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Open Mike & "steamboat Bill"...


I’m back. Weekend “off,” but while I’m “off” I have two graphic-design projects to finish, cookies to bake, and a job application to do for that place in Alaska that wants a city manager, and tomorrow there’s music to play (a little) and the open mike to host. Tonight, I am deliberately doing nothing productive.

The garden, after a week’s absence, has a potato shrub (once it hits 4 ft. tall, State Forestry will officially classify it as a “tree”—I don’t know if there have ever been any potato trees in Oregon), and four tomato shrubs (also trying to turn into trees), and pea pods on the still-wimpy pea plants. Two of the corn plants may survive, and one of the bean plants. I don’t think any carrots will.

I am thoroughly enjoying the new job. I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything (yet), and might actually be able to accomplish something.

With new stings on the guitar, I essayed the McMinnville open mike. Cornerstone Coffee Roasters, downtown, 1st & 3rd Wednesdays, 6:30 p.m. It was good. Nice place; hosts are an older couple, sound system is good, and the audience is attentive as well as sizable. They (hosts and audience) liked the stuff, and they (hosts and audience) want me back. There may be a chance of getting one of the paying Friday night gigs later on.

It’d be nice if Deathgrass’ Labor Day setlist included something historic—it being Bay City’s centennial celebration and all. There are no songs about either Bay City or Bayocean, the fancy resort (now washed into the ocean) for which Bay City was the jumping off point. (I checked.) But what about songs from 1910, the year Bay City was founded? There weren’t Billboard charts back then, but I did find a list of what purported to be the most popular songs written that year.

There’s “America the Beautiful”; that was written in 1910, but everybody knows that one (and I can’t sing it, anyway). Most of the other 1910 hits were real turkeys—with one exception. “Steamboat Bill” is a rather well-written tune about a riverboat captain who gets involved in a race, on a bet, and blows up his riverboat and dies. Does sound like Deathgrass material. It appears to be public domain, too.

The title, if not the song, is famous because Buster Keaton turned the story into a movie in 1913 (I think)—supposedly one of the best silent films ever made. And in 1928, a fellow named Walt Disney made an animated short, “Steamboat Willie,” starring a cartoon mouse, that was supposed to be a parody of the Keaton film. I don’t think anyone remembers the song.

It’s not clear how the song is supposed to sound—back in 1910, songwriters got royalties from sheet music, not recordings. I can hear it as a 16-bar blues with a good rock beat (which they didn’t have in 1910, of course). I’ll see if I can do a decent draft recording for the band. It would be particularly fun to do something historic, because I don’t think the idea will occur to anyone else.

Beyond that, we probably want to include some Woody Guthrie tunes (him being a bit historic himself): “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” is one of our standard closing songs, and we do a pretty good job on “Dance a Little Longer” (which we do as country rock), and it’s probably time to do “Ain’t Got No Home in This World Any More” (a two-step)—it’s been on a number of our setlists, but it’s routinely been cut when we got short on time.



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