Sunday, February 26, 2006

Music career taking off

Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from an up and coming young singer;
just graduated with an undergraduate degree in the recording industry.
She wanted to know if I could fill in for a pedal steel player in her band next Saturday night at a well-known local club.
I agreed, and she brought over the CDs with 42 songs for me to learn;
six of them originals.

It's "outlaw country," such as Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, etc.
Perfect for a blues/boogie piano style like mine.
She has a fantastic voice;
somewhat like Reba McIntire, only younger.

Wife and I listened to the tunes yesterday afternoon and agreed that it was perfect music for me.

On top of that, I've agreed to accompany another singer-songwriter
this coming Tuesday at a local club
doing his originals, which are pretty much "mainstream country" in style
and may also appear at his writers' night next Friday.

On Feb. 16 I accompanied three singer-songwriters at another local club,
doing folkie-type originals.

So things are taking off.

It's great fun that I'm playing such different styles of music,
and so many originals, too.
I want to continue to do more of this,
and also co-write and teach piano improvisation,
so that maybe by the time I retire in 6 years or so,
I'll have built up enough of a musical career to supplement Social Security.

I love the feeling of self-confidence that I have earned over the 45 years I've played professionally.

It wasn't always thus.

I used to be quite shy and unsure of my abilities.
I worked and worked to play everything right,
and was always pleasantly surprised when someone commented on my playing.

Now, although I'm still nervous before a performance,
and I still work very hard to learn the songs,
I know beforehand that I'm gonna kick ass.

This relaxes me and allows me to play my best.
My Achilles' Heel was always nervousness,
worrying too much about mistakes
instead of letting my creative impulse do its magic.

And it is magic.

I don't know where this stuff comes from;
just that I've always heard music in my head
from my earliest remembrances.

Now I get to reap the rewards
of years and years spent playing in bands of all kinds,
all those hours spent teaching my fingers how to make music.
Now my fingers reward me with music of their own,
unmediated by the cerebral cortex.
It's all muscle memory,
or spinal memory.
Instinct, you might call it.
But it's instinct honed by decades of playing experience,
desire honed by hard times and obstacles to overcome.

Difficult personalities in bands,
Competing priorities of family and music,
My first wife's suspicions that I was really running around with other women
when I was making music, not making time.

First marriage broke up after 26 years,
then I moved to Nashville to start a new life
with a new wife.

Went on the road full-time with a country-rock band in 1999.
Traveled over 7,500 miles in just a few months.
Seven of us crammed into a 1991 Econoline,
playing casinos and clubs around the US.
I wrote a book about that experience
and hope to publish it some day.

Toured with Leroy Van Dyke in 2000,
just before I landed my day job
that now sustains us.

On the first date of that tour, I got to meet
Jett Williams,
Johnny Russell,
and several other Opry stars.

The next date was in northwestern Wisconsin
the Syttende Mai festival in the tiny town of Westby.

Sometimes this stuff is almost too surrealistic.

Here I am a grown man, 60 years old,
a white collar worker with a degree from William & Mary,
playing music professionally
with kids a third of my age,
but feeling completely at ease,
even admired for my skills.

Life is good.

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