2 Generations of Quad Cities Songwriters

ed millett

There are some people who enjoy music so much, you can see it right on their face.  One of those people is Ed Millett.  He spends his weekdays at In Touch Adult Daycare in Moline, and every time I perform there, Ed shows up early for the music, and doesn’t leave til the last song is done.  When I finish playing, he comes up to me, shakes my hand, and tells me how much he enjoyed the music.  I play at In Touch, regularly, and after a few performances, I found out Ed was a songwriter.  Eventually he gave me the music to one of the songs he had written and asked if I could play it sometime at In Touch.  I’m woefully bad at reading music, but I figured it out and this past February, I performed Ed’s song, “I Wanna Love”.  Ed wrote the tune for his wife and the timing was perfect because I ended up playing it right around Valentines Day.

Ed has a recording of himself singing “I Wanna Love” but it was done a long time ago and the recording quality is low.  He asked if I could do a recording of it, so I recorded “I Wanna Love”, burned it to a CD, and gave it to Ed.  I also uploaded the song to my bandcamp site, so go ahead and enjoy a song by another Quad Cities songwriter!

Motown Museum

I clearly remember how, as a kid, I would listen to the radio for songs like “Uptight”, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” and “Stop In The Name of Love”.  These songs had a certain sound, but since I just heard them on the radio, for a long time I just chalked it up to being “60s music”.  Later I learned more about Motown Records, with it’s definitive sound, and today Alexey and I went and took a tour of this historic studio.

I wasn’t even familiar with who Berry Gordy was before today.  I was so impressed at how hard hemotown worked to bring his vision for music to a reality in founding Motown Records.  The museum highlights how he borrowed $800 to purchase the original house ($400) and music equipment ($400), converted the garage into the now famous studio A, and how this $800 investment became ground zero for some of the best recordings in music history, not to mention a thriving $20 million enterprise.

Gordy’s original goal for the music he produced was for it to “have a good story, a good beat, and to be something everyone can enjoy.”

Berry Gordy worked with many singers who had a ton of natural talent, but he hired an in-house music theory teacher to give each Motown musician a well-rounded understanding of music.  He also hired a woman to groom the musicians in formal attire and etiquette, anticipating that many of these musicians would soon rise to fame and rub shoulders with royalty and aristocracy on an international level, which they, of course, eventually did.

In the upstairs of the building is where Gordy and his family lived.  The museum shows a kitchen table stacked with cups, food, and stacks of records.  There was no distribution deal for Motown in those days, so all the records were packaged and shipped right on site.  The tour guide pointed out how musicians on the Motown label were essentially family and would spend lots of time with Gordy and his family.  I got pretty excited when the tour guide pointed to an orange vinyl couch and said “Stevie Wonder sat there” !!!!!!  Pictures weren’t allowed anywhere in the building, so you’ll just have to go see that couch for yourself next time you’re in the Detroit area.

Definitely the coolest part of the tour was at the end, when they let us stand right inside studio A.  All the instruments are still in the studio – the 19th century Steinway grand piano, hammond organ, drum kit, and vibraphone.  It felt pretty magical to stand in the same room that Smokey Robinson, Dianna Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 all stood, danced, grooved, and sang.  Right in front of the mixing board, the linoleum floor is worn right through to the wood in several places, from decades of musicians, producers, and sound engineers tapping their feet to the mix.

Motown Records is an inspiring story of a small, tight-knit group of people who worked extremely hard, and also extremely creatively, while overcoming obstacles of racial prejudice, to define a new era in music, and introduce it to the world.

 

 

 

Cars and Guitars – A Tour With My Wife

Six months out of the year, my wife, Alexey, works as a product specialist for Scion.  This involves traveling to auto shows around the country and educating those in attendance about the Scion automotive brand.  With her doing that, and me being a musician, ever since we met, we both kept saying how cool it would be if I could find shows to play in cities where she was working, which would enable us to both be working while we travel together.  This past September, I started the process of contacting venues and looking for places to play shows in or near cities where Alexey would be working.  I also lewis and alexeyfound local musicians in some of those cities who were willing to join me for the show.

We already started the first leg of the tour – Alexey’s first show was in late November in Los Angeles.  I wasn’t able to pick up any gigs in LA, but found a cool open mic to play at.  We spent the week leading up to the new year in Indianapolis and I played with a couple local bands at a great venue called Melody Inn.  The auto shows in the next few months will bring me to venues in or near Detroit, St. Louis, Minneapolis, New York, and Chicago.  I’ll also play some gigs en route, which will include different places in Tennessee, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois.  I’m very thankful to the venues who have booked me, the bands who have agreed to join, and most of all, I’m thankful to be able to do what I love while having a great time traveling with my lovely wife.  Tomorrow night I’ll be at Midtown Brewing Company in Lansing, MI with local musician Alex Mendenall.  Show starts at 9pm, free admission.

Here are all the upcoming dates for my tour

1.15 Lansing, MI @ Midtown Brewing Company w/ Alex Mendenall

1.22 Hamtramck, MI @ Elijah’s w/ Honeybabe, the Sugarbombs

1.23 Plymouth, MI @ Plymouth Coffee Bean Company, w/ Gravity Club, Kevin Allan

1.29 St. Louis, MO @ Evangeline’s Bistro & Music House

2.6 Cedar Rapids, IA @ Sag Wagon Deli & Brew

2.15 Chicago, IL @ Uncommon Ground (Devon) w/ Katamalinga

2.19 Chicago, IL @ Covenant Presbyterian Church

2.20 Dixon, IL @ Books on First

3.5 Sterling, IL @ The Rusty Fox

3.7 Iowa City, IA @ Gabe’s w/ Dan Dimonte

3.11 Sioux City, IA @ The Conservatory

3.12 Cedar Rapids, IA @ Sag Wagon Deli & Brew

3.15 Exelsior, MN @ 318 Cafe w/ Ginger Bones

3.17 La Crosse, WI @ The Root Note

3.18 St. Joseph, MN @ The Local Blend

3.19 Cambridge, IL @ Ca ‘d’ Zan w/ The Saturday Giant

3.23 Knoxville, TN @ WDVX Blue Plate Special

3.29 Brooklyn, NYC @ Pete’s Candy Shop w/ Caitlin Mahoney

4.6 Binghamton, NY @ Cyber West Cafe

4.7 Canton, OH @ Cultured Coffee – Open Mic Feature

4.8 Yellow Springs, OH @ The Spirited Goat

 

Remembering Bruce Carter

When I moved back to the Quad Cities and began pursuing a career in music, I heard about a show on the radio called “Art Talk” in which artists in the Quad Cities and surrounding areas were interviewed.  I found out the host of the show was named Bruce Carter, so I sent him an email, and he replied saying he’d love to do an interview, so we set one up for the summer of 2014.  I went on his show with two band members, and Bruce interviewed us about how the band started, our new album, and our upcoming shows.  But the thing he seemed most interested in was the creative process of songwriting.  During the interview I found out new things about how and why I write songs.  I believe this is a mark of someone who is truly great at interviewing – they draw information and insight out of their guest that the guest may not have known, or been able to articulate before.

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The moment I met Bruce Carter I remember feeling as if I had known him for a long time.  Not only was he very interested in finding out why I wrote songs, I remember him being very encouraging, and telling me he thought I would be successful writing and performing music.

Only a few months after our interview – one year ago today – at what seemed like the much-too-early age of 66, Bruce died.  A tribute to his life and impact on other artists, also featuring some of his own art, was done by the River Cities’ Reader which you can find here.

Shortly before his passing, Bruce Carter was interviewed by my friend Andrew King, in a rare role reversal of an interview with the interviewer, which took place at Rozz Tox in Rock Island, IL.  Thankfully, this interview was recorded, so please make some time to listen to introspective hour where Bruce Carter speaks on what it means to create art, and specifically how the Quad Cities’ art scene is developing.  Among my favorite quotes from it:

“I’m at the point of my life where I don’t need anything for Christmas except good coffee and groovy socks”.

Painting With Sounds at Var Gallery, Milwaukee

Last night Chris and I played at Var Gallery, an art gallery in Milwaukee.  An artist working on a project called Bass Structures used the sound coming from our music to create art on canvas.  I don’t know technically how it all worked, but basically the canvas was placed on top of the speaker, and then pigment and paint thinner were poured on at different times during our performance, and as the speaker resonated, the paint splashed around to create a unique piece of art.  Below are pictures from the beginning, middle, and end of the process.  Stay tuned for more pictures and videos from this project.

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318 Cafe, Excelsior, Minnesota

Yesterday morning my mom texted me and said “You should blog about your tour like you used to blog when you were in Korea”.

I’ve been on tour with Chris Bell for a whole week now.  I believe we’ve played 9 shows in 7 days at this point.  Last night we played at the 318 Cafe in Excelsior, Minnesota.  You know it’s a great place when the servers who have the night off come in to hang out just because they like the place.  The interior is all made up of exposed rustic wood beams and wood floor, with perfect lighting.  As soon as I sat down with Chris, he said “This is really a place you should take your wife”, which I had just been thinking.  A local musician who goes by Ginger Bones shared the stage with us who played an incredible set with a violinist, and basically packed the place.  318 calls itself a “listening room” and that is actually what happens.  There was a dedicated sound guy, who did a great job running the quality sound system, and when we started playing, people started listening.  We have several songs where we solicit crowd participation (singing, stomping, clapping) and last night’s crowd did not disappoint.  The only unfortunate thing was that, before we got to the cafe, I had eaten a bunch of Chinese food and I had become ‘MSG-full’, a trend which continued for the rest of the night, and into the next morning.  I definitely plan on playing at this place again in the future, and next time will come ready to chow down on some excellent food.

Tonight we head to Green Bay, Wisconsin to play at the Lyric Room.

The Story Behind The Song: “The Branch & The Vine”

I was inspired to write this song while visiting a vineyard with friends in northern California. Inside the vineyard, there was a clear plastic tube showing a sample of the kind of soil the vineyard used to grow their grapes, but it looked very dry and rocky. I asked my friend why they don’t use rich, black soil, and he told me it’s because the best tasting grapes grow in rocky, desert like soil, where they have to fight to survive.  And it became a song.

LYRICS:

The branch and the vine
they must fight to be wine
they must fight to survive

the dirt all around looks like
dirt that you found on some
dry desert ground

You teach me my lessons and you’re
keeping me guessing
til you got me confessing

I crack break and pour
my whole self on the floor til I’m
no one
no one but yours

the green growing vine
and the dead poisoned vine
they are tight
intertwined

you could cut you could tear
to the point of despair
you wont get
anywhere

the live and the dead
are so closely bound
they are so
hopelessly wound

and I crack break and pour
my whole self on the floor
and I’m
no one’s
No one’s but yours

I am like a bird that sees himself inside a window
and he flies into that window and the window does not move
(X2)

All my mirrors I will break them, I will break them all for you
cause until I break them all I see is me I can’t see you
(X2