Influences

     This week has had me thinking about my influences, so much so that it is framing a show I'm playing on Saturday night. If you're in the area of New Sharon, Maine on Saturday night, the 22nd of April 2017, come to the Brick Church on the Cape Cod Hill Road and catch my show. If you mention reading this blog, I'll gift you my first cd (yes, shameless plug!).

     As a human, I am given to fits of nostalgia. As I've been framing my set list and thinking about my influences, I discovered that it isn't as easy as just rattling off a few names and a few songs. I've been attempting to narrow down both names and songs and it isn't easy. I like to include a variety of people and topics, so much so that narrowing down my choices to a few influences is hard. I struggle with this when I promote myself. A common question is what kind of music do you play. I play such a variety that pairing it down to a one or two word phrase doesn't sum it up for me. The weight that was taken off my shoulders when someone came up with the term "Americana" was tremendous, as well as "roots music". 

     In the pairing down of my influences, I've discovered that there are a few songs I've needed to learn over this week. How is that possible? These people influenced you, shouldn't you know the stuff that influenced you really well? I would've thought so but I've discovered something else. As I think more about these people and groups, I've discovered that there are songs they've done that I haven't but I feel the need to.

     The moral of the story? These influences keep influencing me. It's a dynamic relationship, with something new to discover, and different ways to look at old ideas. 

     Some of what I've discovered include that Bob Dylan's poetry is incredibly relevant to many aspects of my life, and it continues to be. I've always enjoyed Dylan's music, and I like learning his stuff. It looks and sounds deceptively simple but when I dig into trying to perform some of his material, I discover that his phrasing is unique and challenging. It's easy to play the Judy Collins or the Byrds versions of Mr. Tambourine Man, but to emulate Dylan's phrasing is different and challenging. Dylan also uses an interesting vocal range. He's got a rich baritone if he uses it, and he occasionally writes interesting bass vocal tones in his melody lines. I would love to hear Dylan sing a lot of his repertoire in the voice he used to record Nashville Skyline. 

     Jimmy Buffett is another artist that continues to influence me. Years ago I discovered an album of older material he'd released called American Storyteller. It was music he'd written and recorded prior to going to Key West and becoming the Parrothead King. Buffett was a good ol' American folk artist, and the songs are great. Even though he rarely gets critical accolades for his music, he writes some good stuff. His chord progressions and key changes harken back to older folk music and from a time when musicians were musicians. He's another artist with a rich baritone. His stuff is written in a lower register that I find refreshing to sing in. 

     John Denver has been mentioned on this blog before. Talk about a vocal range. He was incredible singer, but I don't think many people think of how good a guitarist he was. There's a video on the Youtube of him performing The Bells of Rhymney on a 12-string and he is going to town on that guitar. I think John Denver was probably my first real inspiration for becoming a performer. I remember sitting in front of my Aunt and Uncle's stereo, wearing a tremendous pair of headphones they had, and listening to The Garden Song over and over again. I met David Mallett a few years ago and even played with him once. He's now become one of my influences through John Denver. 

     The Kingston Trio is one of the groups I always wanted to be in. I was introduced to them by my father and my grandparents. I don't know how we didn't wear out my grandparents' Kingston Trio records. I wonder the same thing about their Alvin and The Chipmunks record that was a really cool translucent red, and I don't know how my sisters didn't wear out their Sound of Music original cast recording record. They had some cool eight tracks, too, but I digress. The harmonies that the Kingston Trio sang captured my imagination and I just wanted to be on stage with them, strumming or picking, not caring about the uniform nature of the shirts they were wearing. They were often accused of bastardizing folk music but I think that outlook would change if one were to listen to some of their early live recordings. I got my Dad a live recording cassette of them when I was 11 or 12 and I apologized profusely when i discovered that there were some bad words on it, like hell or damn. My Dad, who never uses such language, laughed and reassured me that it was okay and he still liked listening to it.

     You all know how big a fan of Tom Petty I am. I still remember the first time I consciously heard him. It was at a Comfort Inn in South Carolina and we were on our way to Florida to visit my grandparents. The motel room had MTV, and we watched as much of it as we could in the short time we were there. The video for Free Fallin' came on and I was hooked. I purchased Full Moon Fever as soon as we got back to PA. 

    I have many other influences but it would take days to expound upon them all. I'm feeling grateful for the chance to think about them, and perform some of them. I hope to share them with you on Saturday night.

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