Sunday, March 6, 2011

Learning From the Masters

This week, I'm going to take a break from hands on songwriting and focus on some abstracts.  I think in large part, the kind of songwriter I am becoming is due to the things I listen to.  I know. Not that revelatory. No  great mystery is being revealed here. Makes sense.  The Beatles were playing Chuck Berry in Hamburg, and were able to put that influence through the crucible of their experience and come up with something truly unique. For me, the writers I listen to become a kind of target to aim towards, something that I am looking to attain in my own writing. It can be something simple, like a particular way they use rhyme or meter to cast a certain emotional light on a song, or it can be something really difficult to explain or even describe, like tone or an over arching sense of place.
Probably if you are a huge fan of a particular artist, you should know their songs intimately, memorize not only the melodies, chords, and lyrics, but also the structure, arrangement and instrumentation choices they make.

So recently, I went through my music collection, and pulled out all the songs I wanted to learn, and I made a playlist for my MP3 player and just kept adding to it. So now there are 87 songs on that list....better get to work. 

I started to notice that a lot of the people I admire are from Texas. A lot of the people I admire did their best work in the early to mid 1970's (more on this in a later post). And finally, NONE of the people I admire are good looking. In any way,..weird, considering the state of the music industry today, but again, look for a later post examining the music and culture of the early and mid 1970's. 

So here are some of my favorites at the moment:

Here are my Four Horsemen:

Lyle Lovett - Anything

I think I 'll probably do profiles of each of these albums maybe once a month throughout the duration of this blog....but we'll see.

If you've ever heard of Guy Clark, I suggest you make a Pandora station or a Grooveshark list and listen...especially that early stuff.  Guy does a thing that only the really skillful can do:  through his use of dialect and colloquialisms, he makes you FEEL the Texas in which his songs are set. My father used to play Old No. 1 and Texas Cookin' on road trips to visit my Grandmother in North Texas, and he used to rock me to sleep playing Old No. 1 in the dark with only the blue light of the old Pioneer Stereo receiver to illuminate the room. Check him out, a true master. 

Lyle Lovett needs no introduction. I like the way he takes simple, traditional song structures and brings them forward, keeping them relevant in the 2010's. No easy task. Again, Lyle has a great economy of expression. He uses few words, but conveys lots of subtle meaning. I first got into Lyle when my friend Justin at Berklee turned me on to him, and I have drunk deep from the Lovett well ever since.

I think my father bought "It Had To Happen" by James McMurtry.  I remember calling him and he was telling me how great he was, but he didn't have much of a voice....James reminded him of Lee Clayton.  I went to Tower Records (remember Tower Records...remember records), and after I listened to "Peter Pan,"  I had to buy every other album he made. Like Guy Clark, James has a gift for placing you in a certain time and place with his use of can feel Texas when you listen to him singing "12 O'Clock Whistle."  

I first heard Darrell Scott at a Guy Clark cd release party at Douglas Corner in about 1996. Darrell was playing in Guy's band with Verlon Thompson, Kenny Malone and Guy's son Travis on bass. When Guy needed a break, he would get people from the audience up to play a few, and band members play a few. Darrell played "The Man Who Could Have Played Bass For Sha na na," among others.  And in me, a permanent Darrell Scott fan was born.  Unlike most of the other writers that are represented in my list of songs to learn, Darrell has had great success writing songs that current country stars have recorded. That's one of the many things I admire about him: he is able to keep one foot firmly planted in the "singer-songwriter doing his own thing" camp and the other in the Nashville co-writing establishment.

If you have any desire to see what amazing songwriting can be, please buy some of these albums, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

What have I been doing this week?

Continuing to write the newest song.

Helping Jodi get her album together, 

Sort of slack on OW this week.  

I've been reading a really old book about old times in Tennessee. Need to start keeping a google document just for cool turns of phrase I find in books I'm reading.

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