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Getting Played (and Vice Versa)...


UPDATES, first: I sent a draft first column to the “American Blues” people, and am waiting to hear back from them. (It’s been a couple of days.) I’ve questioned their insistence on the correspondents having to come from Nashville, New York, L.A. and a couple of other big cities. These days, the Internet makes such distinctions meaningless—and I’d submit a place like Portland, 90 miles from me, with a fairly vibrant live music scene, probably has more and better blues being performed than, say, Nashville. So you’ve never heard of the performers? So what? Maybe it’s time somebody did.

The band (the one on the Coast—there’s only one now) will get together to practice Sunday, and we’ll try our hand at recording “Rotten Candy” for Polly Hager while we’re at it. We’ll see in the process what we can make John’s recorder do, and see what we have to do to record drums. We’ll do what I described (no one having figured out a better alternative)—record a “base” with drums, bass, rhythm guitar, and a scratch vocal, mix it, send it (sans vocal) to Polly to record her voice, then add blues harp and guitar leads when we get the vocal track back.

What’s going to happen with the song? I don’t know. If the product is good enough, I might enter it in that song contest in Michigan, and see what happens. The recording is really irrelevant, though; what would be most important to me would be getting the song performed. If Polly and her band add the song to their repertoire, and it starts getting played around the venues in Cincinnati, what I’ve done is clone myself. (And the intro—“this is The Song That Was Rejected By American Idol”—is guaranteed to get some attention. I’ve done it myself.) Just give me credit as the writer—that’s all I ask.

This isn’t the only way for a writer to make it in the music business, but it is one of the best—it gives you the maximum bang for the buck. It’s nothing new; it was something done extensively back in the 1960s. Somebody who couldn’t sing (Bob Dylan was a prime example) had their stuff performed by people who could sing, and in the process got attention as a writer—to the point, finally, where they could no longer be ignored.

It still works—a good tool can be used by anybody—even though the music business today is a lot more centrally controlled, and maybe more determined to make sure outsiders don’t get in. So ignore the Big Boys, and let them play their internal games. There are plenty of performers—some even regionally famous—who need good material to get themselves even more attention. Why shouldn’t they have mine?

Not all the songs I’ve written would work for other people. Folks have said some of my material couldn’t be effectively presented by anybody but me, and they may be right. On the other hand, I have heard some surprises. “When I Jump Off the Cliff I’ll Think of You,” originally written by me as a bluegrass tune, has been performed by a punk-rock band, and recorded both as rock ‘n’ roll (by a keyboard player I know) and as electronica. (I like the electronica one best.) You never can tell.

I haven’t pushed it, and sometimes wonder if I should. While I fulminate about the music industry’s attitude towards promoting yourself to people who are in a position to help you—I think the prohibition is driven more by the industry not wanting any outside input—I guess I have taken it to heart, to an extent. I don’t push. I just try to be a lot of places, and in contact with a lot of people, and keep letting them know I write stuff. (That’s become my standard introduction at concerts—“I’m Joe. I write stuff.”) I wonder whether I’m doing enough. I haven’t seen enough results to satisfy me.

This performing other writers’ stuff does work both ways—I should be doing their stuff, too--but it’s been hard for me to do other people’s material because I mostly can’t sing it; it’s outside my narrow voice range. However, I do have some I can do now. We got a mess of material for the Failed Economy Show, and I learned to sing some of it, and the band have learned to play it, and I’d like to keep incorporating it in our concerts, if the authors thereof are willing. Songs that get people out of their chairs and dancing are songs that should be performed, anywhere and everywhere possible.



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