"But music was his life, it was not his livelihood, and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good. And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole." - Harry Chapin - chorus of "Mr. Tanner."

Friday, October 31, 2014

Taking a short break . . . I'll be righttttttttt back!

Greetings to the handful of folks who read this little music and life blog of mine.  I hope you are all having a good day.

I will be taking a short break from blogging for a week or so.  I've got a medical test coming up followed by a little trip with my wife to take a needed break before the holidays come upon us full bore.  

I will be "right back" in a couple of weeks.   I appreciate you all.

God's grace, family, friends and fellow journeyers on the musical trail . . . still amaze me . . . ><>

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Harmonica web site . . .

I found a really good, yet simply designed harmonica website at http://volcano.net/~jackmearl/.

It's called Jack's Harmonica Songbook.

If you are just starting out on harmonica . . . this is the place to start before you start paying for lessons on-line or in-person with an instructor.

God's grace . . . and blues harmonica . . . still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, October 27, 2014

Oldies but goodies . . .

On the 4th Mondays of the month, I sing at the Meadowood Assisted Living Center in Grapevine.  I begin back in the Memory Care section, and sing for about 30 minutes. Then I move up to the front of the building and sing for about 45 minutes to an hour, or up until lunch time.

Today, I wanted to do something different.  So, I sang as many of the old Cowboy and Folk songs that I have on my iPad. 

Now get this, I am singing songs like "Clementine", "Red River Valley," and "Ghost Riders in the Sky" . . . and one of the gentlemen there (who is probably in his 80's) says to me, "my dad used to love those songs."

The man is in his 80's, and he says that his dad loved the old folk songs. 

That puts things into a little perspective for me.  Good music is always good music.

After I sang "Do You Remember Sweet Betsy from Pike," another of the residents asked me what the song was about.  Well, one resource I had checked earlier said that it was about an Irish couple who had come to America to escape the potato famine in Ireland.  There are lots of varying "origin stories" for many of the old folk songs. Which is right or wrong depends on who is telling the story I guess. Some of these songs are old enough now that all we know anymore is how the song is sung today . . . which may be totally different than it was originally sung in days long ago.

Another resident remarked that the old folk songs were often about hard struggles.  Consider "Erie Canal."  Imagine being the mule driver whose mule pulled the longboats and barges through the various sections and locks of the Erie Canal.  If you were lucky enough to have a good mule, you could make a hard, but decent living . . . "every step of the way from Albany to  Buffalo."

"Clementine" shares the danger of mining.  "Red River Valley" shares the story of a loved one who has had enough in a relationship and calls it quits.   Life was hard then . . . and it's hard now.  But consider that many of the old folk songs were about cowboy and pioneer days . . . when work was about all there was to life.

These are all old songs . . . but they are good songs.  And good songs are always good songs.

God's grace . . . and good songs . . . still amaze me . . . ><>

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tyler Jackson on tenor banjo . . .

I went looking today on the internet for Tyler Jackson, our bass player here at the church several years ago.   I wanted to get his advice on who to take my tenor banjo to for some repairs and set-up.

Thanks to YouTube, I found a video of Tyler playing a tenor banjo that his company had for sale.

Enjoy.  Listening to Tyler play banjo is a treat.

God's graces still amazes me . . . ><>


Saturday, October 18, 2014

A full circle return to the banjo . . .



My mom is visiting this week.  Yesterday afternoon, at her request, I took out the Gibson banjo to show her.  Then I got out my old Kasuga 4-string tenor banjo.

And the fun started!  I played and sang with that old banjo for over an hour.

I haven't played that tenor banjo in many years.  At one point back in the 1990's, it was about the only instrument I played.  That was before I got my first good guitar (a Martin D-16gte).  I wanted to improve my guitar playing, so I shelved that banjo for a while.

A long while.  I think I have used it once in the last 10 years, and that was for a children's message during one of our worship services.  People still talk about that day.

Gosh, the strings on that old banjo need changing awful bad.  I went online, and new strings are only about $3.00 a set!!

It could use new tuners and a new head as well.   That will be a little more expensive.

Despite needing strings, it was a blast to play it again, and rip into it good.  I tune my tenor banjo to Chicago style tuning . . . D-G-B-E.  It's the same as playing a baritone uke.  You play guitar  chords except for the low string E and A.  

Super easy for a guitar player.

If I do take time-off from performing after the fist of the year, I think I will be spending some of that time with the banjo.  Best song leading instrument I know of.

Most importantly, I enjoy singing with it.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Thursday, October 16, 2014

More thoughts on when a hero or mentor dies . . .

I shared in an earlier blog about the recent deaths of some of my music heroes,  and the recent death of my long-time music mentor.

I asked the question, "what next?"

Many years are spent by many people as they learn the music craft by watching, listening (and often copying) other singers and musicians.

If you know anything about Gordon Lightfoot, and how he strums the rhythm for most songs, and you hear my main rhythm style, you will probably notice a similarity.  I did not know this until someone pointed it out to me recently. They were right.

In my recent banjo playing, I find that I have been trying to play claw hammer style like Pete Seeger.

When I play native american flute, I find that I listen to N. Carlos Nakai, and try to play like he does.

I don't really have a favorite harmonica player . . . but I do like to listen to folks who play the old folk style harmonica.

It has been said that imitation is the best form of flattery.   I would agree with this.

Now, back to my question . . . when heroes and mentors die, what next?

For me, the "next" part is finally finding and acknowledging myself within all the music I play and sing.   It's finally time to not try and sound like John Denver, or Pete Seeger, Jim Newton or Joe Laughlin.

It's time to play like Rick Mang plays.  It's time to sing like Rick Mang sings.  It's time to make the music for what is in my heart, and not to sound like someone else.

In truth, this means that I may have to stop performing for a period of time after I fulfill my commitments through the end of the year.  It will mean playing at home, or with close friends, and in the process thanking and letting go of heroes and mentors who are gone, and stepping out as a teacher myself.

It''s time to figure out what it sounds like to hear me play on the guitar or another instrument.  It's time to figure out what it sounds like when I sing.

This may seem or sound scary to some people.  I'm actually looking forward to taking a break of sorts, and doing some iPad recording, and doing some actual song writing instead of singing other peoples songs.

Yes, I am looking forward to this.  And I'm going to let it take as long as it needs to take.  This is a process, or journey, that I need to travel all the way from point A to point B.

My heroes and mentors are gone . . . now it's time to make MY music.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, October 13, 2014

What a way to start the week . . .

I don't know about you, but the end of the week, for me, is Sunday. 

My entire work week is focused on getting ready for Sunday worship and Sunday meetings and classes.

Sunday is the "end" of a week of effort and planning.  Sunday is culmination of six or more days of focus.

Therefore . . . Monday, out of necessity,  has been the first day of my week for very, very long time.

As I have written before, on most Monday mornings, I have the opportunity to sing at different retirement and assisted living residences in my immediate area. 
And, I also now sing on the third Wednesday mornings of the month as well.

Singing is a great way to start the week.  It's the best way for me personally.  Singing on Monday helps me shake off the fatigue from the previous days work at the church.  Singing on Monday also helps me focus on what lies ahead in the upcoming week.  I guess one could say that singing on Mondays is my time for a mental, physical and spiritual workout.  It takes an effort.  It takes practice and rehearsal.  I leave feeling a little tired . . . but it's a "good" tired.  I get a return of energy for all the energy I put into it.

How do you start off you week?  I start my week off by singing!

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Sunday, October 12, 2014

17 years ago today . . .

Seventeen years ago today, John Denver died in a plane crash in Monterrey Bay in California.  I was in my home in Waco, Texas when I heard the news.  A sad day for me and for many who grew up in the 1970's singing Country Roads, Sunshine, and Rocky Mountain High.

I am old enough to believe that there very few guarantees in life.  In the grand scheme of things, despite the advice of others, we aren't really in control of much in life.

I believe that everyday is to be appropriately received and celebrated as a gift from God. What we can control in lives are our reactions and our responses to what we experience and all that happens to us.  Come to think of it . . . a lot of great songs were written with this in mind.

Pslam 100 asks us to make a joyful noise wherever we are, and especially when we come before the Lord in worship.  Our lives should be a song.  Why?  Well, I believe that there is music in all of us. 

Sing the music inside of you now!  Sing the music inside of you today! 

The Music is You by John Denver

Music makes pictures and often tells stories
All of it magic and all of it true
And all of the pictures and all of the stories
All of the magic, the music is you


God's grace and music still amazes me . . . ><>

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

When hero's and mentor's die . . . what next?

This has been one of those years.  If I was any kind of songwriter, I would have written a lot of songs this year.  It's been a year of personal growth.  It has also been a year of personal loss.

My very first music hero, Pete Seeger, passed away in January.  I first became a fan of his music back in my teenage years, when folk music was all that we pretty much sang in our youth group down in McAllen at the St. Mark United Methodist Church.  We sang the same songs at district church camp in Weslaco, or at Mount Wesley, our annual conference church camp in Kerrville.  How I remember those grand music circles composed of guitar, banjo and harmonica players, with everyone singing. And this was back in the days when we did not have good mics or sound systems.  Sometimes we gathered together in assembly or fellowship halls.  Sometimes we would gather and sing around a campfire at church camp or at the beach.  Often we sang in people's living rooms.  We sang outside in area parks.  We sang way more than we watched television.  We only had 2 English channels back then! 

I've pretty much been a folkie at heart every since.  Later as I learned more about Pete's life, I discovered that I disagreed with some of his political stances in the past.  But despite that, I grew up singing his songs that he helped write or arrange in new ways: If I Had A Hammer; Turn, Turn, Turn; We Shall Overcome; You Got to Walk That Lonesone Valley,;Kisses Sweeter Than Wine; Waste Deep in the Big Muddie;  and his famous rendition of Guantanamera, a song he sang in over 100+ countries.

They were all such good songs, at least to me and to those I sang with.

Pete's legacy, in my humble opinion, was that he could get people to sing together.  That's why I admired him so much.  For years he toured with Arlo Guthrie's band, and when Pete came up to sing, it was always a song that everyone could join in on.  You had to join in, because Pete would tell you the words!  He was a folk singer, singing the songs of the people. 

Musically, Pete was a great influence on my singing and playing. I have a passion for helping people sing together.  Always have. Always will.

Another dear music hero died in September.  Joe Laughlin was my adopted big brother, guitar and vocal teacher and best friend.  But, Joe was much more than a music hero.  He was my guitar and vocal mentor.  I've shared already in several blogs how much he meant to me.  I put the guitar down once, to never play again.  He made me pick it back up.

I admire a lot of other singers and musicians.  Very much so.  I get to sing and play with several excellent singers and musicians here in the DFW area on occasion every now and then.  They are all good friends.  But none of them are a music hero or mentor in the way that Pete and Joe were.

So, what do you do when your music hero and music mentor both die so close together?  

What do you do when the grief grabs at you suddenly and unexpectedly.  

What do you do when playing the guitar and singing reminds you even more of your loss?

First . . . I have to have faith.  My experience is that faith is one of the things in life that helps heal grief.  My gut and heart tell me to keep the faith.

And second, even in grief, I have to keep on singing and playing.  If I don't, I risk denying who I am and what I am called to do in my life.

One of the old songs Pete Seeger used to sing was "How Can I Keep From Singing."  It was written by Robert Lowry and Ira Stankey in 1860.  The words below are Pete's arrangement.   They ring very true at this moment of my life and I handle my grief and loss through faith and continuing to sing.

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth's lamentation.
I hear the real, though far off hymn
That hails the new creation
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

What though the tempest round me roars
I know the truth it liveth
What though the darkness round me close
Songs in the night it giveth
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of Heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

God's grace, and singing . . . still amazes me . . . ><>

Monday, October 6, 2014

Banjo picture



I wanted to post a picture of the Gibson long-neck banjo that I received from Riva Laughlin after Joe passed away.  It will be played!

God's Grace still amazes me ... even when I am missing a friend ... ><>

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A rediscovery . . . of David Holt

In the past few years, I have focused a lot of reading and research about Pete Seeger.  I have to be honest and share that doing so took my attention away from others who make a living in the folk music world.

One of them is musician, historian, folklorist and TV host . . . David Holt.

More about David can be found here, or by going to http://www.davidholt.com.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A great chord finder website . . .

Check out Kirk Lorange's chord finder page by clicking here or go to http://www.guitarforbeginners.com/chordfinder.html

This is a great chord finder page for anyone wanting to understand multiple positions of the basic guitar chords on the guitar fretboard.  Kirk also explains the C-A-G-E-D system of guitar playing better than anyone else I have found.

Maybe I'm not a beginner guitar playing; however, this is a web site that I am visiting frequently.

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

I had to post this video . . . WOW!

Music is meant to be fun.  Serious fun. 

If you disagree . . . fine.  We will just agree to disagree.

Here is a great video of Tommy Emmanuel and Igor Presnyakov having fun.  Two world class level guitarists . . . just jamming to a good time.

Having fun singing and playing music . . . and God grace, still amazes me . . . ><>



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

As guitars will travel . . .

Several months ago, I made the decision to part with my Taylor GS Mini guitar.  I hadn't used it in well over a year, and had not been drawn in any way to play it.  I'd about forgotten that I had it.  

I initially had obtained it to use when singing for children.  However, the children seemed to be drawn more to my 12-string.   As a result, the Mini had been in the back of the closet in my music room at home. 

I was digging through that same closet several months ago, and came across the Mini and another guitar that I had not played in an even longer amount of time. I made a few phone calls, and ended up trading both of them in for a Martin D-18 Retro model guitar.  A very good decision on my part, and I believe I got the better deal at the end-of-the-day according to my math and research.  Now I have one less guitar, and I have a good backup for my Martin J-40.  These are the only two guitars I have in my church office. 

So, it's safe to say that the GS Mini has been pretty much out of my mind for quite a while. 

"Out of sight and out of mind!"  That's how it usually is with me.  Probably for most other people who have too many "things."

Then "lo and behold," I get an email from James Tang, a new pastor in Birmingham, England.  He and his wife have recently entered into full-time ministry there.  He emailed me to let me know that he had purchased a GS Mini on eBay.  Apparently, my business card was in the guitar case.  James was kind enough to let me know that he now owned the GS Mini that I had traded in, and that it would be used in his ministry.

Wow!  What a way to start the day!  

And, yes Walt Disney, it is a small world after all!

Imagine a guitar used by one pastor for a certain season of his life is now being used by another pastor who pretty much lives on the other side of the world! 

Pastor James and I have pledged to keep in touch, and we are praying for each others families and ministries.  I hope he will send me a picture or two to post.  I have shared this story today with his permission.

God is good!

And, God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I didn't plan on it, but the banjo is back in my life . . .

This story reminds me that I really do not have much control over my life as I think or want to believe that I do.

Maybe it's that way it is for a lot of us.

For those of you who have been reading my blog, you know that my dearest friend, adoptive brother and guitar/vocal teacher, Joe Laughlin, recently passed away.

On our way home from the funeral, his wife Riva (who is our very dear friend, and always will be)  asked us to come back by the house before we hit the road.  While there, she presented me with Joe's 1963 (as best I can tell through looking up the serial number) Gibson RB-175 long necked 5-string folk banjo.

For those scratching their heads and saying "long necked banjo?" . . . just look up a picture of Pete Seeger on the internet.   He is probably holding a Vega long necked banjo.  He invented the concept,  made this type of banjo famous as his main instrument for many years.

I have an old Kasuga 4-string tenor banjo in the closet.   I have it tuned to Chicago style tuning, meaning it is tuned to the bottom 4-strings of a guitar . . . D-G-B-E.   Easy to play for a guitar guy.  I could womp out chords on it pretty good, and it was loud!

I played it a lot in the later 1990's when I served as the Senior Associate Pastor at First United Methodist in Waco.  I used it most every Sunday morning during the children's worship time in the old chapel.  The late Winnie Lawson on piano, and me on banjo.  Too bad there wasn't a Shakey's Pizza Parlor in Waco at the time.  We could have made some money on tips!

When my family and moved to the church in Godley, I stopped playing the tenor banjo for some reason.  Upon pondering it some today, I can't seem to remember why.  But then, I didn't do much music at all during that period as I began to experience some ill health.

Speaking of banjo, back in the early 1990's, my previous efforts at 5-string banjo were all a complete failure.  Of course, my efforts were half-hearted at best.  But that was way, way, way before diving full blast back into folk music several years ago, in in the process, rediscovering how influential and important the banjo is to folk music.  As you listen to Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio, the Lamplighters, the Chad Mitchell Trio and others, you know that the banjo played a big part.

I know that I will never be a good bluegrass style banjo picker, because I won't work on it that much . . . but I think I can get into "frailing."

Seriously, it's called "frailing."  Look it up.  It is a recognized banjo strumming method, especially for the long neck banjos, because they are often tuned to an open E chord, where the traditional bluegrass banjo is normally tuned to an open G chord.

This time's it's going to be fun.  And, I will be learning on the banjo that Joe used to play.

In the end . . . I concede that Joe had a keener sense than I did about where music was leading me down the road.  But then, he usually did.

Thank you Joe!  I miss you.  Thank you Riva!   From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

And thank you to God . . . because Your grace on my journey of life still amazes me . . . ><>