I busked for two hours and then packed up and headed to the Caspar Community Center where I performed with my guitar for an hour and a half at the Annual Holiday Crafts Faire (Snow in Caspar event). This was the first time I've played at the CCC since leaving the Coconuts back in July. I saw quite a few of my friends pass through the room during my show.

Last night I had a gig at V'canto, but I also wanted to attend the Christmas Parade of Lights on Highway 1 in Ft. Bragg. So I went to the restaurant early, at 6, for dinner. I left my instruments there and met Lonna at the restaurant. The parade was on the highway at the next corner from V'canto. After the parade, which started at 7, we went back to the restaurant. Lonna had dinner while I played my first set. I did several of my jazz-styled Christmas Carols for the afternoon gig, and did one or two of them at the evening performance.

Today I took the day off. It was cold and windy, and rained on and off, so busking was out of the question. Besides, my fingers were sore and I have the Open Mic tomorrow night. I should mention that the "Open Mic" is frequently more of an Earl Oliver performance with Open Mic Participants scattered here and there throughout the evening. Occasionally it consists of an entire evening with just me :-), so the day off helps me get my hands back in shape

December 6, 2007 06:50 PDT

A rehearsal with Butch Kwan

We had a rehearsal over at Butch's studio last night. It was our first formal session in months. Last summer I was working with the Coconuts almost every weekend, so I passed up booking Oliver & Kwan in at Headlands. By the time I realized I had been cut loose from the band it was already too late to get a booking there before the first of the year.

I showed Butch several of the new tunes I've been working on. He really got off on the Zombies' tune. We also worked on Darkness, Darkness with the violin playing the lead, and dabbled a little with Brazil. I showed him my own Dyin' to Love for the first time. I can't believe that song never came up in our 3 year musical relationship. In fact the only times I have done that song lately were during Pierre Ardan's infrequent visits.

Butch reminded me that I promised to accompany him at the Cloverdale Fiddle Contest, which is also coming up in January, so we have plenty of stuff to work on. He also told me that his grandson, Phineous (Phin for short), is also entered and we will be accompanying him as well! Phin is 7.

The weather forecast is for sunny days this weekend. Its been that way at least one day each weekend since the fall-winter season began. I continue to perform out on Main Street in Mendocino whenever it is worthwhile. For a while I was working up the street in front of a science-toy store called "Out of This World". But a neighboring business objected, as happened a last fall when I was in front of the Wine Store for several weeks. I have resigned myself to working just past the main business district, against the fence in front of the duck pond. It's actually the best place after all. The foot traffic is pretty much the same, and it is detached enough that I can work in full voice, and forcefully on the banjo, which attracts more attention and generates more tips ($$!)

December 13, 2007 17:50 PDT

A Field Trip

Today I took a drive down to Anderson Valley on a promotional tour of the wineries in Philo and Booneville. I handed out 9 CDs and maybe 7 or 8 brochures - all with business cards. I got business cards from the events coordinators of several wineries. I also ran into two people who knew who I was. The Inn Keeper at the Heritage House is the wife of the bass player and leader of the Big River Band. At one of the wineries I met the wife of a former member of the Coconuts, whom I had also met previously.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty successful trip. Everyone I spoke to readily accepted my material, and most of them went out of their way to be encouraging. I visited a couple of Inns, the aforementioned Heritage House and the Little River Inn, and also stopped in at a brew pub in Booneville. A few recalled receiving my intial mailing back in October. All of them acted interested.

I have another rehearsal with Butch tomorrow night. The night after that (Saturday) we are playing the closing set for Bob Dease' Friend's of Acoustic Music program at Headlands.

It looks like it will not rain this weekend so I will ply my trade again on the street Saturday and Sunday. Last Sunday I went back for the first time in three weeks and played in front of Out of This World. As predicted, I didn't enjoy it as much because I always feel constrained by the "hostile neighbor" at that location, and so I keep my voice down. Also, the tips were no better than in front of the duck pond, and possibly, they were not as good - but it's kind of hard to tell about that because my busking income always depends so much on pure luck. Its a scary way to make a living.

December 28, 2007 22:30 PDT

Great V'canto outing

I played at V'canto this evening. It was my regular 4th Friday of the month show. It went especially well, I thought. Certainly, when you count the good tips, I would say it went extremely well :-)

But seriously, I felt like I had a good rapport with the audience, which was somewhat smaller than the usual Friday night crowd. A lot of times I have to shout over the din in the place, but not tonight. I was able to concentrate more on nuance and style, which always gets me further with a receptive audience. I used the banjo for a while at the beginning of the 2nd set, then went back to guitar and drug out the two 60s tunes (Time of the Season and Darkness, Darkness) for my big finish at the end of the show.

Lonna and I are going to the New Year's Eve party at the Caspar Community Center next Monday night. The Coconuts are playing for that show and Paul invited us to come as guests of the band - it'll be the first time I have been at one of their shows since leaving the Coconuts. I sure miss playing with those guys... :-( Anyway, it will be interesting to see where they have gone with it since I worked with them.

Winter has really set in now. I am using the oil stove more and more to maintain the house at an even temperture without having to overheat the place. I am still using the wood stove, but I have learned to work it more efficiently. Instead of packing the stove with wood, I go for a more moderate approach. I get a good bed of coals going and then feed it small amounts - a couple of small logs every hour or so. I leave the door ajar and maintain the fire at a lower temperature, which burns the wood slower. I can keep a fire going like that all day with about two armloads of wood. I just keep learning...

December 31, 2007 15:20 PDT

New Years Eve

I played out on Main Street today - altogether I have played three days out there in the last 7 this week. Today was one of the best days since the end of the train season. I can always tell how it will be by how easy it is to find a parking spot. Today I had to park a block and a half from my spot.

The area I work these days is along a 1/2 block of picket fence starting in front of the Kelley House and coming west to my location.. There is a pond on the other side of the fence, but it is dry right now because we haven't had a lot of rain so far this winter, There are some domesticated geese that live there. Sometimes they come up and honk at me - I guess my repertoire gets boring after a while :-)

Around the end of the first hour, a lady came up and listened for a song or two, then she bought my CD and continued to stand there, looking a little sad. So I started doing songs off the CD, starting with my Anniversary Song. I followed that with the other song I wrote on my 32nd anniversary, Live for Today. When I finished the 2nd song, I looked at her and there were tears glistening in her eyes. She turned to me and struggled through her emotional turmoil to say, "My sister is dying from lung cancer, thank you for that gift."

Then she walked away...

January 13, 2008 14:00 PDT

Lean Times on the loan prayery

What a difference a couple of weeks make. This is the second weekend in a row that I haven't been able to go out to Mendocino and busk. We had a storm right after New Years that put the lights out at our place for 36 hours, some other folks are still waiting to be restored. I lost my Edgewater Gallery gig because the power was off on Main Street in Fort Bragg on Friday evening. Doesn't bode well for the old budget.

On the other hand, my scheduled engagements are on the upswing. I was at Headlands Thursday night with Butch. We had a good crowd, including our wives some friends of mine, a local eye surgeon and his wife. And many of the Headlands weeknight regulars were there as well. I'll be doing that show on the second Thursday from now on. I have another appearance at V'canto coming up on the 25th. In February I have three scheduled appearances so far.

This afternoon I had to go out and shovel up a bunch of branches and other storm muck off the road at the corner of my orchard. People were skidding through it all morning so I figured I better do something about it. Turns out the County street sweeper had been through and had done a cursiory mop up near the big downed branches that are around the corner from us in front of our neighbor's property. On his way around our corner he must have skidded and dumped a pile of medium size branches right at the apex of the corner. It took me about an hour to clean it up.

January 19, 2008 16:15 PDT

Business picks up

Today (Saturday) the sun was out off and on all morning, so around noon I set out for Mendocino. When I arrived in the village the sun was out but it was cold. There was pretty good foot traffic at that moment, so I set up in my usual spot and went at it. By the time I was getting to the 3rd song, my fingers were feeling pretty cold and I had to stop trying to fingerpick, using the flat pick instead. There seemed to be a lot fewer people on the street. I had made one dollar at that point and was thinking about giving it up. But I persisted, and the third person who tipped me also bought a CD. It was starting to warm up a little by then - I was able to go back to fingerpicking on some tunes. I played for two hours and had a better than average day.

My next gig is at V'canto next Friday. My usual Fourth Friday engagement.

This week I was able to do some web work for my wife's company and made a few bucks that way as well. There might be more of that stuff in the near future (I hope).

Thursday January 24, 2008 16:23 PDT

Fiddle Contest on the horizon

Tomorrow I am going over to Butch's place to rehearse with him and his grandson, Phineous. Phin is a talented 7 year old, who likes to perform for an audience. To be like grandpa! Sweet little red haired kid.

He is entered in the Peewee division of the Cloverdale Old Time Fiddle contest on Saturday (today is Thursday). Butch and I got together one night last week and he showed me the tunes. There are two of them: Old Joe Clark and Oh! Oh! What Could the Matter be?. Three chords and two chords, respectively. We decided not to enter the Adult division this year because it takes place on Sunday, meaning an overnight stay in Cloverdale. We elected to back up the kid. We're on at 11 AM.

We will be there all day on Saturday, either watching the contests, or taking part in the numerous jam sessions that populate the lobby and market halls. If anyone reading this plans to attend, please don't hesitate to stop me and say "Hi". I would love to talk to anyone who is interested enough to actually read my blog! I'll be the guy with the smallest guitar - my traditional sunburst Gibson L-00, as opposed to a big dreadnaught style played by almost every other picker there - and I'll be wearing a red hat with the Skunk Train logo on it.

I have attended the contest twice before and competed with Butch two years ago - both times I ran into people I used to jam with at McGrath's in Alameda.

I don't remember if I have talked here about McGrath's Irish Pub, but it was my base of operations during the last few years I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. I established an Open Mic program there in 2001, which is still going on under different supervision. Their Monday night bluegrass jam was and is the best such program I have ever attended - and I did so regularly when I could. I have even arranged trips to the Bay Area to include Monday so I could attend from out of town.

I met so many musicians through that place, and not just bluegrass players. I really feel like that place helped me get connected to a whole music scene I didn't even know existed in the Bay Area for the first 10 years I lived there from 1990 on. There were a lot of people like me, old timey/? performers who flirted with bluegrass.

At one of the jams I was invited one night to a party at a loft apartment in Oakland. The three occupants of the apartment were a really well known accordianist, the leader of the Motor Dude Zydaco band, a Chinese fellow who played amazing fiddle, and a prominent Irish Band leader. The large 2-story apartment had about ten rooms and I would swear there were jam sessions going on in seven of them! An irish jam in one room, bluegrass jams in two of them, a swing music jam in the living room, a 60's rock music jam, and a blues jam in separate bedrooms. It was a wonderful atmosphere, very welcoming if you were able to display some chops.

From there I was invited to a jam session which I will not name. It is a secret organization that holds a jam once a month at various members' homes. It is by invitation only. Most of the players who knew about it were professionals, or talented motivated amateurs, or were young student players who knew their place in the pecking order and abided by the rules. It was an amazingly nurturing environment. I still get the invitations, but have not been able to arrange to attend one since I left the Bay Area in 2003.

I also have another Fourth Friday show at V'canto tomorrow night. The last one was a blast, The bar was lightly attended, so my sound was able to percolate into the dining room. Good for business.

Sunday February 3, 2008 17:40 PDT

Fiddle Contest results and rehearsal with Tom Rickard

Well, the Fiddle Contest was both a blast and a disappoinment. The good news is that young Phineous performed admirably and placed fourth in the competition! We were very proud of him. The bad news was that putting the adult division on Sunday changed the dynamics of the jam scene on Saturday. Most of the professional players weren't there on Saturday, so the jams that did take place in the side rooms were few and far between, thus kind of a let down. In fact I didn't stick around for the evening jam because I found myself with nothing to do by about 2 PM. I just couldn't justify hanging around another 5 hours or so to attend the jam, which I figured might or might not be worthwhile.

So, I went home early.

On Friday, I had a rehearsal with my drummer friend Tom. I have been under the weather this week - with a pretty severe cold, so it was a brief session. Basically I tried to show him all of the various styles I would be working in, and we went over my ending sequences on some of them. Tom is very intuitive, and he listens, which is something you don't encounter in drummers all that often (sorry guys, but that has been my experience for the past 40 years of working in bands). Bottom line is that I think it is going to work out just great when we do our show together at Headlands on the 14th. We have another session scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. I'm feeling a lot better, so I hope to be able to go over things in more detail then.

Saturday February 9, 2008 22:20 PDT

2nd rehearsal with Tom Rickard

Tom and I got together for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon. I felt like we really started to connect a little bit. We will be doing the show on Thursday without any further sessions. I threw a little of everything at him - even the new Zombies number. He stayed right with me. I was still a little under the weather for the session, but held it together for about an hour and a half.

I went out to the street for the first time in 5 weeks today. I had an average day - not spectacular. I plan to do it again tomorrow. It was sunny and around 65 degrees this afternoon. If I have even another average day tomorrow, it will be a life saver for my budget. I am still not well, unfortunately. I got through it by keeping myself well lubricated with berry juice.

Friday February 15, 2008 26:10 PDT

Earl Oliver & Friends at Headlands for February

Last night was my gig with Tom. I was very pleased by the outcome. Tom is, as I had surmised, a very intuitive musician. He's not aggressive at all, thank God! And he listens! i was able to relax and just play, confident that he would stay with me but not try to shape the rhythm - to let me use my senses to determine how the rhythm should proceed. I am rather "idiosyncratic" regarding tempo. I like to make dramatic pauses and such. My performance style is flamboyant and full of drama. To be most effective I need to be able to change the tempo or even stop it at the right moment for maximum impact to the listener. I make those decisions on the fly, so I need a drummer to listen to what I'm doing and then try to fit in. Tom has that attitude. Now if only I could find a stand up bass player...

I opened the show with a solo turn on my parlor guitar. I travis picked for about a half an hour. Did the Deep River Blues, my John Fahey "suite", a couple of my original fingerpicking tunes. Then I had Tom come up. We started in with Jump City. It was the first time I have performed it on stage here on the North Coast. I wrote the tune in the late 1980s. I have a video of the Jump City Band playing Jump City in my old studio in North Hollywood. I also taught it to the Badger and Gregg Norman when I lived in Walnut Creek - we used to play it at the Bistro in Hayward in the 1990s. Deane Juhan played it with us as well. I showed it to Butch Kwan, and we played around with it a few times - but neither of us was happy enough with it to want to expose it to our audience. Last night Tom and I just slipped into it and it was great.

After that I leaned back on familiar material, my Big Bill Broonzy stuff, Fats Waller, Cole Porter, etc. I did Cheat on Me and my Song for Ella, Judy's Song, My Mama Ain't Me - staying in the jazz-blues repertoire as befitting the venue. I told all of my stories - I want Tom to expect that. I did remember to throw in the Zombies tune toward the end of the second set, and it was that much better with the drums added. I decided I am going to look at some of my stories and edit them a little here and there. Try to pick things up a little.

I finally got the roof fixed yesterday. We now have a complete 50 year, 110 MPH windspeed warranty. With any luck I'll never have to deal with the roof again. The insurance came through so it only cost me several hundred dollars out of pocket. There will also be a temporary surcharge on our premium, but altogether we will have to pay less than a third of the full cost.

Our sunny weather has continued all week and it looks like I may get a chance to go out to the street tomorrow. Sunday I have a charity gig up at David's Deli. Its a benefit to help the family of a young lady from Mendocino who went to a Santa Barbara College school function in Reno, NV and then disappeared. This was on January 20th. I was asked to come in my Train costume and play the banjo.

Friday March 7, 2008 18:50 PDT


Last Sunday was clear and warm so I went out to Main Street a little early. I was hoping to beat my competition to the spot in front of the duck pond - but failed. For the last month or so there has been a harmonica player with an amplifier squatting that location on sunny Sundays. Since that day was the first sunny weekend day in about three weeks, I decided to go on down to Out of This World and work in front of the store. I asked permission, as I always do, and went to work.

I had been there about an hour and a half, and was doing fairly well when a Sheriff's patrol car with two deputies in it came down Main Street and made the turn at my corner. A half hour later, when I was about to pack up, but i was hanging around because the foot traffic was still good, here come the two deputies strolling up the sidewalk in my direction. They stopped in at the bookstore for a moment and I blithely played on, thinking I had official sanction because they had never bothered me before.

They came out of the store and walked right up to me, interrupting my song. I greeted them, and the older of the two told me that what I was doing is technically "not allowed". I tried to mention my previous encounter with the deputy who told me it was alright as long as I don't use a sign, but he was having none of that. Of course, buskers' rule #2 is: when a policeman asks you to move along, you move along. That's also the law, as it happens. I am pretty certain that the harmonica player spoiled it for both of us by causing one of the merchants to complain about his volume. Jerk!

I'm a little uncertain about the future for me there at this point.

Tonight I'm going over to see Richard Cooper at Headlands, with Tom on drums.

Tom and I have been rehearsing on Mondays lately. I have learned a few more 60s songs. I am doing Stephen Stills' tune, Pretty Girl Why, and the old Beau Brummels song, Cry Just a Little (complete with the signature guitar riffs). I have also dug into my own catalog of songs and came up with a kind of jazz/reggea tune I wrote in 1978 called I Depend on You. From my Coconuts days I have brought back Sway With Me - a 1940s dance song I worked up to do with them, only to have it rejected by the band. Another Stills tune I am relearning mainly for the rather dramatic guitar part I get to do on it, For What its Worth. I have a semi-jazz take on it that still manages to rock pretty fine. I am thinking about the old Fleetwood Mack tune, Black Magic Woman (not the flashy Carlos Santana version I do with Butch), but something more like the original British record.

Tomorrow Butch is having a party for his 58th birthday. It will be the first big party they've had since they moved into that house almost 30 years ago.

Friday March 21, 2008 18:50 PDT

V'canto tonight and further busking developments.

I gigged at V'canto tonight. Usually I am there on the fourth Friday, but the owner asked me to change it this month. It was a good night, Good Friday, as a matter of fact. There were tourists in town so the dining room was full. I noticed that they changed their menu and upped their prices recently - so I guess that makes the job more lucrative :-) I am using more and more 60s material and it seems to go over really well. I added the old Beau Brummels song, Cry just a Little, to my set tonight for only the second time.

I had a run in with the harmonica creep last Sunday. He showed up when I had been playing in front of the pond for about 45 minutes. He double parked his van and started unloading a bunch of equipment - a little chair, a box to put his CDs on, his amp, etc. He set himself up about 25 feet down the fence from me!! He finished setting up then started playing along with me without the amp. I finished the song and turned to him and asked him not to play along. "Have some courtesy." I told him. He told me to f--k myself. Then I lit into him about spoiling the venue by using the amp. I pointed out to him that I had never been hassled by a cop until he showed up with the amp. He got verbally abusive at that point so I let it go rather than make a scene. After a little while he moved a little further down the fence, but he was still within earshot. At the end of my 1st hour, I picked up and moved down to the Out of This World spot. I played there for an hour and had a pretty good day over all.

When I went back down to get my car, the creep was still there, but he was playing guitar with his harmonica in a holder, and he wasn't using the amp, so maybe I got through to him.

The California Department of Forestry, (CDF) in the person of a guy named Steve, called me yesterday and asked me to bring Butch and perform for their reunion dinner again this year. That is next Saturday, on March 29th. We go down to Russian Gulch to the clubhouse at the bottom of the road. It is one big room with fireplaces at either end. I use the Peavey PA head with the compact (10") speakers. I just prop them on chairs, rather than bring the stands. It looks more casual, which is definitely the theme of this particular gathering. Lat year we ended up leading a jam session with the organizer, who was a drummer, and one of the rangers, who played banjo. This year we have Steve, who may be the banjo player I remember.

I ordered three cords of oak firewood yesterday, from my guy in Boonville. He gives me a discount for buying multiples. This will be partially seasoned wood. I will stack it loosely in the orchard to season through the spring, summer and fall. By November, I'll have nice dry wood to burn. I made a mistake last year and bought three cords of walnut. I had a little oak left over from the previous season and thought it would be enough - but it wasn't. I ended up buying about a cord and a half of oak to finish the winter. I have about half of that left now. I am going with just one fire a day lately, so the wood is lasting a lot longer. I went ahead and filled my oil tank this week. The price of heating oil (diesel #2) is going up over $4 a gallon soon, so I decided to get it for next winter before that happened. I'll have to buy more this summer or fall, but at least it will be only a fraction of the full tank to top off.

Friday April 11, 2008 20:50 PDT

Under the Weather, Headlands and Train News

I have been ill with the flu for the last 2 weeks. Last night was the first time I felt almost normal, and a good thing, since it was the Second Thursday of the month.

I was at Headlands last night with my drummer, Tom Rickard. I really like the duo mode - that's what makes the magic when I work with Butch Kwan. Collectively we are orders of magnitude better than either of us is alone. We throw one other person in and it tilts away from being so special.

Working with Tom it is different because he is basically following my lead on everything. That is our agreement. Right now I am integrating him into my groove. When were ready, we look for a bass player. I see my relationship with Tom as the foundation for something larger to come.

The show last night went fine. I was having a problem with a stuffed up right ear, so singing was a little weird, but my voice stayed strong for the first time in two weeks.

Yesterday I was given my first assignment on the Skunk Train for the 2008 season. It is two weeks from tomorrow. A Wine and Redwoods tour going out at 10 am on Saturday, April 26. I was also told that we may be able to get "back to work" for the season during the first week in May. That would be three weeks earlier than we went back the last two seasons. That would be worth a lot.

Friday April 14, 2008 12:50 PDT

Playing with Butch's new band

A couple of Sundays ago I sat in with the Rick Brumbalo Project, in acoustic mode. They were playing at The Golden West (a rather smoky bar on Redwood Street in Ft. Bragg). Rick, who I am sure I have mentioned previously, is an old friend of Butch and John Smith - from Chicago. They all grew up together. He sings and plays guitar, and is the leader of the band. His singer/guitarist girlfriend, Katie Rose, is also a member, along with Butch and John on stand up bass, and Logan Smith (no relation there) on drums. Rick and Katie live over in Chico, so they are only over here occasionally. Sound equipment isn't allowed in the Golden West, so the band is in complete acoustic mode. Logan just brought a snare and some brushes.

Anyway, I came in for their last hour and was invited to sit in using Katie's guitar. It was fun harmonizing with Katie and Rick on just about every 60s tune imaginable.

I ran into Butch at Headlands last night and was invited to sit in with him and Rick at V'canto next Saturday night. So I guess I will.

I played out in Mendocino this weekend and made about $100 - not bad. The weather was really nice and hot, the foot traffic wasn't spectacular, but it was enough of the right kind...

Saturday April 19, 2008 22:50 PDT

V'canto with the Rick Brumbalo Project

Tonight I sat in again with Butch and the Rick Brumbalo Project band. I sang back up and played a few riffs here and there. It was a completely laid back retooling of sixties and seventies classic rock tunes. Katie Rose was there to front the band on several nuggets like Janice Joplin's "Piece of My Heart", and a fine version of an old Fleetwood Mack tune that I can't at this moment bring too mind... Her version of "Summertime" is devine. She has a great voice! She and Rick harmonized sweetly on everything from Eagles ballads to CS&N folk rock to Everly Brothers rockabilly. I always have a lot of fun when I play with them.

Butch and I will be there next Friday (the 25th) for my regular 4th Friday appearance. The next day I will be out on the train for the Wine and Redwoods thing. I'm starting to feel the season coming on...

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