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.

Click here for previous entries | Click here for the current page
Click here to read the first entry, November 20, 2003
To comment on anything written here, please email me at

Please note: This page is shown in chronological order - the earliest entry is at the top.

To comment on anything written here, please email me at

Sunday April 27, 2008 15:43 PDT

First train trip for the 2008 season

Yesterday I went out on the train for the Wine & Redwoods tour - kind of a wine and cheese party on the rails. There was a small crowd - 60 or so, but I did pretty well. I sold a couple of CDs. Lonna came with me and enjoyed the ride and her embroidary... I tried altering my usual routine a bit. I cut out 2 songs from the trip back, and I did fewer songs during the turn around break. I also did Skunk Train Blues out on the platform while the crowd was waiting to board, just as an introduction without actually introducing myself.

If the current story is correct, I could be back on the train full time next Sunday.

Butch and I played V'canto on Friday. It was our first time there as a duet. It was just an average night, so we didn't do that well with tips. I guess I am again rethinking how I want to do that gig going forward. I still want to try it once with Tom, but maybe I will hold off on that for a while.

Friday, May 2, 2008 21:20 PDT

Edgewater Gallery show

This evening I performed the the monthly, first Friday opening at the Edgewater Gallery on Main Street in Fort Bragg. The opening featured fine paintings - oils & reproductions by Joseph Du Vivier. It was my second time at bat there.

I really like gallery shows, I feel like I come into my own under that circumstance. Well dressed people, strolling around and checking out the art, groovin' to a blues or a cowboy song while they discuss Patrick Doyle's latest wood sculpture, or Sunshine Taylor's daisy series of watercolors. A large contingent of the audience there are the artists, not just the ones who are involved in that gallery, but their peers from outside the venue, come to check out the competition.

I went back to my black tube pickup with the volume control. I ran it through the K&K preamp and into my Peavey PA head. I used a high gain Beyer Dynamic microphone and set it below my chin and out a foot or so. That way I got a slightly enhanced acoustic sound that spread throughout the gallery because I used two 10" 3-way speakers in the separate bays of the the storefront. I just propped them in the corner with the cabinets tipped back and kept the master volume real low. I like to think of it as background music that people actually stop and listen too :-)

Saturday, May 10, 2008 22:37 PDT

2 Surprise Engagements and a Troubadour Circle

This has been a busy weekend and it is only Saturday night.

On Monday I got an email from a young woman in the Bay Area, asking me to deliver a singing telegram to her new husband this afternoon. She got married in Fort Bragg this morning and wanted me to visit the reception. In the end we negotiated an hour performance for her family and friends by "The Walkin' Blues Man" beginning at 2:30. She even paid me in advance, via PayPal!

Then, Friday afternoon, I got a call relayed to me from the Sports Club about an Open House event at the Covington Creek Veterinary Clinic out on Highway 20. They wanted me at 1 PM, so I planned to do both shows in costume - do the train guy for both parties. I can be completely portable, leaving the banjo case in the car, so i can walk in and walk out without any set-up or break-down. I was able to leave there at 2 PM giving me a full half hour to drive from one end of Fort Bragg too the other..

What's funny is that the bride-too-be originally wanted me to come to her party at 1 PM, but I turned that down telling her I was on call for the Skunk Train until around 2 PM. That was on Monday. By Friday I realized that I wasn't going to be asked to go out on the train, so when the Animal Hospital offered me their engagement, I grabbed it.

The Veterinary Clinic gig was a bit of a letdown. They didn't really make any plan for a performance venue. I circulated around the lobby and the front porch area while people milled about, and had conversations - I was background music... I played instrumentals and instrumental versions of some of my vocal tunes. I sang a couple of times, but mostly I kept to the background. I ran into a few friends from the Mendocino Sports Club, where I work mornings, so that was fun.

I left there right on time, at 2, and went across town to the North end. It took about 10 minutes, so I had 10 minutes or so to kill before making my appearance. On a curvy little lane that meanders around a fairy ring, which is a circle of second growth redwood trees, sprouted out the stump of an ancient giant, there was a gorgeous old house. There was a nice wide lawn with tables set up for a sit down dinner. I stood on the portable dance floor and sang cowboy songs for the most part. I sang my Anniversary Song for the goom's parents and Makin' Whoopie at the bride's request. The wedding was performed in Edwardian costume, so there was an air of theatrical performance already about the place by the time I arrived. My train guy costume fit right in. My music was all wrong, of course, but they didn't seem to mind.

This evening I accepted an invitation to a Troubadour Circle event in the dining room at Mendo Burger. Basically, a bunch of acoustic musicians sitting around a room with a drum stick. Everyone who wants to, leads songs as others in the circle join in on their instruments, or voices, or both. As a performer start his round, he hands the stick off to the next performer. When everyone has led a song, then you start a second round. Every participant leads 2 songs for each round. Its kind of a combination of an Open Mic and a jam session. It was a nice time, with several really fine musicians, and lots of encouragement for everyone to participate. They do it on the second Saturday of each month.

Saturday, May 21, 2008 16:04 PDT

The 4th Train Season about to begin

I stopped by at the Skunk Train Depot today and was given my schedule for the 2008 season. I will be on four days a week from Sunday through Wednesday. That's six train rides per week, the same as last season.

Actually, The Train Singer and I share the twelve train trips each week even steven - except that Gregg's days are all better then the ones I get. But hey! It's all good - I'm honored to be his alternate. This is his 19th season unless I am mistaken. My 4th.

Have a very busy June ahead of me. Six engagements, not counting the train. Well five really, one of them is taking place over two days. During the Fathers' Day weekend I am appearing both days for the "Touch of Redwood Valley" wine tour. I'll be at the Oracle Oaks Winery on June 14th and 15th.. On the 21st I am booked at Frankie's Ice Cream Parlor in Mendocino. That's a new venue for me.

Then I have my usual three monthly gigs to make six (two at Headlands and one at V'canto).

Wednesday, May 29, 2008 15:04 PDT

Memorial Day week: After the Flood

My 2008 train season started with a bang this week. On Sunday we went out with almost 300 souls, on a train that included six passenger coaches and two open cars. Tyler was the conductor in charge and Marty was the concession hostess.

At the station I warmed up my voice over a cup of tea and singing a few scales in one of the back cars. I tuned up the banjo and played my "Take Me Home exercise" for a few minutes to loosen up the fingers on my left hand before heading out to the front of the station. I spent a little time jollying up the crowd on the platform. I sang Skunk Train Blues for them and joked about running a portion of the passengers "...along side the rails, to help us get over the hills."

Since there were so many cars, I limited myself to one song in each of them on the way out. Tyler is fairly loquacious in a very understated way, so he keeps the passengers' attention at intervals throughout the trip. He and I agree that after we pass a place called Grove, I start my first walk through the train. I have an introduction speech that ends with an oblique reference to accepting tips, then I launched into Hey Good Lookin', dedicated to "...all the beautiful woman on the train today - and I don't have to point you out, you all know who you are." Solid corn.

If there were more time I would go into a second song, but on Sunday I just did the one, with a parting shot about " don't go away...oh wait! That's right, you can't go anywhere. That's why I love this gig! I have a enclosed venue with a captive audience - you can't get away from me! You can go to another car - I'll just follow you!". Then I'm gone.

At Northspur, which is the mid-point of the tracks between Fort Bragg and Willits, I got off ahead of the passengers so I could meet them on the ground as they alight. I play the "Take Me Home exercise" again. An instrumental introduction I use for my song, Take Me Home. I can repeat it almost endlessly. Then when I get tired of that, I switch to Nashville Skyline Rag, which is similar in its round about quality. We're on the ground for just over a half hour, so I stroll from area to area, offering original banjo tunes mixed with 1930s jazz tunes and the inevitable Hank Williams selections.

I get lunch just before departure, sometimes eating it on the train, but I usually have time to sit down and will invite myself to eat with a family that seemed to be enjoying my act.

Back on the train, I waited until just after we passed Camp Mendocino, about a mile and a half west of Northspur, before making my walk through for the return trip. In this case, I did two songs where I would usually do three. In any case I will always start this set with Deep River Blues. I have a great intro that talks about the Noyo River and the fact that it was named after Chief Noyo of the Pomo tribe. I make a joke about the Chief having been "...named after the bowling alley in Fort Bragg." (Noyo Bowl) Then I just say, "Let me sing you a river song", and plunge into the tune.

My second tune on this trip alternated between Tennessee Stud and The City of New Orleans, where normally I would do the cowboy song first, then the train song for the closing. After the train song, I thanked them for listening, and for coming out on the train, then I made my CD pitch, " for ten dollars, two for $25 - it's a great deal, don't think about it!"

Back at Fort Bragg, I got off ahead of the crowd again and stood near the foot of the stair with my case open to display a stack of CDs, playing Windy & Warm and thanking the passengers as they headed for their cars.

On Sunday, I got back to the station and discovered they had booked an evening train with 150 people on it. So I went through it all a second time, with the passenger cars cut back to three, so I was able to do my full performance during the second walk through. I only do up to three songs regardless of how many cars I have to cover. I like to leave them wanting more, if possible.

On Monday things were slower, but still not bad for the early season. I only did one train that day. Tuesday was slower still, but there was compensation in the extra trip for the Barbeque in the evening. Wednesday was a fairly big day - I made over $100 in tips for the two trips combined.

That was my week. Today is my day off. Tomorrow I have a rehearsal in the afternoon and then a gig at V'canto in the evening. Saturday I have off, though I might decide to busk in Mendocino if I feel rested enough. Then Sunday it starts all over again, although it is unlikely that I will have to do a second trip that day.

Sunday, June 8, 2008 18:45 PDT

Working with a cold

I came down with a cold on Thursday evening. I have been fighting it every since. This morning I went out on the train, still not feeling up to snuff.

We had a bicycle event going on - "The Tour de Skunk". The bicyclists were about 2/3 of the passenger compliment. They rode as far as Camp Mendocino, then got off the train to ride back to Fort Bragg via a canyon trail.

This created a problem for me because we had two passenger coaches and two open cars (one was loaded with bikes for the trip out). After the bicyclists departed, that left us with 28 passenger spread out over four cars. This meant that I had to cover all four cars on the way back, normally with less than 30 folks there would only by two cars - so I was forced to work twice as hard as my voice was starting to give out.

I am hoping I will feel better tomorrow...

Friday, June 13, 2008 16:45 PDT

A busy week - still sick

I continued on the job despite my cold this week. Fortunately, I have just recently come to the realization that I can dial back a bit on the volume and intensity and still be quite effective, even on the train. I used that knowledge to pamper my voice a bit. That and generous applications of licorice tea with honey helped me keep going

Finally, on Wednesday evening I came to the conclusion that I'd better lay low for a couple of days. I have my Oracle Oaks Winery gig this weekend and I can't afford to let those people down. I begged off of going out on the train Thursday evening after croaking my way through 5 train trips. I also made arrangements to have Steve Clay and John Smith cover for me at Headlands last night. I slept for three hours this morning after getting off at the health club and I plan to get to bed early tonight.

We'll see what happens tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Friday, June 20, 2008 23:45 PDT

Oracle Oaks Winery gig

Well, I managed to get my voice back together in time for the winery gig last Saturday. I worked four hours each day on both Saturday and Sunday. It was really hot out there, about 90 degrees both days. I returned to the train on Monday with my voice still intact, but with very sore fingers. I had a good week on the train so it was a great week over all.

Tonight I played at V'canto, which was pretty dead all evening, but I had a good time because I met a gentleman from Amsterdam who plays harmonica. His name was Jan (pronounce Yawn) and he came to California to attend, or maybe teach at, a harmonica workshop. I'm not sure which it was. Anyway, he was a fine harp player and seemed to really enjoy playing with me on several tunes, including Deep River Blues, Smoky Joe's Cafe, Walkin' Blues (my slow version in the key of A), and WPLJ.

Tomorrow evening I have my first gig at Frankie's Ice Cream Parlor in Mendocino, then on Sunday I am back on the train for four more days.

Saturday, June 21, 2008 22:10 PDT

Frankie's of Mendocino

My first gig at Frankie's was a rousing success. I liked it because it is an early evening gig as well. I was home and watching TV by 9:45 on a Saturday evening! I used the banjo for the entire show, by the way. I took a guitar but never picked it up. The banjo just seemed more appropriate for a pizza and ice cream parlor.

This is afternoon I went out to Jerry and Rebecca's place on Highway 1, North of town for a jam session. It was the fourth one I've gone too there. Lenny Lax was there and I jammed with him for the first time in the five years I've lived in Fort Bragg. He and John Chamberline were at V'canto when I started my show last night. Lenny complimented me on my performance, which was a compliment indeed coming from one of the North Coast's legendary musicians.

Friday, July 4, 2008 17:17 PDT

Mendocino July 4th Parade

Today I marched in the 4th of July Parade in Mendocino for the first time since 2004. Since that year I have been on the train every July 4th - but this year it fell on my day off the train.

I used the banjo and decided to go without the sound reinforcement gear. It worked out fine. I got there about an hour early and actually walked the parade route once before the parade began, mingling with the crowds and playing instrumentals while cracking jokes and throwing out humorous asides. I dressed in the "summer version" of my train outfit. Light colored slacks and white shirt without the vest but wearing the garters on my arms and the string tie. I wore the straw hat I've been using on the train this year with a couple of small American flags stuck in the band. I also stuck flags at both ends of my banjo.

During the parade, I was positioned about halfway, and I started out singing Sunny Days, then switched to Hey Good Lookin'. Finally I settled on Honky Tonk Blues. I do a yodeling chorus twice during my usual arrangement. In this case I threw in the yodel after every second verse and just sang the song continuously until I got to the end of the parade route. It felt like I was getting my best reaction ever for a parade performance.

After the parade I repeated my instrumental tour then walked back to my car and split.

Tomorrow is the World's Largest Salmon BBQ down in Noyo Harbor. I am the MC for the event. Lee told me he's going to set me up on one end of the stage with my own station so that I can entertain during the band set up breaks, then introduce each band.

Friday, July 11, 2008 20:10 PDT

2008 World's Largest Salmon BBQ

This week was brutal. It started with the Parade last Friday, which I have already chronicled.

The next day was the Salmon BBQ. As I mentioned in the previous entry, I was set up over on the right side of the stage with my own microphone - so I was able to perform between the bands, as well as introduce them. By appearing four times during the day, I was able to sell a few CDs and thus actually made a little money on the gig for a change. There were quite a few people there who had seen me at the parade - I got some nice compliments throughout the day.

Lee Rider's group was up first. The Windshield Cowboys featured guitar bass, drums and mandolin, plus Lee doubling on lap steel and electric lead guitar. They played country western real good! The mandolin player was also a girl singer, and her husband was the guitarist and also sang. They did some real nice harmonies.

Next up was The Steve Clay Band. Steve came back to town after a two year absence about a year ago and has re-assembled his Roadhouse ensemble, except for a new drummer - Peter White from Rogerwood. It was a dynamic quartet to say the least, and captured a lot of the magic of the former band. They are all blues, all the time, and they really know how to do it right.

Steven Bates & Friends was back again this year with the same line-up as last year. Again this year, Steven's brother Peter came up from Los Angeles to hold down the bottom end. They rocked out as usual - really a fine dance band - perfect for the BBQ.

After that, of course, I was on the train four days in a row. Boy were my fingers sore!!

Friday, August 2, 2008 23:10 PDT

Steven Bates at V'canto and a new gig there for EO & Friends

Tonight I went over to see Steven Bates performing his solo act at V'canto. What a monster that guy is! So talented, and just the sweetest fellow you could ever know. We talked about the Skunk Train show we'll be sharing on August 17th. It is a Beer Tasting train. His band is playing out at Northspur, while I will be riding the train as I usually do on Sundays. I plan to bring my guitar along with the banjo for that train. In fact, I might decide to bring it for tomorrow's train. Kind of break it in, more or less. I plan to use it out at Northspur tomorrow, and during the train trip out on the 17th.

Steven asked if we could do City of New Orleans together during his concert. He wants me to play it on the banjo. Sounds like fun.

Mike at V'canto asked me to fill in for a cancelled show with John Smith next Saturday night. I said, "of course..." That will be the evening of our Art in the Gardens appearance, so we'll do two shows that day. Also, John and I are going to play together for my Headlands Open Mic this Monday. Tom can't make it, but it will be a good chance for John and I too get some time in front of an audience together before the big gig on Saturday morning.

My train season is now either half, or 2/3 over now. I say that because Peggy talked about keeping me on through September this season. That would make it only half over at this point. This has been a better season than I might have expected. I seem to have improved my delivery in some way that brings in more cash in the hat despite the fact that rider ship seems to be down this season. It's funny because I am actually doing less this year. I cut down the number of songs I sing during each pass through the train. I have found that it is much more effective to keep things short and sweet. Always leave them wanting more... I am still working on cutting down the speeches I make between songs. I know that I run on too long. Verbosity is one of my faults, i admit it.

I am thinking that adding the guitar will help give my presentation a little more sophistication - that might go over well in the comparatively quieter situation I find myself in when I get to the ground at Northspur. The electrified parlor guitar will have better projection outdoors than the banjo does. The sound will be fuller, and therefore will add energy and power to what I am doing. It will also allow me to choose a few blues songs, to tune more into the "Walkin' Blues Man" rather than just the "Banjo Man' for the entire trip..

Friday, August 8, 2008 11:00 PDT

Art in the Gardens tomorrow

Well, tomorrow is the big day. I am debuting my new trio at Art in the Gardens tomorrow morning. Then tomorrow night we will have our second gig at V'canto. Tom and John and I have been rehearsing for about three months for this.

We were thwarted in our first two attempts to debut - both times at Headlands. First I was sick in June, then in July we missed it because I had given the gig up so that a group from out of town could appear that night.

So I guess we better be good tomorrow :-) I think the "Groovinators" are up too it. I am going to do the first set as a single in order to get in my cowboy songs.

I will be using a full sound system with monitors. I intend to mic the drums and run the bass amp into the PA so that I can record the show.

Hopefully I will get 4 or 5 good cuts to use as a demo. I have asked Lonna to take pictures with the hope that I will have the photos necessary to create a new brochure. The plan is to market the trio out to the hotel/restaurant/winery circuit as quickly as possible with the object being to land some gigs this fall.

Friday, August 9, 2008 17:55 PDT

Art in the Gardens/V'canto reports

I'm just back from our second gig of the day at V'canto.

But before I talk about that I just have to say that the concert this morning at the Botanical Gardens was amazing. I couldn't be happier with the way it went. I even got a pretty good recording of the entire show. The drums were too far down in the mix during the first set, but I got them up where they belonged for the second set, so I have about 45 minutes worth of good stuff. Also Lonna took ten photos and about 4 of them are pretty good. I have posted 4 cuts from the recording in streaming MP3 format on my home page at

I did a solo set at the beginning, because I was concerned that we didn't have enough trio material to cover the entire three hours. I shouldn't have worried about that as it turns out. I had prepared two sets of 12 songs each for the trio, but as it was, we barely did 6 songs in the first set and about 8 in the second. We could have easily done a third set.

At any rate, we got a lot of great compliments on the show, and the Art in the Garden folks were ecstatic. I don't think I remember ever getting a reception like the one we got today for our very first gig. It was especially gratifying because quite a few of my friends and acquaintances were there and they were all complimentary.

Then tonight we appeared at V'canto. Again we got the best reception I can remember ever getting there - and in fact, I am convinced that it was the best reaction I've ever seen for any group there.

Friday, August 15, 2008 10:25 PDT

First Headlands gig with the Groovinators

Another great appearance with the trio last night, this time at Headlands. We had a steadily growing crowd until about 9:15 or so. Then some people left but we still had a substantial crowd right up to the end of the evening. Folks seemed to be sticking around to see what we would do next. Some of their better reactions came from my original songs like Jump City and Fascinatin' Rhythm Blues. The best was saved for out killer version of Killer Joe. That tune is amazing! I found some lyrics for it on the internet - words provided by the Manhattan Transfer vocal group. It has a couple of talking verses, telling the story about what happens when Joe decides to seduce a young lady. The upshot is that "Killer Joe loves dough..."

The band seems to grow in confidence with each appearance. It was good having three in a row to begin our journey. Our next appearance is on the 29th, back at V'canto again.

Meanwhile, I have updated my EO & Friends brochure to reflect the new order of things, and I am going to pull a brief demo CD out of some of the stuff we recorded at Art in the Gardens.

Friday, September 2, 2008 19:15 PDT

The train season ended...

...rather abruptly, as it always does. Mine went out with a bang because The Train Singer needed a day off to attend a wedding, so I was asked to take the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend. It is one of the largest train days of the season. I had a great day financially, working two trains out of Fort Bragg. I also rode the Sunday morning train, which was a big train, featured 250 passengers, and yet was not very lucrative. I have figured out that medium sized crowds are more generous then really large crowds, as a rule. A really big crowd of people mostly figure they don't have to tip because "someone else" will take care of it.

During the preceding week, my take had been light - passenger attendance was way down so I had actually made just half the amount I made the week before. The extra Saturday this weekend made up for what I lost last weekend.

So now comes the scary times. Soon it will be winter.

I have a new demo ready for the Groovinators, I got a great recording of the entire Art in the Gardens show and have selected 5 cuts that present the act in a flattering light. I am sending one too a friend who wants to have me on his radio show. Les Tarr has a rock n' roll show on KMFB and he's been doing a regular interview program lately. He wants to interview me and play some of the demo. I am also giving one to the guy who books next years CasparFest. I used to be in a band with him...

I am supposed to still be on the train for Sundays through September. But it will depend on whether or not the passenger count is up there to warrant it.

So, this Saturday I will go out to Main Street in Mendocino for the first time in several months. i figure I will play at the fence near the duck pond, if that spot is available. Otherwise, I will go out in front of the telescope store.

Friday, September 8, 2008 12:57 PDT

Recording at V'canto

Last Friday we had a gig at V'canto, so I decided to try recording the show. I set up my two AKG C-1000 mics up as a stereo matched pair and just recorded the room from the bandstand. I put one mic above and in front of me to get the voice and guitar, and placed the other one a little nearer to the floor over by the bass viol. The drums were picked up equally by both mics. The result was pretty good. No refinement in the vocal track, of course, but the recording has that "live" feel, including an enthusiastic audience. And the show went very well so I got a lot of good stuff. The band gets a little better each time we play somewhere together.

I put together a new demo using 4 songs from the V'canto show and then an shortened version of the Killer Joe cut from the show at the Gardens. I stopped by at the Tradewinds Motel bar this morning and gave them one of the new demos. It is a little edgier than the previous demo, which I had compiled with Hotel-Restaurant-Winery clients in mind.

We have our next gig at Headlands next Thursday night. I have a solo gig the following Saturday at Frankie's.

Friday, September 20, 2008 12:44 PDT

The World of YouTube

I have recently become a regular denizen of YouTube. It started when my wife gave me a coupling device for my birthday. This gadget allows me to convert analog video recordings into MPG files. I got it to use with my Sony HandiCam. Lonna gave that too me a few years ago, unfortunatly, I received it just when the digital camcorders became so numerous - the HandiCam was relatively cheap, and it makes great quality video, but it lacked that "cord" to link it to a computer.

Anyway, I got this converter thing and immediately started loading up my music videos to YouTube. I have several that are very poorly shot and have weak but usable sound quality.

Then I thought of my wrestling videos. I don't recall that I have ever talked about this aspect of my life here on this blog before. I was an early fan of "rassilin", partly because I have some family connections to the business. I had an uncle and two cousins who were pro-wrestlers. My uncle Ray is deceased now, but his sons, Larry and Ray Jr., are still alive, though long retired from "the Game". So I grew up with an insider's knowledge of the business.

Anyway, back in 1996, when the internet was a brand new thing to most people, I had the good fortune to work for a major publishing company (RR Donnelly & Sons). They had a DSL connection to the web, and they fed it into every desktop machine in the plant. Anyone with a computer on their desk could surf the internet during their breaks, or before and/or after work. Donnelly wanted their employees to get net savvy because they foresaw that it was going to be a great business tool. In those days, just before the dial-up modem put in it's first appearance, we were already working with electronic print files. Moving them from place to place was a matter of hooking up your computer with a telephone handset. It was incredibly clumsy and time wasting.

When I started work at that company, in 1995, I was able to explore the web for the first time. I went looking for wrestling sites right away, and I found 2. Both were pretty crude, done by high school or college kids with no conception of the history of the sport, or it's technical aspects. I saw a vacuum there and I moved immediately to fill it. I took some captured still images from my vast wrestling tape collection and posted a photo gallery of vintage wrestling stars with commentary by yours truly.

I called the place Solie's Vintage Wrestling. I dedicated it to my favorite wrestling announcer, the great Gordon Solie, from Georgia Championship Wrestling and the Florida Wrestling promotions. Soon I was writing a newsletter that talked about the major wrestling promotions' TV programs. I started out writing it alone, but within a few months I had a couple of regular contributors, who helped with the content generation. I come out of a journalism background in my schooling, so I applied what I know about the business of writing and became an editor. I published that newsletter from the summer of 1995 until October of 2003. More than 750 editions. It was read by thousands of people all over the World. I got email messages from people in Japan, in Europe and Australia and in Africa. I also had a major guestbook feature called the "Readers' Forum" that attracted hundreds of people to make comments, and thousands to visit and read it daily. I was getting over 10,000 visits a week for several years.

I personally became am internet "celebrity". To this days there are many more people who know me on the internet as a wrestling commentator, then there are people who know me as a musician. It was the most successful single undertaking I was ever involved in. The irony is that I was gainfully employed during that entire period in my life, quite well paid, so I never even considered trying to cash in on the popularity of the site.

So a couple of weeks ago I started loading up video from my wrestling library, I went through the collection and started converting key matches, historical events, crazy interviews, etc. I have loaded about 125 clips so far up to the Solie's Vintage Wrestling YouTube Channel. Already I have 140+ Subscribers (people who wish to be notified whenever I put up a new video) and my videos have been viewed more than 120,000 times. My channel has been visited more than 3000 times. People are starting to leave comments on many of the videos.

A couple of days ago I remembered the 27 hours or so of video tape I have of my old TV show on Bay Cable 8 in Berkeley. From early 1992 until mid 1994, I did a monthly 58 minute program that was syndicated on 16 different cable access outlets around the San Francisco Bay area. Earl Oliver & Friends: Live from LaVal's was a showcase program where I invited musicians I met to come on the show as my guests. I would have 2 guests on each show, and give them each 20 minutes of airtime to fill. I had some really great guests and the program ran for almost three years until the videographer split to Europe on some film assignment. I was never paid for any of it, but what I did get was master copies of all of the programs with full rights to do with them as I please. I am thinking I will chop them up into individual performances and then put together half-hour programs to feed to our local cable access channel (MCTV).

Saturday, October 4, 2008 20:40 PDT

Here's a sample...from November 22, 1992

Friday, September 25, 2008 19:25 PDT

Editing the old TV shows

I have settled into a rhythm producing these 28 minute episodes of my old TV show over the last several days. First I capture the entire 58 minute tape in one MPG file. Then I have to find the exact places to cut in and out in order to simulate a continuous flow. I reproduce individual performance of each single song plus separate recordings of the introductions and "outroductions". On the way I cut out "stage waits" and wayward camera angles wherever possible. What I end up with are these little 2 to 6 minutes pieces that can be assembled in just about any order and produce a coherent 28 minute program. It takes an hour and a half or so to edit one full DVD of 2 programs. I have 2 DVDs so far, with a third one burning as I write this.

I took 2 DVDs (four 28 minute episodes) to work this morning so that I will have them available the next time Elizabeth from MCTV comes in to work out. She and I have talked several times about videotaping the Open Mic programs at Headlands, and once or twice she has suggested the idea that we put on a showcase program with me as the host. They are building a new studio in the old Footlighters' theater, and Elizabeth says they are going to have space for a studio audience. I told her about the old show.

I played at Frankie's Ice Cream & Pizza Parlor again last Saturday. I really enjoy that gig. I do it as the Train guy without the uniform, I call it a "Banjo Bash". The kids seems to love it. We get a lot of young families at that place and they tend to stick around and have their pizza "out" instead of taking it home when they hear that banjo.

I don't have anything with the trio until Thursday, October 9th at Headlands. The night after that we will be at V'canto for our third appearance there.

Monday, October 27, 2008 14:50 PDT

The Train Season really Ends

In fact my season didn't end at the beginning of September. I was put on a reduced schedule through September, working Sundays, and weekdays when there was a tour group on the train. I worked 9 days in September. Then they asked me back to do the Pumpkin Trains for three Sundays in October. First time in four seasons I've worked on the train in October.

That is over now, in fact the train is due to shut down for the season soon. The Christmas Trains are scheduled to go out from Willits (over on Highway 101) this year.

Meanwhile, I have gigs at V'canto and Headlands each month, and I will be at Frankie's again during the Christmas Season. I have plans to go out and visit a few places in the next few weeks. Hotels, restaurants, etc.

And busking... I have been out the last three Saturdays. I've had no competition to speak of. It was very cold out there the week before last, I only lasted 25 minutes or so before I had to pack it in. It might rain this weekend.

I finished editing the last of my TV shows the day before yesterday. I ended up with 58 shows. I have plans for maybe 15 more - "Best of..." shows and also single performer shows. At the moment I am a little burned out on the process, so I am laying off a few days. I have already delivered 30 shows to the TV station. They want me to do an introductory clip to attach at the front of each program, explaining what it is. Once that is done, the shows will go onto a weekly schedule

Saturday, December 20, 2008 23:30 PDT

Christmas Time 2008 and a new job in the offing

Tonight I appeared at Frankie's in Mendocino with my Banjo. It was quieter then my last two appearances - the usual winter time freeze on business with perhaps a little economic meltdown thrown in. But it seemed like I did all right. The management really likes me there - its really a perfect venue for my banjo act. I was there last Friday evening and there was almost nobody there. Tonight I had three tables full of people all evening long. One table turned over twice. I get the impression that some people come in to buy take away food, but ended up having dinner out if they like the music.

I have a rehearsal on Monday with the guys to go over my Christmas songs for our show at V'canto next Saturday. I have a blues version of Silent Night, and jump blues version of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I have pretty standard jazz renditions of White Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and Let it Snow. I also do a credible version of Blue Christmas.

I am starting a new job on January 5th. I have been hired by MCTV (our local cable access channel) for a part time office job. I will be managing a donor database and scheduling the programs as my primary duties, but I am expected to learn how to do everthing, basically - run all of the equipment, do video editing, use my graphics skills to create Public Service Announcement slides, maybe do voice-overs, etc. I will continue to do my morning job at the health club while doing the TV station in the afternoons. We have already talked about working around my train schedule during the summer months.

We are having Christmas at home this year. My bass player, John is coming for dinner along with Lonna's friend, Alysmae. Tom is bringing John over to visit but can't stay for dinner.
Friday, January 30, 2009 23:56 PDT

The Trio Tightens up

This evening we played at V'canto for the second Friday in a row. Tonight was a pick-up, somebody cancelled their show on short notice, and we got the nod. Last week we were actually scheduled there and I videotaped the entire show, we ran out of tape on the cassette at the 2 hour mark, when we were exactly in the middle of our last song. The video looks good, the color is a little washed out, but that is a style that is used frequently, probably for the same reason :-)

Here is a clip from that show:

Last night, and last Thursday night, we played at the Golden West. The place was, until recently, a smoking bar. The owners operated the place on their own, as a couple and since both of them smoke that circumvented the law in California, which says that an employer has to provide a smoke free workplace. Now the wife has retired from bartending and they have a younger woman who mans the bar as an employee, therefore they now have to be smoke-free.

We worked with the PA and one speaker on a stand, coming out of the corner to our right. I miced the guitar, which was a mistake. If we do it again I will put in the pick up - or else switch to an electric guitar. My Gibson 125, probably. I could just plug it into the PA amp, with a pre-amp between them.

Saturday, February 7, 2009 01:56 PDT

Back at V'canto and a field trip with the TV crew

Today I engineered sound for a video of a high school honor band at Cotton Auditorium. These kids came here from all over the State to perform in our beautiful new music venue.

The first act was the Fort Bragg high school jazz band. They played 4 songs and they were pretty good for high school jazz band. The honor band played for almost an hour and did some pretty challenging material - some of it written by the conductor. Dan Albrecht, the drummer from the Coconuts, was a guest artist during one of the jazz band pieces. We had a nice reunion.

We set up a three camera shoot with one camera at the back of the room, a second hand held on the left of the stage, and a third mounted on a light pole about 15 feet up the right side wall. The last one was robotic - the operator sat in a seat under the camera mount and used a controller with a joy stick to move the camera, zoom in and out, etc. I sat in the left side of the balcony, across the aisle from the director, Troy, who used an intercom to whisper instructions to his operators and then selected his shots on the fly to produce the unedited footage. Later he will edit it to take out the stage waits and breaks between bands.

I used my AKG C-1000 condenser microphones in a simple spaced pair configuration about 12 feet apart and just behind the seats in the 9th row (about 20 feet from the front of the stage). I ran mic cables back to my perch in the balcony and used the studio's Mackie 1402 mixer, which just like the one in my recording studio here at home.

I had originally contemplated using up to five microphones actually on the stage, including my Audio-Tecnica 3340 medium diaphram condenser in the middle between the stereo pair - which would have been separated about 18 feet apart. The final two mics would be a second stereo pair of PZMs, lying on the floor at either end of the ensemble. But - the band director insisted that we keep the mic out in the audience area, so in the end a stereo pair was the only thing that made sense. I heard some of the playback at the studio and I thought it sounded pretty good, Troy said it was fine. It's so gratifying to finally have a job that employs just about every artistic and technical skill I have, from editing video, to creating voice over announcements, to producing slides and other graphics, to recording and editing sound, and so on.

An hour after getting home this afternoon, I was showered and changed and headed out to have dinner at V'canto before our appearance there this evening. We had a slow start audience wise, but the band was really hitting on all 8 cylinders right from the get go. We drew them in, and later when the crowd got a little bigger, they were really enthusiatic. A couple of tables stayed around for the entire show. We are not back there again now until April 11th, but we are at Headlands next Thursday.

We got a booking this week for the North Coast Fishermens' Association Cioppino Dinner coming up on March 7th. We'll be playing while they have dinner. It's an actual paying gig, which we don't see many of - at V'canto, for instance, we play for tips and dinner. Not that the tips aren't good...sometimes...but there is no up-front guarantee.

Saturday, February 14, 2009 22:25 PDT

Playing with Butch at V'canto and our regular Headlands gig

Thursday night we played at Headlands to a medium crowd. It was raining so the public was less likely to appear. It felt funny to play with a sound system after three weeks in a row at V'canto. I went well, we made pretty good tips. I found myself holding back because of the mic and that meant I had to strain for some of the high notes.

This evening I stopped in at Headlands because I saw a flyer on Thursday that said Butch was going to be there tonight. Sure enough, he was there with a couple of folks from his Irish band and Booie Volk from Foxglove. Like me, each of them had just stopped in to see Butch. Eilene was there and I visited with her until Butch asked me to join them on stage. We did WPLJ, an instrumental version of Moondance and then I was just starting the third verse of '52 Vincent when the G string broke on my borrowed guitar. We switched to the fourth verse and finished the song, then I departed the stage. My next gig is at Frankie's at the end of the month.

I have been working at the TV station now for about 6 weeks. I work 15 hours a week, program scheduling, mostly. I download movie files and enter them into the system to make them available to the automated broadcasting equipment. I enter submitted DVDs into the system as well, and sometimes have to transcode them into MPG files. I also produce bulletin spots, creating the background graphics, mixing music onto the sound track and sometimes reading voice over announcements which I record on a hand held digital recorder. I even do some video editing, such as dividing a two hour program into two one hour shows. That involves editing the opening and closing credits each as a separate file from the rest of the show, then adding the closing credits at the end of Part 1 and the opening credits at the beginning of Part 2. The job is highly technical and benefits from virtually every technical and artistic skill I possess. Its like a perfect fit - I can't believe my luck in finding such a position. That extra $500 or so a month in take home pay is not a bad thing either :-)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 17:24 PDT

A busy time

I just got my third paycheck from the TV station. They come monthly on the 1st, or like today - the day before the first. I'm afraid I am getting somewhat ensnared in the entire television mind set. It's like being on a tightrope, always scheduling just a day or two ahead in order to be able to introduce new programming, if available, each week. In fact. the software we use to run the broadcast system is called "TightRope". We also have two "Carousels", which are servers that automatically broadcast our community bulletin board 24/7. They pop in to fill the short spaces of dead air that appear when a show is 27 minutes long and the time slot is a half hour, for instance.

Each workday evening before I leave, I set the Autopilot on the broadcast schedule out to 5 PM on the next day I will be there. That might be tomorrow, but if it is Friday, then I have to schedule through Monday. If it is Tuesday, the schedule goes through Thursday because I am off Wednesday.The Autopilot sorts out what has to be played on which piece of equipment. A lot of shows are on DVD, but increasingly they are coming in as computer video files, MPEG-2 is our preferred standard. We end up having to convert a lot of different file types into MPEG-2.

I am also in charge of the broadcast servers, so that means that if the screen goes blank, I have to get in there and find out why, and do something about it.

We have three channels:

Channel 3 is the general entertainment and educational channel. Most of the programs are a under a half hour long

Channel 64 is called Info64, and is mostly Public Service Announcements, mixed with short regional promotional videos - nature video mostly for our area. A lot of ocean views and Redwoods and stuff.

Channel 65 is the Government channel - Board of Supervisors Meetings, School Board Meetings, City Council, etc., mixed with a satelite feed called Classic Arts channel that presents very slickly produced classical music videos. We use Classic Arts to fill time on Info 64 as well.

My other main duty is to go out to the places on the web where video is available for download and secure new programming to feed the insatiable maul of the broadcast TV medium. I am doing that as I write this because I have a great internet connection here at home and also my bandwidth isn't all clogged up with about 18 different computers all running on it at the same time like it is at the station.

That's what I mean about getting ensnared in the television mindset. Now that I have been working there for a while I have become more and more preoccupied with what's on next and how much time do I have to fill with content - even when I am not there! It's insidious!!

Friday, May 2, 2009 22:02 PDT

Another field trip with the TV crew

Tonight we went back to Cotton Auditorium to record the school choral presentation. This actually included all of the secondary schools in the area, so it started with little kids and progressed to a much more sophisticated show at the end featuring the high school students. It was really quite good. The best thing I saw this week.

This was our second field assignment this week. On Wednesday night we taped a concert by the high school jazz band and the regular school band, which is also very good. Both gigs were lots of fun for me, although each was a challenge in it's own way.

Wednesday, both bands were brass and woodwinds and they strove to be loud so I held the mains back, trimmed the tracks to minimize any distortion then kept the mains at about half staff. The director asked me to cut it back right after the first tune. So I started watching his audio display and riding the mains occasionally to keep his signal in the green.

A couple days after the shoot, Troy showed me some of the footage and said, "Great sound, but I'll have to bump the audio on this".

Tonight, Troy told me to keep the volume up in the yellow, so I had to be looser with the trim and ride the mains very aggressively. The vocal chorus at the beginning was five and six year olds, so I really had to crank the mains to make their voices clear, As soon as the song was over, the audience (their parents) would explode with applause, forcing me to yank the mains back to half staff to keep them under control and out of the red.

Both nights there was a teacher talking on a mic between the musical numbers. This person sounded fine in the hall, but for my recording set up, his or her voice was lost because the PA speakers are high up on the walls on either side of the stage. My mic set up for the concert pointed directly at the stage area, so the sound from the speakers just breezed by my microphones. Tonight I resolved that issue by planting a directional cardiod mic (an SM57) higher up in the balcony and right in line with the left side speaker. I put it on it's own (3rd) channel and centered the left/right pan. I muted it, then would switch it on whenever I saw her go for the stage microphone.

I spent the entire evening glancing over at Troy's audio display and keeping that signal in the yellow. It slipped into the red on several occasions, but I was able to control it most of the time. I did have trouble with being in the dark. I slipped twice and turned one of the stereo feeds off momentarily. Fortunately these things always happened when I would confuse the right channel for the stage microphone, which was right next to it. Next time I'll put the stage mic over on channel 8 so I can't accidentally mute the wrong channel.

Tomorrow I will be at Frankie's for my monthly banjo bash. I am also starting tomorrow to appear at the local outdoor market on Saturday - probably 11:30 until 2:30 or something. During my last appearance at Frankie's, in late March, I recorded the show audio. I have since turned ten of those live cuts into a new CD called "Banjo Bash!". It will be my new item to sell on the train this Summer.

Friday, May 22, 2009 24:52 PDT

A busy summer indeed

I got my schedule from the Skunk Train this week - less than a week before the start of the season, which is very tomorrow, actually. My season begins tomorrow afternoon. The reason is that The Train Singer(R) decided to cut back on his schedule this season and do only morning trains, four days a week. Wednesday through Saturday. That means I gave up one of my daytime trains, but I have gained ALL of the afternoon trains. There are five of them each week, which means that I can ride 8 trains a week if I want to.

Of course, I already have several Saturdays and Thursdays booked through August. I am at Headlands on the second Thursday of each month, so I can't ride the train those nights. I have two V'canto gigs scheduled between now and August 8th. I am probably at Art in the Gardens, although that hasn't been confirmed yet, and may not be a problem. I am at Frankie's twice between now and August 1st. We are booked for CasparFest at the end of August - that one might not be a problem because they could put us on early Saturday, or late Sunday, and I would still be able to make the trains.

I am booked for the Father's Day weekend at Oracle Oaks Winery in Redwood Valley again. They have an event called "A Taste of Redwood Valley" - a wine tour. People hire town cars and drive from one winery to another, tasting and buying wine. At Oracle Oaks they get the Walkin'Blues Man for entertainment. The owners tell me that people come to Oracle Oaks and then go on to somewhere else, and a lot of them end up coming back to enjoy the music.

Tonight we played at a local bar, which doesn't have a cabaret license, so it will remain nameless. We have played there several time before, for tips and drinks. I thought tonight would be a good night (being the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend), but there was only a modest crowd. They were a good audience, they danced and seem to like the music. They cheered and whistled frequently. But the pay was pretty short. I'm not sure I'm ready to give up another evening train to do that place again.

Next entry

Click here for previous entries | Click here to read the first entry, November 20, 2003

Please note: This page is shown chronological order - the earliest entry is at the top.

To comment on anything written here, please email me at