First Song Story Blog: The Ballad of John Boy 

      While thinking of which song to highlight first, I was at a real loss. The story behind some of the songs were vague, I wanted to make it really relevant, and I wanted it to be interesting. I finally came around to the Ballad of John Boy for a couple of reasons. The story behind the song should highlight those reasons. There will be a test afterwards...
      The real reason I went with this tune first is because I think of it as the song that made me get a little more serious about pursuing music as a career. I know, what idiot studies music and spends all that money on tuition at a University studying music if he isn't going to do it as a career? I ended up graduating from Kutztown University with a Bachelor of Arts in Music AND Geography. I had thought it would be easier to get a job in the geographic world and let the geography subsidize my music. I got this idea from the writings of Frank Zappa, who supported his less popular work (orchestral compositions) with his rock and roll band. While I enjoyed the geography based work, I found I never had time to pursue my music career on almost any level. I worked odd hours, travelled frequently, and was out to sea for periods of time that made it difficult to book any gigs with any regularity. After leaving a job at a private hydrographic job, I found myself working for Kieve Affective Education in Nobleboro, Maine. While at Kieve, I started teaching private guitar lessons at a now-defunct music store in Rockport. The experience was great and the extra income helped me make ends meet. While teaching lessons, I got to know the managers of the retail store, who hooked me up with a factory second Garrison G-40 acoustic-electric guitar. (By the way, if you get a chance, these same great guys own and manage a really cool music store in Camden, Maine called K2 Music. It's in the Reny's Plaza and I can guarantee that any visit there is worth it.) The purchase of this Garrison was a big step for me. The Garrison had a built-in pick-up that meant I could plug the guitar right into my PA system. Before this, I would mess around with my great old Fender acoustic and either extra microphones or a pick-up that bridged the soundhole, with neither being satisfactory. When I brought the Garrison back to my little cabin on that pennisula in Damariscotta Lake, a few friends came over to hang out and hear the new guitar. It sounded like an orchestra and I was inspired. I wrote this song, The Ballad of John Boy, along with another song that I've never recorded. I don't think I completed the whole song in front of my friends but it was finished before I went to sleep that night, or morning by the time I was finished with it.

      The inspiration for this song, other than the new guitar, was a place in Indiana on Lake Michigan called Burns Harbor. I visited there while doing a job for a hydrographic firm I used to work for. We were surveying Big Burns Harbor, an industrial harbor that was handling coal or iron ore or both. The big harbor didn't have any facilities for our 26' survey vessel so we got a slip "nearby" at a marina near Little Burns Harbor. My memory about Little Burns Harbor is fuzzy. I didn't spend much time there as it was usually my job to provide land support for the boat, which means I had the lovely job of driving our work van to Big Burns Harbor while my partner got to drive the boat out and around. Little Burns Harbor was just a small rectangle, really just an area behind a breakwater. As it was too small to contain a marina, there was a most interesting waterway accessing the marinas called Burns Ditch. The name was appropriate. It really looked like it was a trenched that had been excavated with a back-hoe. I remember going up Burns Ditch, which was barely two boat lengths wide, to check on the weather on Lake Michigan. We were there longer than the survey should have taken because the weather on Lake Michigan prevented us, several times, from getting the boat around to Big Burns Harbor. While sitting in the marina, catching up on work or maintaining the equipment, I notice that the other boats in the marina, some of which were high end cabin cruisers and some very ice sailboats, rarely left the marina. We frequently heard Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley coming from the stereos on numerous vessels. The owners of these vessels frequently visited and hung out on the boats. The boats just rarely seemed to leave the harbor. This was probably due to the weather but we were there for awhile and noticed the same thing, even on good weather days. Hey, any time on a boat is great, right? I would hold this to be true, I just couldn't understand how the people on these boats didn't noticed the water. It looked like ditch water, because..well, it was ditch water. I recall thinking there was an odd smell to the air due to all the industrial stuff going on in the area but that might have been just me.

      So my experiences in Burns Ditch were the inspirations for the Ballad of John Boy. I like the idea of the Great Lakes. I spent my summers growing up in a place near the Great Lakes and the whole place is just neat. I've seen weather on Lake Superior creating waves that looked like mountains and I've surveyed on the eastern side of Lake Ontario and a few places in between. I've seen some of the life boats from the Edmund Fitzgerald at a floating museum in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and I've pulled leeches off my legs after days of surveying in the shallow bays where Lake Ontario and the Black River meet. I've been on the Detroit River and experienced all I want to experience of Downtown Detroit, Rock City, the craziest of which was surveying the city's sewage overflow that meets the River just downstream from a yacht club with million dollar yachts tied up. The only thing separating the the yacht club from the river of poo is a narrow spit of land. (They were constructing a new sewage plant at the time and some of the workers used to yell out to us in our small john boat to ask if we'd caught anything yet. We'd reply, "yeah, syphilis...") All of these experiences came together to make this story of a lonely guy who thought he was unappreciated and unnoticed. His disappearance sent a small shockwave through his friends, but through few others, possibly confirming his suspicions. Haven't we all felt like that at times? I know I feel like that on a pretty regular basis, but something or someone happens that makes me realize that my feelings are not accurate. I think that's what this song is about, the love and impact that comes from casual relationships. Sharing a song can be a powerful thing, whether it's with a big group or with a few friends around a campfire, or on a dock, whatever the circumstances might be.

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