A short note to say that I am putting my Blog page into hibernation and I will be replacing it with a News page which will reflect what is going on with my new album and my music career. I might bring it back if it could be useful later down the line but look for my thoughts and reflections in the News section or on my Facebook page for now. Let's hope Trump is gone by December!
I was talking with Eric Gulliksen, the producer of my forthcoming album and he mentioned that he had discovered my album musical Tenderness and Joy from 2008-2009 and commented that there were some nice things on there. I had buried Tenderness feeling that although I worked on it for two years, it still needed a lot more work and it was recorded in my previous quick and dirty fashion with Chris Billius at Bristol Studios in Boston. But it can't be worked on if it stays buried and it was studio produced, after all. So this week I have decided to resurrect it for listening and downloading on Bandcamp.
The basic idea was to set a musical in an alternative newspaper setting around four friends working there: the office manager, the star reporter, another beat reporter and the newspaper editor. I borrowed their personalities from some close friends including myself. I wrote a script to go along with the songs. It would be fun to produce it with appropriate revising and editing by someone more professional than I at doing this. For now, it can just be there for the listening. Check it out if you have a few minutes to do so. The album link is here: https://mgutierrezmay.bandcamp.com/album/tenderness-and-joy
It's been a year and a half since I have written a blog post here, way too long. It's been hard to focus on artistic career maintenance. I work six days a week, I spend much of my free time with my partner, Diane, I don't get the chance to be at my desk very often these days. And an entire presidential nomination and election process has come and gone, resulting in the elevation of a real (fill in blank) of a human being, Donald Trump being elected as president. I feel most sorry for those years younger than myself, that my baby boomer generation did not have the decency to elect a highly talented, brilliant and capable woman, Hillary Clinton to be president. Instead we sent you this (fill in blank).You can fool some of the people some of the time. But those not fooled marched the day after inauguration in the millions across the country and around the world. It was good to see that.
But let's talk music, shall we? In September, with the encouragement of my friend and mentor Stephen Martin, I culled together 11 songs for my first full-length CD/album. It is December and all the songs have been recorded in basic guitar and vocal form and step by step, I am adding additional music and players for these songs. I was introduced to my recording engineer, Rich Kneeland by Eric "Snake" Gulliksen, Stephen's performing partner and fellow Orpheus veteran and from the very first session, it has been a comfort and joy to work there. Snake has evolved into my album producer and we do everything for the album together now. Snake has played bass guitar on 6 of the 11 tracks (and probably will play on all tracks except for "Air"). Other musicians to date: Raianne Richards on clarinet, Ed DeFord on Ukelele (nickname Duke of Uke) on two tracks and vocals and earlier today, the addition of Tom Hyer on piano on two tracks. Stephen Martin is coming out to record on two tracks this Sunday and I am also planning to record Colette O'Connor on accompaning vocals on our song, Neponset River Murder Ballad after that.
There are a couple other musicians I would also like to add if time and weather and resources permit this. It has all gone smoothly and maybe the album will be ready this Spring, 2017. The art for the album cover is now on my front page here, courtesy of my talented niece Ashley Mauzy. I took vocal lessons to be ready to be sing on this album (thank you Barbara and Blackstone Valley Music) and also for going forward with my performing career. I've learned quite a bit and the process inspired the song "Air" on the album. I open the album with a song about singing and end with a song about songwriting, which is the Firefly In A Jar of Emotion song. Two songs, Air and Under the Sky, were improved by workshopping them with noted songwriter Steve Seskin, whom I met through New England to Nashville songwriting seminars. The songs in between have all been written in the past 10 years and I think they are among the best songs I have written during that time.
I will try and do an updated post after the New Year. So that's all for right now. I will always keep my Calendar shows current. I hope to find more showcase opportunities through the Rhode Island Songwriters' Association (starting a brand new series not far from home in Cumberland, RI) and New England to Nashville, through whom I met a few new Nashville based friends this summer on Martha's Vineyard (hi to J.T. Harding). As they say, watch this space.
One of my first serious songs was titled "Memorial Day", written way back in 1979 after the end of the Vietnam War. My approach to the song was somewhat angry: why are we honoring people who died such violent deaths? Should we not be promoting peace and an end to all wars? I was in my ideological period, which ended when I finished graduate school at BC and started the somber task of working in child welfare. Now it is 2015 and the anger at soldiers and the military that was palpable in the 1970's has been reframed into honoring soldiers who are performing the sometimes thankless task of defending the security of the United States while more properly questioning why the wars themselves are being waged. This is the one true legacy of Vietnam.
Although one can point to an entity such as ISIS and pretty clearly identify evil that should not go unchallenged, it does seem to me that not enough attention is given to the need to promote peace and reconciliation. War is never a good thing, it is destruction in the service of maintaining or acquiring power over others. It must always be a last resort and if there is never again a world war, the planet is all the better for it. Every time war breaks out, it is because peacemaking, tolerance, diplomacy and negotiating cooperation has failed. It is a failure of the human condition for war to exist and never should be viewed as any kind of necessary endeavor.
In this light, Memorial Day is honoring political failure and young men and women who have died because nations and people with opposing interests could not find a way to get along. In 2015, wouldn't it be nice to hear someone say there needs to be more peace on earth (and not wait until the Christmas season when the year is practically over). Just my thoughts on this. 40 years ago, I was more than a little disrespectful with the song but my heart was in the right place and I hope it stays there waving a banner for peace and tranquility for as long as I am around.
Walking down the street in the cool of the morning, quiet in the air
30th of May, 1979
Looking at the signs that say "no parking", looking at the people there
A parade was passing them by
Gathered in the plaza were the poor, the weak and the old
Standing on the corners, the women and children were told:
" There was a time when this country was strong,
Remember the dead, remember the dead on Memorial Day."
Over at the microphone, a fat man with medals shuffled back and forth
30th of May, 1979
And the blue shirted cops rode their motorcycles up and down the court
They matched that clear, blue sky
Well, the drummers started drummoing and the marchers proceeded in force
The high school band followed the man on the horse.
I heard the grand marshal proclaim to the crowd:
" Remember the dead, remember the dead on Memorial Day."
Well, your dead and my dead ought to get together once or twice a week
30th of May, 1979
They can talk about their sorrows, better tomorrows
We'll tell them our fears
And it's all gonna work out fine.
They can tell us about their struggles in Berlin, Korea and Guam
I guess we'll have to tell them the part about Vietnam
The scars on the living may never be healed
Remember the dead, remember the dead on Memorial Day
The scars on the living will only slowly be healed
Remember the dead
You're better off remembering the dead on Memorial Day.
Remember the dead on Memorial Day.
-- Michael Gutierrez-May, May 1979
Maybe we could remember the Grateful Dead instead?
It's become an annual ritual. The last days of January, I start to prepare myself for doing the February Album Writing Month at FAWM.org. I met FAWM's director, Burr Settles for the first time last summer and was very impressed with his quiet steadiness and willingness to get downright goofy on occasion. When I went to FAWMstock this past July on the heels of my employment crisis at the time, I got to meet several FAWM folks in person whom I never could have met otherwise, notably the Canadian gang. FAWM has become part of my life over the past seven years. It has brought me much happiness.
I moved to Central Mass this past June from several years living on the South Shore. When I started FAWM, I was still living in Taunton, Mass but my songwriting really got going when I started regular attendance at the Catbird Cafe open mike at the New England Wildlife Center. Catbird has always been the laboratory where I have tested out my FAWM songs. In 2011, I asked two musician friends from Catbird, Stephen Martin and Colette O'Connor to help me with my first 5-song EP and all of those songs were from the February, 2011 FAWM. I was also fortunate to get some assistance from four of my friends from FAWM: Debs Linden, Robyn MacKenzie, Expendable Friend (Jacqui) and Nancy Rost.
This year, while I will probably return to Catbird sometime in the Spring, I will probably make more use of my closer local resources for testing out the songs. Right now, this is the Rose Room revue in Upton, Harvest Cafe in Hudson, Blackstone Valley Music here in Uxbridge, Mediator Stage in Providence and the RISA showcases in Providence and elsewhere in RI. I also need to continue to devote time to my partner, Diane and so I don't think I will be as active as before. And while my work situation is better now, I still need to make things more solid on that front.
Karan from Germany said a couple days ago that FAWM is like returning to an home where all your friends are staying. I was frustrated that I couldn't share more of that with more people while living in the Boston area (although Beth DeSombre and Tim Riordan are usually around) but that is something that has to take care of itself and I can't force it to happen. For me, all that is needed is my guitar, my songwriting notebook and my IPhone for recording, maybe break out the Yamaha piano for a couple songs, too. I am usually at 14 by the third week of February so I don't worry about getting across the finish line.
On my mark, getting set and on February 1st, here I go....
"It's been a long time coming,
It'will be a long time gone,
And it appears to be a long time before the dawn."
-David Crosby with Crosby, Stills and Nash
November,2014 brought out the grumpy people, more so than the happy people and as a result, the Congress of the United States will be serving the forces of darkness, cruelty, despair, disenfranchisement and greed for the next two years. My nickname for it is America 2.0 and I do believe it is temporary. But as a artist, this is a challenge. You don't need to be overtly political, although sometimes I am. But you do have something of a responsibility to speak truth to power as lies and misrepresentation become more commonplace. If we are songwriters, we need to write good songs which reflect and touch people's lives. We need the kind of angry and powerful songs that the listener can find all over the first two Crosby, Stills and Nash albums (with a nod to Neil Young for Ohio). But we also have to communicate in a way that people can listen and not be so angry and loud and self-righteous that the messenger overwhelms the message. This can be a challenge. But look at Lorde-she's doing it right. More of us can do the same.
Two recent developments: I am participating more actively in the Rhode Island Songwriters Association (RISA) who actively are promoting songs and songwriting and have at least 2-3 events every month. Since I now live on the Rhode Island border, I feel the need to get more involved. I also have been getting involved with Matt Casey's New England to Nashville group which has close to 300 members at this time and also actively promotes songs and songwriting through house concerts and events in Boston and Dedham. I was in Nashville for a summer almost 40 years ago, inspired to go there by the Robert Altman movie. In the past 20 years, Nashville has become the kind of place I was looking for years ago with both a conventional country music scene and a scene which nurtures talented songwriters of all kinds. The energy of Nashville (TV show and all) is good energy which should be shared by other music scenes across the US and maybe beyond. I think it is all to the good and if they can accept me as a showcase participant, I'll take it.
So that's my story for now. In 2015, I hope to be spreading my wings a little more as my relocation to South Central Mass settles in and hopefully completing at least some recordings. Happy holidays and happy new year to all and in the words of Bruce Cockburn, kick at the darkness that you find until it bleeds daylight.
Almost six months since a blog entry and that's been way too long. But May, June and July, 2014 have been transformational, life changing months in my life. I left the South Shore at the end of May, moved here to Uxbridge to be with Diane, starting working two new part-time jobs and rented my condo in Weymouth to a very nice young woman who moved up to the area from Rhode Island to work at REI at Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham. The World Cup and Wimbledon have come and gone. Lots of stuff happening on the South Shore with music that makes me wish I were still living there. Not enough time so far to appreciate my new environment. That will come, I believe,
I started this year's 5090 in a kind of tepid fashion: only one song so far, but it is the song I wanted to complete for the past couple months. That song is here: http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/7010. You have to have some peace of mind in order to be creative and that has been elusive up until now. I want to try and do more this week and next and continue through the summer.
A potential emergency has sidelined the money I wanted to put aside for a new album. Maybe I can still get there. Maybe I should try and crowdfund through Indiegogo. Might be fun even if I don't reach the goal. The goal would be $3,000, nothing fancy but enough to pay something to a producer and afford a fair amount of studio time to put down the 12-13 songs I am thinking of including on the album. I could count on some help from a lot of musician friends.
This raises the interesting question of when is an investment in my artistic aspirations worth the money, time and effort. I don't see much beyond open mike features and songwriting showcases happening in the next months (and really, that may be great and would suffice-yes, Robert Frost, I stole that from you.) I have been trying some more commercial things, such as the New England to Nashville showcases where active cowriting seems to be going on all the time. I've been doing surprisingly well on Reverb Nation since April, never leaving my local folk top 10 and getting as high as #2 for a couple weeks. So to be completely discouraged would be silly. But truly, where do I go from here?
It's been a beautiful summer. Staying outdoors for the most part has not been a bad idea. This summer really is an exercise in "to be continued." New place, new life for me.
He was born the same year as my father. I always remembered that. I met him briefly in person two or three times. I wrote a song many years ago called "All My Working Life" dedicated to all musician activists. I got to perform it in front of him at PMN in the mid-80's and he came backstage to say " I really liked your song." I'll always remember that. He was encouraging to me and to countless others musicians and songwriters.
Pete Seeger was fierce. To quote Bruce Springsteen, he was the grandfather who could kick your ass. But if you were intimidated in his presence, he wasn't really comfortable with that. He preferred for you to just be yourself and don't worry that you were in the presence of Woody Guthrie's most reliable traveling companion, the founder of modern folk music with his group The Weavers, the leader of the environmental movement to clean up the Hudson River, the stubborn symbol of resistance to the warped US House Un-American Activities Committee, civil rights repression and the Vietnam War AND the composer of some of popular music's most beautiful melodies. There is no best song if one is to choose between "If I Had A Hammer", "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine", "If I Had a Golden Thread" or "Turn, Turn, Turn" (and I know I am forgetting at least one other beautiful song). You can only choose favorites.
My favorite is "Turn, Turn, Turn" and I heard it first on the radio as performed by the Byrds. A few years later in the late 70's, I heard Pete's banjo version at a Clearwater benefit concert in Perth Amboy. You could play Turn, Turn, Turn on a toy piano and it would be moving. Verses from the Bible-where did Pete come up with that idea? Every once in a while, especially as the song became popular, I would hear those verses in church readings. Usually without Pete's coda "A time for peace, I swear it's not too late." Timeless advice in those lyrics. Slow down, we move too fast to paraphrase Paul Simon. There is a time and a place for everything and let's not forget about making peace with others.
We have seen the passing of many extraordinary lives in the past few months. We were going to lose Pete sooner or later but he gave us 94 years. Thank you, Pete Seeger for absolutely everything.
Discussing my favorite all-time album is pure self-indulgence, but that is why we blog, right? I am using my late night burst of energy to write my thoughts from the perspective of a songwriter and also from someone who was coming of age just as this album was being released. There is a wikipedia page on the album here which lists its release as September 11, 1973 but there is a mild controversy about this as the more official release month, acknowledged on Bruce's Facebook page, is generally recognized as November, 1973. The album was produced by Bruce's former manager Mike Appel and his partner, Jim Cretecos and recorded at the 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, NY over the six month period between March and September, 1973. Bruce's performing band was ever to be known as the E Street Band after this album, as his first album Greetings was really a solo songwriter album. As the page acknowledges, the name E Street came from the family home of David Sancious in Belmar, NJ, something I discovered by accident when I was living in New Jersey between 1978-1980.
In 1973, Bruce traveled to Southern California to visit his parents, Douglas and Adele who had relocated from Freehold, NJ to California. He went there during the initial recording period for Wild and Innocent and while there, managed to catch a couple Van Morrison concerts. Van Morrison, while an enduring figure in popular music to this day, was at his creative peak in the early 70's and his concerts were a fusion of rock and R&B elements layered over Morrison's singer-songwriter style. Bruce returned to New Jersey with the idea to create a similar sound for himself and so he created this style and sound using cohorts from his rock and roll bands and musicians who played the Jersey Shore as part of cover bands. With Wild and Innocent, Bruce created something that was not there before. This history is detailed nicely in a BBC documentary on Bruce not widely seen in the US but available on You Tube. Until recently, this was something I did not know. My thought had always been that Bruce melded himself into an established R&B scene in Asbury Park and came out with this album.
So from the start, this album was an extraordinary creative effort and the groundwork for Born To Run which followed this record could not have been created without it. Wild and Innocent and Born to Run are Bruce's two fusion albums. The sound that most people associate with Bruce started taking shape with Darkness On The Edge of Town and has continued to the present day (although Wrecking Ball has some really remarkable fusion elements, as does The Rising). I remain a Bruce fan to this day because of his lyrical power and his ability to every so often do the unexpected (Streets of Philadelphia) that prevents his music from turning into a cliche.
The fusion thing started with Wild and Innocent. Bruce himself describes the album as the place where he started to consciously establish his own identity as an artist. He was under some pressure at the time to prove himself worthy to John Hammond and Columbia Records, although not nearly as much as he would experience prior to the release of Born To Run. Combining the character sketches he started with Greetings, Bruce decided upon seven songs which would be distinctive and recorded these very consciously in a Side One-Side Two fashion that is not possible with CD or digital releases. Five of the seven songs are mini-operas, complex in narrative and musical execution. Only E Street Shuffle and Wild Billy's Circus Story are straightforward point A to point B songs told in third person.
As a songwriter, probably the most structured of all of these songs is Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). Three verses with repeating choruses. It's my favorite Bruce song to this day because of the way Bruce addresses Sandy in this musical poem that sounds like a letter written and perhaps never delivered. I have no idea how true the details are to Bruce's life at the time, but the portrait painted of Asbury Park at this time and place is unforgettable: Madam Marie, The Casino, The Tilt-A-Whirl, The Boardwalk, Little Eden, The Pinball Parlors. A lot of it is still there in Asbury Park, enduring tourist attractions. With the advent of Hurricane Sandy (how's that for irony!) things have changed and the Stone Pony, despite mulitple efforts to save it, could not be saved. The song is now a requiem for a time and place which inspired my own song, Once There Was Paragon.
Side Two was a conscious creation for sure and not just a happy accident. Reading recent tributes to the album, it is really remarkable to see the high regard in which these three songs are held for a lot of people and not just me. Some people call this and Side Two of Abbey Road the greatest album sides in modern rock history and I wouldn't argue too much with them. David Sancious had a great deal to do with the way Incident on Fifty Seventh Street flowed into Rosalita which then flowed into the remarkable New York City Serenade. Roughly twenty minutes of continuous, beautiful, energetic, thoughtful and fun music. Bruce gets credit for the songs. Appel and Cretecos had the good sense to stay out of the way. The sax solo in Rosalita stamps Clarence Clemons's passport into musical history. I can only imagine what the folks at Columbia thought when they got the pressings of the album prior to its release. In those days, they didn't change much of what an artist put on record but having the protection of John Hammond, which was so essential to Bob Dylan's recordings, counted for a lot, I think.
I haven't mentioned Kitty's Back, which is somewhat similar and interchangable with Rosalita. I think it could have been the filling in the Side Two sandwich, but Bruce had the sense to let it be the song which carried forward the energy of the opening E Street Shuttle song. Side one goes fast, slower, fast, then slower again and Side Two goes slow/mid-tempo, fast, then slow. Kitty's Back, fun and energetic as it may be, is not the breakthrough song that Rosalita is, the song which, as one Facebook poster put it, defibrilated the early 1970's when popular music was flatlining.
I hope there are albums these days which will provide the soul and inspiration that The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle gave me when I was 18 years old. I first heard this album and all of Bruce's songs during the summer of 1974, which I talk about in my Springsteen and I video not accepted for the movie (sigh) but viewed an astonishing 545 times on You Tube. It's my bestseller and you can see it here. I could see how listening to the first album by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Eminem, Ani DiFranco, Dave Matthews Band or maybe even Alicia Keys could provide similar inspiration. For people older than myself, the first albums by Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, later Beatle albums after Revolver and maybe even Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys could have done the same thing. You gotta have that once in your life. Thank you, Bruce.
For the next few months, I will not be actively seeking performing gigs. This is due to my upcoming move to South Central Mass and moving into a new job, but it is also recognizing that I will be starting a new life when I get there. Diane and I have been together over three years and we are moving in together and making our partnership more official. I also want to devote time and effort to writing a screenplay with some professional guidance and to do this, I have to let my music sit on the sidelines for a little while. I have always had a few different writing passions and songwriting is the furthest I have taken any of them. I've had a great time and I want to do more. But perhaps it is now time for a breather.
I will remain active in seeing other musician friends at performances and cheering them on. This website will remain active for any new news or developments. My next planned events are in February with the annual February Album Writing Month and an open mike feature at Catbird Cafe on February 8th. I will see you around the different performance venues-all for the moment.