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Happy Thanksgiving...


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Breaking news, first: I’ve been asked to play Eric John Kaiser’s Songwriters Showcase at the Thirsty Lion Pub in downtown Portland, Tuesday Dec. 6. They want Christmas songs (it’s St. Nicholas’ Day), and at this point I can give them five:

I’m Giving Mom a Dead Dog for Christmas—slow & sleazy

Santa’s Fallen and He Can’t Get Up—fast bluegrass

Christmas Roadkill—slow two-step

Another Crappy Christmas (Don Varnell)—fast quasi-pop

I Want a Man for Christmas—rock ‘n’ roll

I need one more longer one or two short ones to fill out my 25-minute set. I haven’t written a Christmas song this year, and don’t know if I’ll have one in time—the gig is only 13 days away. In a pinch, I can include “Pole Dancing for Jesus”—I know that one’s popular—and/or “The Occupation Song” (if the “Occupy Portland” campaign is still viable then). I’ll have to do the “Man” song a little differently, of course; rock ‘n’ roll isn’t something one can play solo—it takes a band. I’m sure it’ll come out country.

(I do have one more Christmas song, come to think of it—“Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire,” co-written with daughter a few years back. I’d have to re-learn how to play it; I don’t remember some of the chords. It is real short—one verse, break, repeat the verse—typical 1940s jazz stuff.)

And the next day—Wednesday, Dec. 7—I’m scheduled to go to my first square-dance caller session. Those will be every Wednesday evening (I can see I’ll be doing a lot of goin’-to-Portland this winter). It’d be nice to book a performance at Whitney Streed’s “Recurring Humor Night” on one of those Wednesdays; her show is late, and my class’ll be early. And again, if it’s in December, I can do all them Christmas songs. In both cases, it’d be nice to sell some CDs—though I have never managed to sell enough on any of my treks to Portland to pay for the trip.

To date, I have gotten rid of precisely one-third of the Deathgrass CDs I had pressed; about half, I think, have been sold or are for sale at retail outlets, and the rest I have given away for one reason or another. It’s not a great sales record. But maybe I shouldn’t be worrying about it.

Years ago, when the Dodson Drifters had singles that got radio airplay (and there were only two of those), we never focused on—or planned on—selling any records. That wasn’t the point behind getting on the radio. It was publicity, pure and simple: if the station DJ liked the record (and they seemed to do that), they’d play it a lot, and with luck, people would come to our concerts (we never seemed to have a problem there, either). We didn’t make records to sell, we made them to give to radio station DJs. Of course we didn’t have the distribution network the record companies had, and we knew we couldn’t compete on that playing field. We also didn’t care. As a regionally famous performing band, we were after more and bigger gigs with bigger crowds, because that was where we made our money.

So why all the focus on selling records today? Sure, that’s what the record companies do, and the cheapening of technology makes it easy for people like me to do it on a small scale—but is that a good reason to do it? Record companies until recently didn’t have the ability to make money any other way—but notice that recently record companies have been demanding a cut of “their” artists’ gate fees and merchandise sales, as sales of their (generally overpriced) records have declined. Maybe one should forget about selling the things (except at gigs, of course) and treat them simply as promotional tools, just like years ago—a device for getting more butts in seats. If one is small-scale (and I definitely am), butts in seats is the bottom line. Just like years ago.

Leftovers Day show Friday, music at the Rapture Room on Sunday. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Joe

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