The New Songs…

 Grateful Blog: Day 91: I spent the morning writing 2 new songs. They’re coming lately in bunches. I can’t say why but I think finally having my CD ‘Ash and Bone’ done has a lot to do with that. The weird thing about being a songwriter is I never know when they’re going to come. I can prime the pump for sure; try to get in the right ‘space’, in the ‘flow’ as it were but sometimes it just boils down to some finicky combination of available time, restless energy and the sheer discipline of just doing it and not letting yourself get distracted.

The truth is I have no idea how or why it works. I spent several hours on one song this morning while it was raining furiously, the song was predictably moody, poetic and full of the melancholy I was obviously channeling. At some point I ran out off steam but felt it was close. I then noticed the bright sunshine that I’d failed to see for who knows how long it’d taken to get from downpour to just gorgeous out. I went outside, it was warm and suddenly and just as predictably, moody, poetic and melancholic felt inappropriate. I sort of reflexively went for something 180 degrees different, a little boogie-woogie thing and 15 minutes later something upbeat, catchy and weirdly compelling popped out.

I don’t know which song (if either) will last the numerous inevitable revisions they’ll be put through to get to ‘keeper’ status but I can tell you this: I’m still not sure why songs come. I’m still not sure that after the last one that another one will ever, ever come again. It feels that tenuous, like one day I might wake up and say ‘nothing inspires me’. I know that may sound funny or over dramatic but half a dozen years ago I had just had several years’ without writing a song. So it’s happened before and it crosses my mind that it could very well happen again.

So the thing is, they’ve been coming in bunches lately. So rain or shine, any day of the week, when a song wants to arrive I’m ready to open the tap and see what happens. Any day is always a good day for writing a new song. I’m just Grateful when they come…

‘Pay it Forward’: Cracking the Egg…

Grateful Blog: Day 89: A few years ago when I first started performing as a musician I took my songs out of the basement and into the light as it were. In retrospect, the light was not kind to some of those early songs. But the rest of my life changed in ways I had no idea it was going to change. Believe it or not, I’ve always been a bit shy and introverted and performing has given me the gift of opening up, and I’m Grateful for that. It’s helped me make friends and connect with some of the most wonderful people. I’ve often said that becoming a musician has been like ‘cracking the egg’ on another chapter of my life and it’s true—it’s been scrambled, fried, over easy and sunny side up ever since. But the best part without a doubt is the people I’ve met along the way.

Yesterday I got home from another long day at work and found a package fromNew York. Inside it was a copy of the issue of ‘American Songwriter’ magazine that mentioned me and my song ‘Lost and Found’ as an ‘Honorable Mention’ in the monthly contest. John Taylor sent it to me. John and I met on a train several years ago. When I was first thinking about making a CD he sent me his disc ‘Hometown Paper’ so I’d get a better idea of layouts, graphics, etc. Getting that and his advice helped a bunch–and his great tunes on ‘Hometown Paper’ were a nice bonus. So yesterday John sent a copy of the magazine and I immediately realized the thoughtfulness that took. I’d never gotten a copy of it and I like to save that kind of thing. Getting mentioned in their songwriter contest was a bit of big thing for me.

So it’s just that sort of kindness and thoughtfulness that I’m Grateful for today. For the people like John I’ve met who take the time to offer advice and think ‘You know I bet he’d like a copy of that magazine’ and sends me his personal copy. It’s the coolest thing; Because the next thing that inevitably happens is I start looking at the world through that same lens and wonder, ‘What can I unselfishly do for someone else today?’

So ‘Thank You!’ for the kind gift of the book John. But more than that, for the reminder to ‘Pay it Forward’. I think the world could use a lot more of that and we’d be all be more Grateful, no matter how many eggs we crack along the way…

Doverlaff House Concerts: ‘The Church of Song’

Grateful Blog: Day 85: (Part 2) Continued…

After yesterday’s Talent Show, I finished up my set list for the 2nd Official CD release show for ‘Ash and Bone’ and got ready for the show. The show was part of the Doverlaff House Concert series. It’s becoming legendary in the Portland area one epic show and fabulous artist at a time. It’s put on by Dan Dover and Cheryl Mitzlaff, 2 of the nicest people you’ll ever meet hosting musical acts in their home with 50 of the best audience members you could ever hope to have. In fact, it’s the polar opposite of the talent show: A full house and no judging. Its part concert and maybe part church service: The ‘Church of Song’ perhaps.

There’s something magical about the setting and the room, or I should say the people in the room. They show up early, stake out a choice seat, and then mill around with the artists prior to the show. Folks hug, catch up, and you can palpably feel the warmth in the air. Then the lights get set down low, the artist takes the ‘stage’, less than a foot from the front row, and then something special is about to begin.

There’s this beautiful mix of intimacy and electricity. At some point in the first set I played a brand new song, less than a week old. I wasn’t even sure I knew it. So just to highlight that (and because I’m a sucker for a certain degree of that high wire act) I got out from behind the microphone and played the song unplugged, acoustic and stood even closer to the audience. You could hear a pin drop. That might be scary for some musicians but for those of us who’ve played one too many noisy clubs the opportunity to really be heard is intoxicating. I think they loved the song as much as I did and somehow I believe they felt the experience as intensely as I did. It was truly amazing. The opposite is also true; with no real encouragement or direction that wonderful audience spontaneously bursts into song and sings along with you. Like being able to hear a pin drop, it’s also music to the ears. It’s better than that actually, it’s like being swept up in a wave and allowing yourself the freedom to enjoy the ride…

There are not enough words to describe how I felt about last night. Like the first ‘Ash and Bone’ CD release show it sold out and did so really quickly. I like to think it’s because my songs are getting better and because my shows are gaining a reputation for being special events. I don’t know. I guess I have no real perspective on that and maybe I shouldn’t. I’m just so dam Grateful when people spend their precious free time spending an evening with me, to let me tell my stories and sing my songs. It’s a bit like this blog. You start out thinking you’ll create something and then that something becomes more special than you ever imagined. And like the show at Artichoke Music, last night’s show was so, so special. It felt like part celebration, part graduation and part conflagration. For a little while we set the place on fire, fanned the flames and it kept us warm.

There’s nothing better for me than living in the moment and nothing better than that wonderful ‘Connection’ with the audience. Moments like last night define my life in a way I had no idea was even possible until I started this journey 4 years ago when I met Dan and Cheryl. I’ve often said that anyone you meet on any given night can change your life. It’s so true. And last night was just further proof of that. I’m so Grateful to be part of a circle of friends and a community that can still hear a pin drop, that loves to sing along on a chorus, that cries with you, laughs with you, and hugs you once beforehand and twice afterwards. Some night’s are better than other and last night was one or those…Amen!

The ‘Talent’ Show…

Grateful Blog: Day 84: (Part 1) I missed yesterday’s ‘Grateful Blog’. Actually that’s incorrect. I didn’t miss it so much as I lived it. I went to be early Friday night only to wake up Saturday morning at 4am and while tired and still 16 hours from my 2nd Official CD release show for ‘Ash and Bone’, I had a set list to do. Set lists are funny things. I’ve tried the spectrum form avoiding them entirely, under the guise of spontaneity to a blow by blow word for word set up. I’ve found the best lie somewhere between the 2 extremes. In any case, I was up early and spent a good portion of the morning toggling between working on my set list and listening to the early morning ‘Swing and Country’ radio show on KBOO 90.7 FM. By mid-morning I was off to do a talent contest (a what???), yeah, one of those American Idol type talent show deals.

It was set up very much like the TV show talent shows are. I was ENTIRELY unsure what the heck I was doing there but when they asked I thought ‘sure, why not, no harm right?’ It was first class and well run and when I got there the contestants backstage were anxiously awaiting their turn. At some point I realized that it was just like everything else I do in my life—I do it for the fun, for the experience and for the amazing people I meet. In fact I was having such a good time doing just that backstage that suddenly I was called up and it was my turn.

So there I was on this big stage, with almost no audience but the 3 judges at their table and I was clearly on the spot. It was actually a little nerve-wracking for a second or 2. But then I did what I did what I always do, tell my story in words and in song. I know that it’s not for everyone but for the people who like what I do, they really like what I do, and there’ll be that ‘Connection’ they’ll make with the songs and with me and that alone with be worth it.

I have no idea how I ‘placed’ or didn’t place in the contest but I know how it turned out—I did my thing, I met some great people and my song actually moved one judge to tears. I don’t know if that qualifies as ‘talent’ or not, but I do know this: I’m Grateful that I did it because it involves the process that as artists we continually struggle with: The fear of rejection. Nevermore is that so on naked display as a ‘talent’ contest. But I’m most Grateful because I met some really great people: Fellow contestants, organizers and judges–every last one of them. In the contest between ‘winning’ and that ‘Connection’ I’ll take the ‘Connection’ any day of the week. It’s really no contest at all. And I’m Grateful for the wisdom to know the difference…

A Phone Call, A Diamond Ring and an Old Friend…

Grateful Blog: Day 78: Last night was typical Saturday night. I didn’t have a show to play but I did have at least 4 friends that had gigs. I meant to go to one or possibly 2. But then you know how that saying goes ‘Life happens when you’re making plans.’ An old friend called. I think we’ve known each other 16 going on 17 years now. When we met I was getting ready to ask my girlfriend to marry me. I made the tour of jewelry stores, big and small, downtown and in malls. And yeah, I even went to the Shane Company because I thought I ‘had a friend in the diamond business’ (I didn’t). I asked questions but mostly I think they see you coming like used car salesmen see you coming. My friend was working for a time at one of the other mall stores. What I remember most when he sold me my ring was he said ‘Look, it’s going to be beautiful. She will absolutely love it and she will say ‘Yes’. But if in some strange case she doesn’t, bring it back, no worries”. I have no idea if he could actually back up that boast but I was sold. Frankly, he’s about the best salesman I’ve ever known.

So I bought that ring from him and my girlfriend Diane said ‘yes’. The rest as they say is history. Except when I bought the ring from the guy I said ‘Well, if I’m going to spend that much on a ring, the least you can do is buy me lunch!’ It seemed like it took him back at first. Buy you lunch? But then he said ‘I’ll do one better, once your girlfriend says ‘yes’, call me, and then you can both come over for dinner’. So we did. Weird right? Perfect strangers. The salesman who sold me the ring. Perfect strangers until our wives met and we looked at each other and said ‘Uh, I think we’re friends now’.

So that was 16 years ago. We’ve seen each other’s lives change immeasurably since then. There have been some real triumphs like the birth of his son and some real low points, personal and financial where both of us despaired for the future. So when he called last night and said ‘I know it’s St. Patrick’s Day, but today’s the 11th anniversary of my brother’s death. Come over for dinner. I’m making soup’ (he’s the world’s BEST cook btw) I put off going out to spend the night seeing friends play music to re-connect with some old friends who I treasure dearly. The company couldn’t be better. We shared laughs and some of the same old stories we always tell and we talked about the future like it would always be there. The meal was this amazing homemade lentil soup; Desert was that morning’s leftover Voodoo Doughnuts. In a word it was perfect.

I had brought him a copy of my new CD ‘Ash and Bone’. He hadn’t heard it yet and he opened it, said we had to listen to it right then and there—loud(!), and to be honest it sounded better than I remembered it. He took out the booklet and asked me to sign it. For about 10 minutes I just stared at it because I had no idea what to write on it. There’s not enough room in a 5 inch square to say what needed to be said. As we drank wine and caught up I kept looking back down at that cover and wondered what I could say that would cover 16 plus years of friendship. Finally, standing there next to my lovely wife of 15 years I wrote the one thing that maybe scratched the surface of those years just a little bit: ‘I’m so glad you sold me that ring’.

I can’t tell you how Grateful I am that he did…

Swing and Country: ‘Good Old-Time Country Music’

Grateful Blog: Day 77: This morning was one of moments as a musician you always dream about. I got asked to play on one of my all-time favorite radio shows, ‘Swing and Country’ on 90.7FM in Portland,OR. You know, a half a dozen years ago when I started writing songs in earnest I never allowed myself the thought that I’d get to do that someday. But I’d listen to the show every week, getting up sleepy eyed at 6am and record it on my old cassette deck to be able to listen to it later when I got up. Then I’d make mix tapes of my favorite songs and compiled some 60 hours of classic shows from over a decade. I was always careful to keep some of the DJ’s on there too, to preserve the feel of the show. There was just something about hearing those familiar voices in the morning that felt like old friends. I’m no the first to feel that way about a DJ nor the last, but I memorized their voices and the songs they played.

So it was such a joy to go down to KBOO this morning and play on ‘Swing and Country’. A double treat that we had an enthusiastic live studio audience that sang along with my songs as well as country classic’s like Roger Miller’s ‘King of Road’, Hank Williams Sr.’s ‘Ramblin Man’ and Buck Owens ‘Act Naturally’. Everything about the show felt right. But maybe the best part for me was getting to meet the DJ’s. Most of the guys I listened to in the old days are gone now, but the guys and gals holding down the fort now, Wayne and Kathy Johnson, Henry Weeks and Moggy, Don McLaren and his son Mike are carrying the torch in fine fashion, blazing their own trails though the finest of what former DJ ‘Uncle Sam’ used to call ‘Good Old-Time Country Music.’

So I was Grateful today to have that experience. To soak up the ambiance of the station, to play in front of stacks upon stacks of records (Yeah, records!). But I was even more Grateful to be able in a small way to give a little something back in the way of music, to the show that’s given me so much joy. It was on ‘Swing and Country’ that another past DJ ‘Uncle B.’ pushed the bounds of ‘Country’ a bit and introduced me to both Tom Russell and Dave Carter. Hearing their songs on my cassette tape that morning (which I still have), inspired me as a songwriter in more ways than I can describe. And meeting them both, after shows and on trains changed my life. I can’t tell you exactly how, but the seeds of my life transforming in some ways were right there, on those cassette tapes. Believe it. It’s true.

So I’m so Grateful that Wayne and Kathy invited me to do the show, I’m Grateful I didn’t gush too much on the air (God knows I tried), and I’m Grateful for the folks that came and stopped afterwards to buy a CD, chat and tell me how much they liked one song or another. You know, that is the singular best part of being a songwriter, connecting with you audience in some meaningful, personal way. It beats everything else hands down, because that ‘Connection’ is why we do this. Or at least it’s why I play music. That connection is so important. And I was Grateful for just one Saturday morning, on ‘Swing and Country’, that I was able to tell the people I only knew as voices, how much’s that’s meant to me, all these years and 6am Saturday’s ago…

Or as the King of Country Music, Bob Wills would say ‘Awwww Haw!’ Indeed Bob, indeed…

P.S.: You can hear ‘Swing and Country’ every Saturday morning from 6am to 9am PST on 90.7FM in Portland (in Corvallis 100.7FM and HoodRiver 91.9FM) and streaming on www.KBOO.fm

P.P.S.: And if You’re not a ‘Member’ yet of this great local, community, non-profit station, give it some serious consideration like I did roughly 10 years ago. I think find that being a member is about a lot more than writing a check, it’s about being part of a community…

Giant Steps: Jazz. DJ’s and Radio in the Desert…

Grateful Blog: Day 70: When I was a Park Ranger in Canyonlands National Park, almost 20 years ago, I had scheduled duty of 9 days on and 5 days off. I stayed mostly in this little ‘Sheepherder’ trailer high above this place called ‘Horseshoe Canyon’. If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘128 Hours’ you’ve seenHorseshoe Canyon. It’s Amazing to say the least. That little gypsy trailer didn’t lack for much. It was pretty well equipped with a wood cook stove, propane lights and a little AM/FM car radio that ran on a little solar panel mounted on the back. We had a ‘solar’ shower too—yeah the old hang the black bag in the sun all day variety.

Well this wasUtah, and it was 168 miles from the nearest ‘real’ grocery store inMoab,Utah. It was 46 miles of dirt and sand and rock road to get to the highway. It was 68 miles to get the mail. So there wasn’t much for towns around and there wasn’t much for radio. About 5 varieties of 90’s era country stations and one NPR/all jazz station. I listened to a fair amount of country, some NPR and a bit of jazz too but mostly it never struck me. I think something about that vast desert and jazz seemed incompatible. You could probably make a case for classical music and the ‘western’ variety of country but jazz found profoundly out of place. Until one night, that is, when I was back in the trailer listening.

The DJ that night got to spinning old jazz records. CD’s were here to stay by then but he still liked to spin the real thing even though it was more work. That one night he played John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’. The song’s less than 5 minutes, short by some jazz comparisons, but I remember the singular beauty in which Coltrane descended and ascended the scales with such precision, fluidity and beauty. It was the very first moment that I felt like ‘Oh, now I GET jazz’. I was riveted, just stopped in my tracks hearing it. When the song ended the DJ lifted the needle off the record and came back on the air. He audibly sighed and then said in deep-voiced manner of all classic DJ’s, ‘That was THE John Coltrane and that was Giant Steps. Wow, wasn’t that great? You know, I dug that so much I think we should it again? What do YOU think? Yeah, alright. Well then let’s hear it again. Here it is. Mr. John Coltrane and Giant Steps.’

And then he played it AGAIN! You could hear the needle drop, the crackle, and the opening salvo and the intoxicating ride started over again. It was like going back to your Senior Prom and getting to do it RIGHT the second time. I don’t know how he knew, but that DJ KNEW I was riveted to that little AM/FM radio, running off the last of the day’s suns rays, high atop the mesa above Horseshoe Canyon, probably 400 miles to the nearest jazz club in Salt Lake City, awash in the beauty of ‘Giant Steps’…

I’ll never forget that moment. So today I wanted to say how Grateful I am for that DJ and for DJ’s near and far, who go out on a limb and play what their heart desires. A bunch of them, Diane, Jack, Jim, Scott, Wayne, Kathy have been playing songs of my new CD, ‘Ash and Bone’ a lot and I’m in their debt. Every time someone plays one of your songs on the radio and it puts it out there over the airwaves into the universe it’s hard to know what happens next. But having been on the receiving end of so many great songs for so many years I can only say that sometimes magic happens, and it doesn’t happen without a DJ who’s willing to play what touches their heart. And every time I hear one of my songs on the radio I’m inspired, to write a better one, next time. Every one is but a small step on the way to Giant Steps…

My new Biggest Fan…

Grateful Blog: Day 69: I heard through the ‘grapevine’ that I’ve got a new fan these days. He’s a bit of a ‘mover and a shaker’ as it were. I don’t want to say his name because I don’t want to get him in trouble. He’s been listening to my CD ‘Ash and Bone’ a LOT and has become a really big fan very quickly. Clues? Well, his favorite song is ‘Take the Central GeorgiaHome’. He not much for long-winded prose and I’m not sure he’s ready to go on record yet in public, but privately he told a friend of a friend who knows my wife that he pretty much can’t be in the car without hearing it.

That’s pretty damn cool. In fact, its waaaay cool. Alright a few more clues? His name is Gavin? Ummm Gavin who? Well, I can’t say. That might just be the name he’s going by right now. The thing is he’s a BIG fan of mine and especially that song. I heard every time he gets in the car he yells ‘Mommy, play that train song!’ Seriously, Gavin’s like 4 now and a serious DUDE of the world. And his favorite song is ‘Take the CentralGeorgiaHome’. You can find it on my new CD at www.danwebermusic.com

I don’t know what’s cooler: That Gavin’s Mom is driving around playing my CD non-stop because she and her son dig it or that Gavin totally dig’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. Either way I’m Grateful. I’ve sure gotta meet Gavin one of these days. Like I said, he’s a BIG fan of mine and well, I’ve gotta say in all honesty, I’m a BIG fan of his.

And one last thing: ‘Mommy, play that train song!’ Damn straight Gavin…Damn Straight!

Lawnmowers, Camelias and Dandelions…

Grateful Blog: Day 68: I heard the sound this morning: The low rumble, the whirr and whine of a small engine spinning round: The neighbor’s lawn mower. It’s been coming for awhile. I saw the first Camellia bloom and the other day and today the first dandelion. Last week it snowed but this week you need to mow the lawn and pull dandelions??? That’s spring in the Pacific Northwest. They say this past winter was the warmest on average. I don’t know. Maybe it felt that way and maybe it was statistically. Every winter seems too long to me. But today the sounds of lawn mowers filled the air and I was indeed surprised. March 8th? Lawn mowers? Really? Incredible. Surprised? Yes. Grateful? You bet…

Breathe…

Grateful Blog: Day 67: I got home from 13 hours of work today, in time to sort of make dinner and sort of relax and sort of have a few minutes to breathe. I’m a born and bred workaholic. 50 hours is ‘normal’ and this week, at 60 hours, won’t be unusual. I know I’m self-employed and supposed to be ‘in charge’ of my business but more often that not it’s in charge of me. So now I’m just hopping on the computer and checking my email at 11pm at night for the first time in the day. I think I’m supposed to answer some of it but honestly, I’m too tired. Just gotta Breathe…

But I got to thinking: Someday not too distant from now, the itch will hit like it does every year. It starts with the first warm days, a bit of a false spring, followed by 2 solid weeks of cold rain. The forecast will be bleak for a bit but by then it won’t matter. I’ll be like today, like every other ordinary Wednesday for just about everyone, getting up, going to work, trying to stay on top of it and trying to breathe. But I’ll pack the car. Fill it up with gas. Damn the price, who cares. I’ll start by heading east, then south, then further east, through the mountains and several high passes, down into the sagebrush country. I finally go around the northern tip of the range, drop down the old gravel road. Follow it for 40 or 50 miles. Stop to hear the red winged blackbird’s singing. Getting closer. Breathe…

I’ll be rolling down the highway, the spring desert blooming, the mountains beckoning in the distance with a rush of snowmelt flying down to make that dry, cracked sandy world come to life for a few months again before the unrelenting heat of summer puts an abrupt stop to it. But for that moment in time, the smell of sage, the tang of a sulfur hot spring I know, the warm wind on my wet hair, the smooth trail beneath my feet, I’ll be in heaven. There’ll be no work, no cell phone, no email, no Facebook and maybe even no blog. Yeah, it’ll be Wednesday but it won’t matter. All will be right with the world. The 12 hours days and 60 hour weeks will be too far to even see in the review mirror. My gaze will be up at the stars, down with the noisy creeks, along the ridges searching for bighorn sheep, out into the sagebrush looking for wild horses, and on the road to the future and what comes ‘Next’. And all that matters, will be enjoying the moment. Breathe…

It’s coming. I can feel it. It comes every year and right about this time. I’m so Grateful when it does. So, so Grateful. I’ve just got to hang on a little bit longer and Breathe….