I have to admit at the moment I’m in writing mode. I’ve been working on this new form of writing where I arrange in Garage Band then write the lyrics. I typically write lyrics and music when I fiddle around with an acoustic guitar and iPhone voice memos. I haven’t really arranged all the instruments for songs since “Briar Rabbit & The Company You Keep.” I’m not exactly sure if it’s a confidence thing or what but for the past 7 years
I am a pretty all or nothing kind of guy, I'm sure lots of people close to me can testify. I can be impulsive and dive right in. It's a great quality for performing but not always for long term. You lose steam, get sloppy and lose more ground than if you took it slow and steady. But I'm not gonna hate on myself for it. I woke up to Chicago's first snow and began taking stock of my habits; which to drop, keep and gain. I mean, isn't everyone doing that this time of year?
My first official show in Chicago, Illinois is coming up and I couldn't feel more settled or at home. Within 11 days, my sister had a baby and I used to think "Sure, babies are cute" but it turns into something REALLY different when the person you used to fight, hang out on family trips, fart on, then eventually confide in, and reeeeeeeally kinda sorta miss once they went to college has a full blown BABY. It blows my mind to think the little dude has barely been on this planet a week. I mean HE DOESNT EVEN KNOW WHAT STAR WARS IS!
I can't quite put my finger one what it is but Chicago just feels like home. It makes me happy and that was reason enough to move back. I love performing and writing songs but something about Los Angeles didn't really feel like 'home.' Even among good friends, something felt a bit isolating. By the summer I was phoning it in when friends and family asked how I liked it. I was making money playing music but the life balance wasn't really there. So I changed and adjusted plans. Which brings me to my next point: "Failure"
Of course "Wherever you go, there you are" is an applicable statement and perhaps had I stayed in LA another year things may have changed for my career. I moved to L.A to make things happen in music and I left before they did. It feels like a failure. It's not, just an experience. You have to really have to get it out of your head and into the air to realize how dumb it is. If you keep it inside, not only does it hurt but it's an extra weight that doesn't help fix the situation. At the risk of sounding self helpy, you gotta love yourself and cut yourself slack. A lot of people don't even dare say their dreams out loud.
I'm particularly talking to you artists out there. You're likely not Beyonce but you surely won't be if you criticize every move you make on your way to being her (or whoever). A lot of things haven't turned out the way that I've hoped over the years since I started this journey and I've punished myself for each one of them (even some that haven't happened yet!) It's not good y'all, life's too short. You could get hit by a bus.
I'm not searching for pity, I'm not even sure I've made any real points. I just have a platform and decided to share some of the lessons about myself that may not be as cute as my face! Performing feels like my work on this planet and sometimes it frustrates me when I can't do it all the time. Until I can I'm gonna keep writing songs and doing whatever else makes me happy. I do have some new stuff for you, including 2 singles with a full band that might just be my best work yet!
I'll keep doing the work, you keep spreadin the word! Cool?
When you open a tour, you don't have much time. Usually 15-30 minutes, maybe more if you're main support. The audience aren't your fans yet (that's the point): you've got a small window to get their attention and form a relationship. You want to put your best songs forward and show them who you are. I am a lot of things; singer, songwriter, loud-mouth, funny, male, romantic, millennial. I'm also black.
A year ago my Uncle B died and I wrote a blog about it. While I'm a bit further removed from those moments, it still hurts sometimes. His death was really a determining factor for me when it came to moving to Los Angeles. So here I am, a year later, now I live here, I've made some strides in my career and I've got this audio from 2007 when I interviewed him for a paper about racism. I finally got the nerve to listen to it and began to appreciate all sorts of things about him. The cadence of his speech, the southern drawl, the way he made sure I understood what he was trying to tell me and even his style of comedy. It was all in that recording and for a minute, I forgot he was gone.
Lots of tears
Now if you'd really like to know what made me weep like a child, it was when I put the intro music into the podcast. His sax player (who doubled as his emcee), the bright upstroke-comping of the rhythm guitar, the walking bass, all of it generated the familiar feeling of excitement in my stomach I got every time I saw his show. Here he comes! Only this time, he's not walking on stage anywhere and will not again. Bleak, I know but it's all part of the process. The other time I cried was putting in the end music. It's my favorite song he ever sang and it's called "Guess Who." It's just the amount of pure love that always radiated from that man encapsulated in a song. Truly, one of the sweetest people I've had the pleasure of knowing.
There are some pretty incredible moments in the podcast that made me laugh including a story about rock n' roll festival, Hell's Angeles, and a shocking festival guide. There are moments of brilliance where he discusses the imbalance of power and likens it to native american's fighting the British. And there are also humble moments where he talks about how people treat him like his last name and how he worried that the shows would stop selling out in 2007.
Listen to it for pleasure, Listen to it as a fan of music and history, Listen to it as a blues fan, Listen to it as an activist, Listen to it as inspiration to get to know your grandparents better while you still have time, or Listen to it to better understand that cute singer-songwriter you just discovered. Just listen to it.
"Someone really loves you, Guess who...
Someone really cares, Guess who....
Open your heart and surely, you'll see
That the someone, who really cares....is me"
Rest in Peace, Sir.
In case anyone is interested, here is the article/paper that I ended up writing in 2007.
Noble, Legendary, Dignified; these are terms used to describe a King. However, the interesting part about royalty is that people are born into it with all qualities attached, fitting or not. How does one stay dignified in a world that’s trying to make them feel anything but? The eighty-two year old King of the Blues, Dr. Riley B. King has done it. Born on September 16th, 1925 in Itta Bena, Mississippi, facing more blues in his eight decades than most can fathom, he is not only one of the most influential guitar players of all time, but also a soldier on the front line of Black History.
On a Saturday night, to a sold out crowd, King tells a story of his younger years where he crossed the train track dividing whites from blacks, just to drink from the ‘white only’ water fountain. “I got me a belly full of that white water and then I got to thinking: ‘this water tastes like regular old water to me!” As the crowd laughs and cheers, King concludes, “We can joke about it now because all of you people have made this world a much better place.” This passes over as playful and the show continues. Upon catching up with him later, I learned just how blue this world could get.
The Early Years
Now off stage, in a gentle voice, Mr. King begins the history lesson. During the bebop era (circa 1944), racism was still a big problem in the United States. King and his band found the most racism in the southern parts of the country. “You couldn’t go to no restaurants, a rest room that was nice – you’d go to a service station and they’d have signs: ‘White Men, White Ladies, and Colored.’ And you can bet your neck when you got to ‘colored,’ you wouldn’t want to go in there yourself. They didn’t clean them up, but they kept the others like a sheet on the bed. Of course, you were lucky if you found that.” This was one of many ways King found others attempting to keep him in “his place.” To B, physically fighting or rioting wasn’t a viable option. “In a lot of cases, riots usually ain’t got no head. Its just people looting and burning and in most cases you can’t win because you are against people who are educated and organized. Most of us stayed conquered in a way, because, you know, if there ain’t but twenty or thirty of them and there ain’t but twenty or thirty of you, you can’t win. And to me you’d be a fool to go die for nothing.”
He recounts an instance when singer Nat King Cole was signing autographs mid-show, and a few mean-spirited Caucasians had pulled his piano bench out so that when he sat to play again, he would fall. “A lot of the black people thought he should have blown up about it. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t raise hell, because either he would get killed, beat up, or ran out of town.” King’s confounding dichotomy began in Louisiana, when a promoter informed him that his band was to sit, unseen, behind a white sheet while he played. People wanted to hear his music, but not see his face. Perhaps the most daunting part of this situation is how few people saw a problem with it. While King played the show, it was the only time he would ever let that happen to his band again.
A Changing Tide
At the time, it was standard practice to put a rope in the middle of an audience to separate whites and blacks, but as time pushed forward, King and his band began to see something. “We started to find out that music played a big part in getting people together.” This notion was propelled forward with the emergence of rock n’ roll. Mr. King speaks of a time he was recording in L.A. and there was a big rock n’ roll festival held in Augusta, Georgia. He got off the plane in Atlanta and into a limousine to Augusta, but once he got close to the festival traffic was grid-locked. On the side of the highway, he saw whites and blacks swimming together. This was fascinating to him, considering his history with segregation. This experience was dwarfed when the infamous motorcycle gang “Hell’s Angels” approached his limousine. “They come by (I guess they recognized me) and one of ‘em says ‘B, you want a ride?’ and I said ‘yes!’ They put me on the Hell’s Angels bike behind him and boy – he was in and out of traffic. Scared the hair off me but I got to the place!”
At the same festival, B and his band were assigned a duplex. As King warmed up on his guitar, he received a knock on the door and was greeted by a completely nude, twenty-four year old Caucasian woman. “I wasn’t very comfortable and my band was going crazy! After a while, I started feeling normal again and found out that she was my escort. That was the first time I’d been around a festival when the whites and the blacks were mixing. That’s where we started to see things changing. Those rock and roll concerts made a big difference.”
As time went on, King noticed racism coming from a different angle: the radio (or the lack there of). At the time, the majority of music being played on the radio was rock and roll or country. Rarely would you hear any gospel, jazz records were being played less, and if the blues was played, it would be at night. “I had a guy come up to me and say ‘You know, we play blues every Sunday from two in the morning till four.’ I thanked him and asked ‘What do you do the rest of the week? Do you close at six?’ and he says ‘No, we’re a twenty four hour station!’” While B. was lightly teasing, it occurred to him that this was another form of discrimination. Of all the records that he made (sparing those made with superstars) the only song that ever got played like everyone else’s was his most recognized hit, “The Thrill is Gone.”
Not dwelling on his lack of radio airplay, King took a different route to success. In 1955, he played three hundred and forty-two one-nighters. “I never did that many again but that’s how I got my popularity. We had a saying that ‘if you can’t take the mountain to Mohamed, you take Mohamed to the mountain.’” Like many other times, this situation had it’s own prejudice. As far as audiences were concerned at the time, very few blacks were in professional positions, so a way of keeping them out of shows was to raise the ticket prices. Ratios have become a bit more balanced over the years and King is a still big contender for the title of “hardest working man in show business.” He played three hundred shows each year (in over ninety different countries) until he turned eighty and now plays three weeks on and three weeks off. If this doesn’t seem like much to you, think of what your eighty-year old relatives are up to.
When asked how these experiences have influenced his music over the years, much like black folk songs from slave times, B. notes that “You’ll be saying one thing and singing about another.” Under the general guise of women, he found an outlet for the emotions he felt from these experiences. “It was just a way to say what you wanted to say. A lot of the times it was about the boss, but it was a girl and we were singing bout him.”
While Mr. King does not say whether or not it has to do with racism, his voice takes a serious tone as he discusses the fact that he has received many assassination notices. “If they really wanted to get you, they can. You’re on the bandstand and you have people who paid to see you and can’t have people standing in front of you. So you sit out there and you’re like a sitting duck. You never know who the crazy person is. Some just talk, but one guy will do it just to prove to you, his best friend, and his girlfriend that he’d do it.”
While you can tell this is a concern of his, you can also see the unshakable courage in him. “There were many places we couldn’t go before, but now we’re welcomed almost everywhere.” King is first to notice how much everything has changed for him and his band: He has been inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award, and was given honorary doctorates from Tougaloo University, Berklee College of Music, Yale University, Rhodes College of Memphis, Mississippi Valley State, and Brown University. “For some reason – it’s my age, could be the respect, and could be that some of them like me that well, but it’s a rare thing when they say ‘Here is Mr. B.B. King’ that the whole theater doesn’t stand. Now I’m treated royally – I’m treated like my last name in most of the places.”
Today, in the Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, Michigan, King sings the lines of “Sweet Sixteen” with unwavering confidence:
“You can treat me mean, but I’ll keep on loving you just the same.
You treat me mean baby, but I’ll keep on loving you just the same.
One of these days you’re gonna give a lot of money to hear someone call my name”
He could not have been more right.
I've wanted this career since I was a child; Fiercely, Passionately and Obsessively. For me a big part of that is constantly learning and making adjustments. In the beginning, as with most things, there were broad strokes to getting further. Tune your instrument - a lesson learned at my first show when the band got so excited to play, we tuned an hour early and left the stage set up on a hot day in June. However, the further into my career I get, the more subtle these things seem to get.
Yesterday, I had a bit of an epiphany about draw. For those of you who don't know what draw is, it is how many people you bring to a venue. It can be a big point of stress for a lot of musicians because it's how we get paid and often determines if we get to play there again. I had a manager who, after a poorly attended show, said "CAN you draw?" His words still echo in my head from time to time. As a solo artist, draw can be hard and folks think it's one of two reasons: because they suck or they're Lazy/a "creative who doesn't understand business." There's a third reason and as usual, it's Occam's razor (the simplest answer is the right one).
I'm moving to Los Angeles, California to continue pursuing my career in music. Since I've made the decision, I've learned that the phrase "I'm moving to L.A." triggers a lot of people to spout their opinions on the matter (almost involuntarily). The decision is my own and I'm super happy with it. So I'll share my thought process and clarify for you. Maybe it will help someone making a hard decision right now.
My Uncle passed away and it breaks my heart. When it happened, I was recording in Los Angeles. I'm certain he'd be happy knowing I was in a bar with my friends and flirting with girls. I was happy to know he passed away in his sleep, painlessly. Still, it hurts like hell.
About a week ago, I (admittedly impulsively) released the music video for lay it on me.
Every time I played it for someone, I ended up giving them the play by play, mostly because it was fun. So I figured why not just give whoever reads this a little behind the scenes fun too.
First things first, the video was filmed in one shot. We began rehearsing at around 4 pm after a few hours of set up. We shot it inDetroit with a director who lives in LA so it was the first time the whole crew was together in the space. We run through the video a bunch of times to get the camera right, the light right, the rabbit right, then sleeping girl right etc. It's exciting watching it take form and getting better takes and until finally using the confetti and taping it. THE CONFETTI, WOOF! Well let me tell you, the confetti had to be swept up after every single take. Luckily for me I had some dear friends who would trade off sweeping it up with me between takes. It ended up getting everywhere and if you look hard enough during the video, you may see a few crumbs of dirt. Whoops.
Finally around 12 am, we get a great shot in real time, Jacob (the director) thinks the footage would look smoother if we got a take in slow-motion. Cool. Except that now I have to sing the song at 250% of the original speed and "Feel it." It was a challenge I was up for and I thought it turned out pretty well but that also meant was that we lost about 1:30 of a 3:00 song so everyone had to move twice as fast. Once you see the camera pan down to Sara's (the sleeping woman) face, Jacob yelled "STRIKE" and patrick gets rid of the tea kettle and the light stand you saw, Matt moves a light you can't see, and I take my mic and guitar off stage, turn a light off and move a speaker so you can see the fridge. My two best friends Matt and Pat have a bunch of theatre experience so they were pretty much pros when it came to this.
It was really sort of gratifying at the end when we finally finished at 2 am! The video came out well and I'm proud of it.
I'm not sure how much you guys keep up with this thing but I have decided to put some new music out! It's a single called "Lay it on me" and it's coming out soon. I made a little teaser video because I could! Stay tuned!
I bought a camera with the original intent to make more content but realize I also just enjoy taking photos. So occasionally, I'll share some shots.