Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's "Music" Resolutions . . .

I thought up a few music related New Year's Resolutions . . .  in other words, I had some time to waste.

But then, I got to thinking . . . singing and playing instruments is probably what has kept me sane all these years . . . and at least delayed the onset of whatever form of dementia lies in wait for me down the road.  There is research that supports the claim that singing improves cognitive and neural function.

No really . . . I am in a good mood today.  But . . . I stray from the subject at hand.

New Year's Music Resolution #1:   Stop buying guitars.

I wonder if I have it in me to keep from buying or trading for another guitar this year.  If I had the money, I would bet against myself.  I love visiting area music stores . . . especially Murphy's Music in Irving, TX. 

The truth might be that I actually née to sell or give away a few of my guitars.  I don't play all the ones that I have.  We will see where this goes in 2015.

New Year's Music Resolution #2:    Play more harmonica.

Both of my dear sweet daughters gave their Dad a Hohner Golden Melody Harmonica for Christmas, a Key of G and a Key of D.   I now have a Golden Melody in the keys of G, C, D, and E.  Later this year I will pick up another in the Key of A . . . and then I will be done for a while.  

My primary harmonica goal is to learn to bend some of the notes.   I would bet on my keeping this resolution. The one thing I haven't tried yet is using a harmonica holder and playing harmonica while playing guitar at the same time.  Let's add this to my resolution list as well.

New Year's Music Resolution #3:    Learn Claw Hammer Banjo.

If ever there was a BHAG (big audacious hairy goal) that I would set for myself, then it would be to learn to play Claw Hammer banjo on the long-neck banjo that Riva Laughlin gave me after Joe died.  The technique when explained is very simple . . . but something in the connection between my eyes, brain and right hand is a bit discombobulated. 

If ever there was a time I missed Joe Laughlin's help . . . it would be now as I try to develop this technique to where I could play Claw Hammer style in public.   Odds of keeping this resolution . . . 50/50.  But it won't be because I didn't try.

New Year's Music Resolution #4:    Accept as many gig invites as I can.

Keeping this resolution is based only on my becoming more disciplined with how I manage my daily/weekly schedule.  I have 5 older adult singing gigs each month.  I should have another regular monthly gig in the books sometime in January.  I don't see having 6 gigs-a-month as being any problem . . . but then, how about having 8 a month . . . or 10?   1st Church String Band gigs are part of this resolution as well.

In all honesty, I had a blast this month of December in 2014, singing more during the month than I ever have before.  Enough said.  I am going to sing more!  Put money on it. It's a sure thing.

What are your New Year's Music Resolutions for this year?  Let me know, won't you?

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Merry Christmas . . . and a late update . . .

A belated Merry Christmas to all . . . and early Happy New Years greetings.

December was indeed an exciting month to both experience and remember.

During December of each year, I usually sing a Christmas Carol show for 4-5 area retirement / nursing homes and community groups.   This year I received 8 invitations to sing.   So I recruited the help of our 1st Church String Band members.   As a result, this was the first December in the past 10 years that I did not have sing a single Christmas show by myself.

That's good, especially since we used a PA system for half the performances, and help is always needed to carry equipment in and out!

In all, we sang to 510 people.  This number included older adult residents, family members, location staff, and volunteers.

We know we were well received, because we were invited to return whenever we could schedule to do  so.

Hopefully, a prayer of mine was answered in the process.  Our little String Band is a decent instrumental group.  Vocally, we are very good.   My prayer has been that we could begin singing more regularly in public, especially to raise money for some of our mission projects at the church.

It seems we may be headed that direction once again.

Everybody please keep singing!

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Have guitar . . . will travel . . .

In just a few minutes, I will be driving a few miles south to 1st UMC in Colleyville. I have been invited to play guitar accompaniment for the preschool Christmas program there later this morning.

What a joy!   Each of the grade level classes will be singing a simple Christmas song or two. No doubt the sanctuary will be full of parents and grandparents.  It will be a special time.

This is a season for singing.  I cannot imagine anything to do with the season of Advent and Christmas that does not include music.

Have guitar . . . will travel . . . off we go!

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

It a "good" tired I'm feeling right now.

The 1st Church String Band had our first "full hook-up" show in over a year this past Saturday.  We haven't used amps and a PA system since a house concert in the early fall last year.   We provided music for the Seekers Class dessert party / gathering at the church.  From left to right is John Johnson on guitar and vocals, then yours truly on guitar and vocals, Mary McAdoo on vocals, Charlie Weems on electric guitar and vocals, Papa Russ Logan on mandolin and vocals, Gary Ingram on bass guitar and vocals, Ned Conner on guitar and vocals, and Stu Spencer on guitar and 5-string banjo.

My usual "system" is geared around playing solo or as a duet with my sometimes music partner, Larry Dykstra.  Rigging everything up for a band with 6 vocal mics, and running all the acoustic instruments through mixer boards is a chore.  However, the more you do it, the better and quicker you become at hooking it all up, and the better your ear gets when its time to balance the sound output.

In other words, so far so good!

It seems to me that people are more appreciative of Christmas music this year than in the past.  I mentioned in an earlier post that we usually get around 4 or 5 invites to sing during December.  This year we received 9 invitations, a couple of them last minute in nature, but 9 none-the-less.

As a result of singing more, we are getting much better at singing the songs in the arrangements that we have come up with.  Our banter back and forth between songs is getting more crisp, and our timing is pretty good.  I guess that all comes from playing together as a band more.   December is usually our busiest month, as we only sing "publically" a couple of times during the year.

Maybe that will change this next year.  We are all enjoying ourselves and each other. We are enjoying entertaining our audiences.  We are enjoying making music.

My Christmas and News Year wish is that we can keep it up.  But that all depends on everyone's schedules.  We don't play for money.  If we get fed, it's considered a paying gig. 

But . . . I'm hoping that we all will make a more determined effort to play more as a band in the coming year.

God's grace, and friends to make music with, still amazes me . . .  ><>

Friday, December 5, 2014

Just tired . . . but still singing . . .

I wrote previously that December was going to be busy.

I tell no lies!  Goodness mercy me!

December is a very busy month at the church.  It's the season of Advent, and there are a lot of special activities as we get together as a faith community for Christmas Eve services and for Christmas Day.

Now add to that more Christmas music shows than I have ever participated in before.  I usually do 4 shows in December, either solo or with members of the our 1st Church String Band.

This  year . . . 9 shows!!   It seems that people want to hear Christmas music this year.

We have a big show tomorrow night for one of our larger Sunday School classes, and then we sing on Monday morning, and Friday morning.   Thank goodness most of these shows do not require hauling around my PA system and mixer boards.  The show tomorrow night is an "all-hands-on-deck" show with full electronics.

I am going to try and spend some time deeply thinking about why Christmas music, at least to me, seems to be in demand this year, more so than in past years.  Perhaps it's simply a matter of calendaring.

Or, is it something else.  We will see.

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

December will be busy!

I will be posting my December singing and preaching dates here soon.  I appreciate prayers as this will be a very busy time of the year.

I have routinely sung a Christmas program for as many as 5 retirement / assisted living centers each December, plus for a couple of community or church groups.  Some of the great folk who participate in our 1st Church String Band ministry will be helping me out when they can.  Everyone will be blessed as a result.

I ended up taking the month of November off due to a sore back issue that needed several chiropractic visits before it was remedied.  I did get to sing at our Family Advent Wreath event here at the church.  That was a blast.

We especially have reason to sing in December!   Sing out!

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

What's the best guitar to own and play?

I get asked this question more than one would think.

What's the best guitar to own and play?

My answer is . . . "how would I know?"

Just kidding . . . that's not my usual answer.

My usual answer is really a lot longer than that . . .

So . . . from my perspective and belief . . . the best guitar to own and play is . . .

1)  is the one that feels great when YOU hold it;

2)  is the one that sounds great when YOU play it;

3)  is the one that YOU can't put down, and if YOU do put it down, it grieves YOU to do so;

4)  is the one that YOU miss when YOU are not playing it;

5)  is the one that YOU know tunes up great and stays in tune;

6)  is the one that is set up the best for YOUR style of playing, and it doesn't leave YOU tired or with cramped hands after YOU finish playing it and put it back into the case.

7)  is the guitar that YOU, and YOU alone, think is the right guitar for YOU.

Unfortunately . . . many people disagree with me . . . and claim that certain brands are better than others.  Every person has a right to there opinion. In fact, I used to be one of those people . . . but not anymore.

I've never hid the fact that I like (love) Martin Guitars.  Always have and always will.  They have that acoustic tone that my ear loves to hear.  A tone that I identify with.

Taylor Guitars and Guild Guitars . . . are my other favorites, in that respective order at this time. 

And, I reserve the right to change my mind.

But . . . let me say . . . that brand, as well as the style and shape of a guitar does not matter.  The best guitar to own and play (for the reasons above) might be a Takamine, Washburn, Larivee, Gibson, Epiphone, or some other brand. 

In the end, it's the guitar that YOU like . . . not the guitar that someone else approves for YOU.  No one has that right to that decision except YOU.

It was suggested to me over the years, by several people I admire and whose opinions I respect, that I should be playing jumbo's because of how big I am physically (6'6").

So, I aquired jumbo's . . . 4 in fact.  A Martin J-40, a Taylor GS custom (one-of-a-kind), a Guild F-512 (12 string) and a Guild F-50.

The truth is . . . my favorite guitar to play right now . . . is my Martin D-18 dreadnaught.   But that is mostly because I've had a very sore right shoulder the past 3 months.  My D-18 is lighter than my J-40.   Once my shoulder is better, maybe the J-40 will be the "one".   Who knows.  In the end, all that matters is what I think, believe, feel and hear!

The best guitar to own and play . . . is YOUR decision, based on what you need to base the decision in the first place.   Finding YOUR guitar is a special journey.  In some way we all connect to particular musical instruments.  It's just natural to do so. 

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

More harmonica tab resources . . .

Home with a sore lower back today . . . and probably tomorrow.

What to do?  Research more free harmonica tab sites.

And I found one called HarpTabs at

This site supposedly has free access to over 10,000 songs in many genres.  Not bad.

Check it out for yourself . . .

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

My 3 best reasons for visiting Arkansas . . .

My three best reasons for visiting Arkansas, especially the Eureka Springs area (not counting the beautiful fall foliage) that have nothing to do with or about music.

1)  The iced tea (OMG! What are the putting in the water??)

2)  The Ham ("sooooeeyy pig" is right!)

3)  Any kind of pancakes (the beauties in the picture are the blueberry pancakes from Myrtie Mae's Restaurant.

Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!

God's grace . . . and favorite places . . . still amazes me . . . ><>

I'm back!!!

Howdy all!

We are back from a week in Arkansas to see the season change and to see the beautiful colorful leaves of the Ozark Mountains.

We were not disappointed.  The leaves were very beautiful in and around Eureka Springs.

And, I got a little harmonica playing in!!!

This week and next week are busy singing weeks.  I will report more about music and life very soon.

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

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

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

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

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 . . . ><>

Monday, September 8, 2014

Some thoughts about a friend and brother named Joe Laughlin . . .

"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."

I think the words above from the song, Mr. Tanner, describe very well my dearest friend and "older brother," Joe Laughlin.

Perhaps it's appropriate to begin by getting the "older brother" explanation cleared up.  

In the fall of 1975, I was an entering freshman at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX.   The fall of '75 and spring of '76 was the single best year of my life. Here's why . . .

-I met and fell in love with the woman who would become my wife and life partner, Liz.

-I met her friend from Killeen, TX, Riva Padgett, who has been a friend and family for 39 years.

-And . . . I got "adopted" by one of the seniors at Southwestern, a guy named Joe Laughlin, who was Riva's fiancée.

There was sort of an unwritten "tradition" at Southwestern University in those days, that each senior would adopt one of the incoming freshmen.  Joe said it was for the purpose of "corrupting" them.   That may have been his intention . . . until he found out that I had a 12-string guitar.

I was actually "playing at" guitar more in those days than playing it.  I was more into singing.  So my guitar was more of a prop than a musical instrument.  Back then, girls seem to like guys with guitars!  I liked girls. You do the math.

Joe decided he knew best, a common occurrence which some of us are very familiar with, and he took me under his wing in order to address my "playing at" guitar.  He would call me on the phone, or catch me in the Student Union Building, or knock on my door and order my "skinny butt" to his room with guitar in hand . . . where we would play and sing.  He was into Andres Segovia and Gordon Lightfoot.  I didn't have a clue who Segovia was back then . . . but I knew about Gordon Lightfoot, and I could sing most John Denver's songs.

We got along marvelously.  

We would often meet to sing and play not only Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver songs, but also Waylon and Wille songs, Peter, Paul and Mary songs, Homer and Jethro songs,  old folk songs and gospel songs.  There were times when you would mention Willie Nelson's name, and Joe would close his eyes and hold his hand in the air like he was having a religious experience.  We played a lot together that fall semester.  We both missed a few classes as well. We would get so focused on playing a song that we would both forget what time it was.

One day he stopped calling me "skinny butt" and started calling me "Dr. Mang."  I didn't know why. Perhaps it was his way of helping me not take things so seriously.

Several times he would yell at me from across the campus . . . "Dr. Mang, are we having class today?"  By yelling this, he was really asking if we were going to get together to play guitar.  I'd yell back, "yes we are and I expect you to be there!"  Several time, other students around me would look at me and ask, "Dr. Mang?"   I got ribbed pretty good for that.

Maybe Joe was trying to corrupt me after all?  Or maybe it was his way of letting me know that it was his little term of endearment for a friend.  Dr. Zook, Dr. Langley, Dr. Ratchford and others can testify more about this.

I've only been thrown out of one business in my life, and that was with Joe.  He and I went to the old Pancho's Mexican Buffet in north Austin, in the spring of 1976, back when the all-you-can-eat was only $1.99.  After two hours, and our both setting several new personal best records for the number of enchiladas and tacos consumed in an hour (then beating those records the next hour) . . . the manager asked us to leave.

Actually, he begged us to leave.  Neither of us could blame the guy . . . He was probably loosing money.

So, back to the University we drove, and upon arrival we got into an argument about what we would do next.  We ended up deciding to go eat dinner!    

I think that may have been the time when Joe stopped calling me "skinny butt."

Joe majored in Biology and Chemistry.  Academically, Joe was very smart.  He had a ton of book sense.  How much common sense he had will be debated among family and friends for some time to come.  But no one can deny that he was very knowledgable on many varied subjects, and could hold his own in most conversations and discussions, and convincingly so.

Joe's last semester at school in the spring of 76' was spent student teaching in Hubbard, Texas. That summer he married Riva in a very beautiful service in Killeen.   They scheduled there summer travels so they could come by and see me in Bastrop where I was serving as a summer youth director.  Joe and I, with Riva's help, provided a small July 4th concert at Bastrop State Park for a church picnic.  We had a lot of folks singing with us.  Joe even took some requests.  It was a fun day.

Joe starting teaching school that fall.   Back then, first year teacher starting salaries were low, and he got recruited away from teaching to become a quality control chemist for NL Industries, where the pay was better.  It was a job that almost killed him.  The day of the lab accident still resonates in some of our memories.  Something in a container in the lab was mis-labeled, and caused a dangerous reaction when mixed with something from another container.  After making sure the other lab chemist was out of the lab, Joe made it out the door before being overcome. He was in a real mess, and fearing throat and lung damage, he was transported to the hospital.  He was there for a long time.  I personally think that his being exposed to the chemical reaction was the cause of his cancer what later in his life.

The lab accident at NL became a wake up call for Joe, and with Riva's support and encouragement, he returned to teaching . . . which he always felt was God's calling on his life.  I don't believe he ever loved teaching like some people claim to love their jobs.  He never liked the politics, or people who had never taught in a classroom telling him how to teach, or when students would give up without ever trying to learn.   

But he would tell you . . . he was called by God to be a teacher.  He believed that teaching was a noble and honorable profession.  He went to teach everyday that he could. He never called off unless he was truly to ill to stand or drive.  He was the kind of teacher who could always be counted on to show up.

Teaching was his call, but what Joe honestly loved most in life . . . was music, especially fingerstyle guitar.  He joked that he loved guitars first, and Riva, second.  Riva even included that comment into Joe's obituary.  I don't think she ever really had a problem with it.  Joe took good care of all their musical instruments.  And, in the very end, he did his part to take care of Riva, so that after his death, she would have few worries.

Joe loved his guitars and music.   But Riva . . . Riva was his "beloved."

Joe's love for playing guitars began when he was 5 years old. He played his older brother Mike's "Roy Rogers Guitar", while hiding in the closet.  He had to hide otherwise Mike would have clobbered him good for messing with his stuff.  Joe later got his Gibson ES-335 sunburst pre-dot electric guitar when he was 12 years old.  He mowed a lot of lawns at $5 or less for a long time to get the money to buy it.  I like to believe that the music store owner must have known Joe wanted it, and as a result the guitar was put it back a couple of times to keep it from being sold.  It was a grand day in Joe's life when he brought it home.  He had that guitar for almost 45 years.  Many years ago, I nicknamed that guitar "Butter," because it was butter in Joe's hands when he played it.

In terms of musical skill . . . Joe could play classical guitar as well as Segovia.  He could fingerpick guitar as well as Chet Atkins.  And, he could sing well as he played. He was more than competent. He was good.  Very good.  Real good.  I'm willing to say he was damn good when he was in his 40's. If he hadn't been so shy in crowds and around people he didn't know; and later, if he hadn't lost some of the feeling in his hands and fingers due to the side effects of his cancer treatments, he could have been a noted and in-demand session player.   He could have travelled, an he would have made good money.

But . . . if that had happened, it would have meant that he couldn't teach.  Teaching was his call, and his profession.  A profession he put his best effort into.  He taught for 20 years at Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown, TX, and then found time to play guitar at church, with family and friends, and at local and regional music gatherings and festivals.  He only retired from teaching school because of his health.  Unfortunately, he never got to enjoy his retirement because of his health.  He did fuss about that . . . (and who wouldn't) but he didn't fuss as much as he could have.  

In my opinion, I think music,and the hope of playing the guitar again like he used to play, helped keep him alive an extra 5 years.  

Yes, music was his life, but not his livelihood.  Music made him happy, and it made him feel good.  His love for music, and his love for Riva and Riva's love for him, made him whole, especially at a time when when he badly longed to feel whole and well.

Riva allowed me the honor of straightening up Joe's music room the day after he died.  Riva, her mom, her sister, Liz and I were gathered at the house, and we were all so very physically and emotionally tired . . . but Joe had left me instructions several years before that, upon the event of his death, I was to check out and wipe down all of his and Riva's instruments and put them into their cases, and see that they were stored properly.

After putting up all the instruments, I sat down on the piano bench and looked at how much space there was in the room . . . a room that I can only explain as being "sacred ground" to me.  That space was the music home of my dearest friend, my guitar and voice teacher . . . my big brothers space.

That's when I lost it . . . I cried tears for my brother and best friend.  Seeing the space in the room helped me realize how much of the space in my life Joe had occupied . . . that I let him occupy . . . that I wanted him to occupy . . . that I needed him to occupy.  It was at that moment that I began to I realize the size of my loss.   It hurt.  Still does . . . for Riva, and for many others.

Joe, in reality, was a pretty simple and decent guy.  He led a pretty simple life compared to others. He was a man of faith, he believed in friendship, and he was a guitar picker.  He wasn't famous in the world's eyes, and probably never will be.  However, he was a huge presence in my life, and I realize now in his passing how much I did appreciate and love him . . even during those times when I could have killed him because he could make me so mad. Riva reminded me, after I shared with her one time that Joe had made me furious, "well Ricky, Joe is really good at being Joe."  Truth is, he got mad a me a time or two, and he had every right to.  In the end, things would work out.  When we saw each other again, we would play guitar and sing, and then apologize to each other.  That's all part of being family, isn't it?  This was a friendship that meant so very much more than our differences, for as we got older, there were some differences indeed.  But the friendship was always bigger, and always what was most important. We were brothers and friends to the "e-n-d."  Joe got to the end first.  Liz and I will always cherish that Riva allowed us to be there with him, and with her, when Joe came to his end.

Since Joe's death, I have begun to wonder . . . if he and I were better together as friends than we would have been if we had grown apart.  This is something that  I will have to figure out later on in life. But I think I already know what the answer will be.

For 39 years, Joe was my big brother, my best friend, my guitar teacher, and my one-and-only true  "guy" confidante.  I am grateful for his presence in my life.  I thank God for him.  Joe was a blessing to me.  I will find it very hard to ever even begin to forget him.

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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Joe Laughlin . . . I will miss him . . .

Just a quick note that Joe Laughlin, for 39 years my dearest friend in the entire world, my adopted older brother (or did he adopt me?), my guitar teacher . . . and a master guitarist in his own right, passed away in Houston in the early morning hours of Friday, September 5th.  My wife and I had the honor of being with Joe's wife Riva (our dear friend and sister for 39 years) and other family when Joe took his last breath.

I will be writing more on this in the coming days . . .

God's grace still amazes me . . . even with this broken heart  . . . ><>


Wilbern Joseph Laughlin, Jr. (guitar fingerpicker, author, philosopher, chemist, raconteur, husband of Riva and daddy to dog-son Buddy) passed away on September 5, 2014 in Houston, Texas after a long illness. He was born on January 18, 1953 in Galena Park, Texas to Wilbern Joseph "Boots" Laughlin and Mary Harbuck "Jane" Laughlin.
Joe graduated from Galena Park High School in 1971. He attended the University of Houston and then transferred to Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX. He graduated with a double major in Biology and Chemistry in 1976. He married Riva Denise Padgett on June 12, 1976.
Joe worked in the labs with NL Industries for 10 years and then followed his heart to his true calling - teaching. He taught Advanced Placement Chemistry at Robert E. Lee High School for almost 20 years, retiring in 2005.
Joe had two great loves in his life - his guitars and his wife, in that order. His musical loves spanned the genres. He sang with the Houston Symphony Orchestra Chorale for 10 years, sang in church choirs, belonged to the North Harris County Dulcimer Society and the Bay Area Bluegrass Association, and played his guitar at any and all opportunities.
Joe was preceeded in death by his parents and his older brother, Col. Michael D. Laughlin. He is survived by his wife, Riva, his nephew Mike B. Laughlin, and his niece Amy Laughlin.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Hugworks, a program that provides therapeutic music to children and senior adults. You can make a donation online at, or can mail a donation to Hugworks, 752 Mary Dr., Hurst, TX 76053.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Prayers for my friend and brother ... Joe.

I've heard that phrase a lot in my life, and in my years of ministry . . . "a dear friend is gravely ill."

Then I get the call early this morning that my dear friend/adopted older brother was taken to the ER at an area Houston hospital where he had a heart attack.  It was discovered his blood sugar was dangerously low, and if he should survive, the doctors fear that he could be mentally impaired.

"A dear friend is gravely ill."

I've been using the "Jesus Calling" daily devotionals again.   One of the scriptures listed for today is Psalm 32:7 - "You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance."

I will be soon heading down to Houston to be with my friend and his family.  I may be going down their soon to officiate or attend his funeral.  The situation is serious . . . and in the end, who knows?

In the going and in the coming, in the ups and downs of dealing with personal emotions while caring for others . . . my prayer is that God will be my hiding place.  I pray that God will protect me from all the distractions that can, and will try to get in the way of my being there for a friend.  I pray that God will indeed surround me with songs of deliverance. For you see . . . this special friend taught me how to play the guitar.   Playing the guitar is one of the most important things in my life.   Making music is always a God-thing with me.  My dear friend helped teach me that.  For those of you who know me more personally . . . yes, I am talking about Joe.

And now . . . I go to thank him with the gift of my presence.   May God be our hiding place one and all, through it all.

Through it all.  Through it all, I've learned to trust in Jesus. I've learned to trust in God.

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ok, what are the odds . . .

I recently went to visit a church member who was rehabbing at a nearby rehab center.

When I came back out, I realized that I had parked between two red pick up trucks.

What the odds?

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Singing at a bedside . . .

I was invited to the home of one of our senior saints today . . . a woman near the end of her life.  Her health is declining . . . and I could see and sense that when I saw her . . . I had not seen her in several months.   

She lives with her daughter, who called me yesterday and asked if I could come over and "sing for Mom."  We scheduled it for this afternoon, and I was able to make it without anyone else requesting my time.

I admit that I still find it difficult to sing to children when they are in a hospital bed.  They can sense if you are faking it . . . if you are not genuine or sincere.   Yet, I have no such trouble singing to an older adult in the same situation.  I know why.  I've been around older adults in my life.  I was taught by my family to appreciate them . . . to respect them . . . to be courteous to them . . . and to love them for their advice, counsel and stories.   Older adults have enriched my life. 

Many of the churches I have pastored . . . had more older adults than any other age group.  I guess I am used to older adults in many ways.

This afternoon,  I sat on a bed across from this dear lady, and with her daughter and a cousin sitting nearby. I began with some old hymns about Heaven, followed by some funny songs meant to bring laughter, and then sang some energetic songs that just invite people to join in during the chorus. 

I call it my "Branson" show.  If you've been to a music act in Branson, Missouri, you understand.

I truly believe the music I provided today was very therapeutic to everyone there.  And, it was to me as well. 

I'm a pastor . . . a clergyman . . . an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.  I can't begin to remember all the "death" beds I've sat next to over the years.  And I can't remember all the times I've sat next to someone lying in their bed before it became a "death" bed journey.  You just ask questions and listen . . . and listen . . . and listen.

Singing to someone in a similar situation . . . you still listen.  You listen to them sing with you.  You listen to their body language as the song is being sung. 

You also watch . . . the smiles on their faces . . . the gleem in their eye that wasn't there earlier.

Such situations are therapeutic . . . because for the 45 minutes or so I play guitar and sing, they get to forget  . . .  forget that their time here is growing shorter . . . or even coming to a close.  They forget their pain . . . maybe their fear.  They get to a laugh . . . hopefully applaud . . . and make requests for songs they want to hear. 

I was singing once next to someone on their "death bed".   As family gathered around singing and crying soft tears . . . this dear soul took their last breath as I sang the word's "This little light of mine, oh how I have let it shine!"

It was a holy moment.    This afternoon was a holy moment as well.

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

Maybe there is still some glimmer of hope . . . but then again . . .

I received word to check out a 13 year old kid on YouTube . . . by the name of Parker Hastings.

Glad I did.  This gives me hope that my fingerpicking practicing will one day pay off . . . before I die!!

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

A link to a video of a recent sermon . . .

Click on the link below for a video of my recent sermon at the Downtown Campus on grace.

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

It doesn't even look like he is trying . . .

One of my gifts to myself about every other day is to watch a Tommy Emmanuel YouTube video.  Here is one I've apparently missed.  It's a good one.

Mercy, mercy, mercy!

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sacred Places & Sacred Spaces sermon . . .

Below is the YouTube video of my sermon "Sacred Places & Sacred Spaces" which I preached at morning services at our Downtown Campus on August 17th. 

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sometimes . . . all you need is a singer and a guitar . . . and that's all!

Sometimes . . . simple is the best way to go.  I will learn that one day . . . I promise.

Michael Martin Murphey is one of the best at keeping it simple, keeping it beautiful, and pulling you into the song as a result.  One of my favorites . . .

God's grace still amazes me . . . ><>

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Choosing an Acoustic Guitar . . . Tony Polecastro

This is a very good vide from Tony Polecastro of the Acoustic Letter.   I like Tony's video/ internet guitar lessons as well.  Tony's latest album of guitar music is a keeper!!!!

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

Choosing an Acoustic Guitar - Elderly Music

Here is a video from Elderly Music with helpful information about things to consider when buying an acoustic guitar. 

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Starting the day with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britian . . .

There are two rules when getting together with a bunch of folks to sing:

1)  Have fun!
2)  Make it interesting!!!

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

Counting my blessings . . . life and music.

Greetings to all . . . (the 6 of you who I know read this . . . I love ya!)

Today is my 38th wedding anniversary to my lovely wife, Liz.  I am so blessed.   So blessed in fact that I started to count my blessings.  Far too many.  Out of counting blessings came the musical thoughts and observations below.

After an extremely busy month of July, which included 3 trips to NW Arkansas, I am enjoying the return of a more productive rhythm during this month of August.

And . . . I am back to singing again every Monday morning.

My next major personal and professional project is to continue my journey to simplify more of my life.   My friends who know me well know that I live in a lot of clutter.

I have lots of stuff (physical clutter).

I have lots of interests (mental clutter).

I have lots of responsibilities and commitments (calendar clutter).

And, I have lots of guitars and music related gear.

KISS is my new motto . . . with emphasis on the last  "S."

What I don't have much of any more is time.  I do not recall a time in my life when I was as busy as I am now.  However, nor do I recall a time when I was as productive as I am now.  I'm in a pretty good groove right now with a system that keeps me on track, and doing the important stuff required of my by the church, as well as doing the stuff that is important to me.  I think I can honestly say that I am doing some of my best work right now.

Except . .  when I have to stop and take care of all the stuff that clutters around me.  One sure rule of life . . . if you have a lot of stuff, then you spend a lot of time taking care of your stuff.

Why have I allowed this to happen in my life?  (Don't answer that!!!!)

So . . . I recently began work on my guitar and gear clutter.

First, I have simplified my list of active guitars, which consists right now of a couple of Martin's and my Guild 12-string.  All the rest of my guitars are at home in my music room.   My 3 active guitars are the ones I am using for all gigs for the foreseeable future.  They are the one's I am focusing on learning to play well, and how to use/adapt them to different situations and conditions.

Second, I'm bringing my PA.  I love it.  It is a wonderful and useful system.  However, it is overkill at times.   It also take multiple trips to and from my car to get all the parts into the gig.  So, I'm using my Vox Acoustic amp more these days when an amp is needed, which isn't very often when you sing in retirement homes or when singing at the bedside of older adults or children.

I can pretty much carry in what I need in one trip from my car.  Set up is fast and easy.   Lately, all I've been carrying in is my guitar.  I'm working more now on memorizing  songs.  That means more practice both vocally and on the guitar.  All good.

An unexpected result of simplifying . . . my office at the church has much less clutter now!  Yay!  My music room has the room, and everything seems to be fitting in it's own space.  At home, I can leave things set up, and plug right in when I rehearse.

Speaking of getting better on the guitars I regularly play on . . . I'm really enjoying the mini-lesson videos that Tony Polecastro is putting out on YouTube, and on his own web page.  His style of teaching is quite relaxed, but very informative.

I've reconnected with the little Grapevine Guitar Shop located on the second floor of the Grapevine Antique Mall.  Todd has a small but efficient little operation there, and my friend Bill White is still there repairing and servicing guitars and amps.  Bill may be one of the best, but unsung, folk philosophers who doesn't know he is a folk philosopher.  I enjoy our conversations.

For those of you who like to use the new Martin SP LifeSpan strings, our area Guitar Centers have Martin strings on sale, buy one get one free.  I purchased 6 sets yesterday, only paying for 3.  Saved over $30.  6 sets on two guitars will last me a year.  I don't know if Martin LifeSpans last as long as Elixir's.  They are less slick, and to my ear, they sound better on my Martin's.

Thumb picks have been an issue for me for years.  When I first stated to play guitar, I used a thumb pick.  Later on, I switched to regular picks, held with the thumb and first finger.  I recently came across some thumb picks by the Ernie Ball Co.  They are a little longer than National's, Dunlop's and Fender's, and not as wide on thumb.  Pretty comfortable, and they stay on.  So far so good.

Yep . . . everything right now is pretty good.

Another blessing is this . . .

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

There is a joy in discovering new music and groups . . .

I'm sure the Milk Carton Kids have been around a while . . . and I'm just catching up to speed about them.  I love their vocal harmonies . . . and the guitar playing is pretty darned good as well.

This is a song called "New York."   Enjoy.

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

Monday, August 4, 2014

Well I'll be . . . I just didn't think I had it in me . . .

I had the pleasure of singing for some of the residents who live at The Atria in Grapevine, Texas.  My schedule permitting, I sing to there on the first Monday of the month.   I usually sing for the folks back in the Memory Care unit.  They are a lively bunch, and they like to sing.

As I have shared before, I take an iPad with me and have it on a short music stand.  My iPad has all the words to all the songs I am comfortable performing (probably over 200+).   I also use an AirTurn Bluetooth pedal, which lets me advance the pages up and down as I sing, should I need the words or chords.

Well, as luck would have it . . . the AirTurn pedal battery was dead (it's recharging here in my office as I type this).  So, I had no choice but to sing from memory for 50 minutes.  The audience was waiting.

I sang and played, and surprised myself in the process.  I never turned the iPad on, and just sang and sang.  We had a good time.  One resident got up and started dancing in place.  People were laughing and enjoying themselves. 

Surprisingly, I was too.  Not being "locked in" to the iPad helped me have better eye contact with the residents, to connect better . . . and the process helped me focus better on singing. 

The experience . . . was a joyful one for me.

I will say again . . . I vary my song sets all the time.  I don't like singing the same songs every month to the older adults I am privileged to sing to.  I have love song sets, and travel song sets, show tune song sets, folk song sets, funny song sets, and gospel song sets.
Variety is the spice of life.

As I have shared before, I only sing about 4-5 times a month because of my current schedule.  Some call my use of an iPad a crutch, and I don't really disagree with that.  If I sang multiple times each week, I am sure my music memorization would be much better.

Well, today my "system" failed me.  But it all worked out. I am happy to report, my memory is better than I thought.

My goal is to sing more and more songs from memory, but it is nice to have the iPad and AirTurn pedal if I feel led to change things up and include a song I didn't have on my set list.

All in all, I didn't think I had 50 minutes of music memory in me.  Turns out I was wrong.

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

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Let's start singing!

If all goes as planned (and it seldom does in reality) I will be back to an almost full load of singing in August.

I hope so.  July was a busy month, but we did squeeze some vacation time into it.  That did me a world of good.  Even got to go fishing for a day!

My preaching and singing schedule is in the column just to the right of this blog post.  Prayers appreciated.

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What a way to start the morning . . .

As part of my morning devotional time . . . I usually try to watch or listen to music. 

Read Psalm 100 and you will understand why I do this.

This morning, as I was preparing for our Worship Meeting overview before services, I came across this video.   

In a word ... Awesome! 

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Prayers requested for Joe . . .

One of my best friends . . . the friend who has been my friend for longer than anyone . . . Joe Laughlin . . . is gravely ill and in a hospital in the Houston, Texas area. 

On behalf of his wife, Riva, and family . . . I ask for your prayers.   Joe could use them right now.

Joe would hardly ever ask me to pray for him.  But when he did, after he was diagnosed with cancer, he asked me to pray "industrial strength" prayers.  Prayer closet kind of prayers.  The kind of prayers that you spill-your-guts-out to God.

He was my first guitar teacher.  He pretty much taught me how to hold a pick, how to hold a guitar, how to strum a guitar, how to finger a "real" G-chord, and how to sing using a guitar.  His motto was always "less is more." My love for Martin guitars came from him. 

Joe is one of the best "unsung" guitar players I know.  If it were not for his infernal shyness . . . he could have had a good career as a studio musician.   He knew he was good, real good . . . but felt God called him to be a chemistry teacher in public schools.  He was shy when he performed, not wanting to draw much attention to himself, which was hard to do since he is 6'4" and was well over 300 lbs for many years.  I personally believe he is the best acoustic finger style hymn player on guitar I have ever heard. 

Joe isn't perfect in my book. I've never been madder at any one individual in a my life on several occasions.   But he has been my adopted "big brother" since I975.  He is one of the friends-to-the-end I have in my life.

Prayers for Joe are very much appreciated . . . industrial strength prayers.

Thank you.

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

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A rare privilege indeed ...

About a week ago, while on my way back from a meeting at a church in Arlington, I took a 30 minute break and stopped at the Guitar Center just off Collins and I-30.   After I made my way back into the section of the acoustic guitar department where they display the Martins, I was surprised to see a Martin OM-42 inside the locked display case where the high-end collectible guitars are featured for would be buyers.

About the most beautiful guitar I have ever layer eyes on.  

Yesterday, on a complete whim, I went to see if it was still there.  It was, and the salesperson who helped me (Austin) let me take it to the back of the acoustic department to play for awhile.  My wife even stated that it was a very nice sounding instrument.  I was surprised by the bass.  Much clearer and defined than on 000's I have played.

Martin OM's, at least to me, are somewhat louder as well than the 000 models, perhaps because of their longer scale length, and maybe because of they are usually made with rosewood bridges.  I am not sure the 1 3/4" nut width makes that much difference.  For strumming I probably prefer a 1 11/16" nut width.  I've been working some lately on some very basic fingerpicking patterns.  I seem to like the extra space, especially at the bridge, of a guitar with the 1 3/4" nut when fingerpicking.

Down the road I will probably get a Martin OM-28.  The OM 42 model is beautiful (all that inlaid mother of pearl!!!) but I would not play it in public because I would not want to risk getting it nicked up.  Plus the price of a 42 model means parting with all my Taylor's as well as parting with some cash.

Not going to do it.  At least not now.

But oh, it was one beautiful guitar!   Why I didn't take a picture of it I will never know ... Maybe Deep down I had some delusions about taking it home?

Oh well, I can always say I played an OM-42 ... and my wife was a witness.  

Another day ... Another way!

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

Monday, June 23, 2014



Our annual summer Vacation Bible School started this morning, in the middle of a Texas thunderstorm!

We were worried that it would be a slow day . . . with parents keeping kids at home because of the bad weather.  

What were we thinking???   Kid's are still coming in!

I've got morning Assembly duties this year . . . playing the part of Assembly Leader "Sandy Paper" playing opposite of "Rivet the Ant" played by Pastor Nathan.   At the closing assembly, I will have guitar in hand to lead the children and volunteers in a time of worship and praise. 

Going to be fun.

One of my absolutely most favorite times of the year . . . always has been and always will be.

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

It happened again . . .

Therapeutic Music Entertainment . . . . "A performance or activity which, by virtue of its diversion, amusement and/or pleasing qualities, promotes healing."

It happened again  . . .

I was singing this morning for the residents at the South Colleyvine Ranch in Grapevine.  I was about done with my program, my voice was about gone, and my new "Father's Day shoes" were hurting my feet.

"Rick . . . before you go  . . . please do an old gospel song!"

How can you refuse a sweet dear lady in her 80's who asks you to do a gospel song?  I don't know about you, but I can't refuse such a request.

So, more so because I was pretty tired . . . I started a slow version of His Eye is On the Sparrow.

And . . . it happened again . . . I could see the healing in the eyes and on the faces of many in the room.  On this particular morning . . . on this particular day . . . this particular song, that wouldn't have been sung unless someone had asked . . . was the song that touched everyone there in a way that I will never ever be able to adequately describe with words.

But then I don't have to . . . because I believe most everyone has had a similar experience in their lives with music of some kind.

Healing that cone from music, for me, has a lot to do with feeling . . . and perhaps I was needing this song as much as those who had come to hear me sing . . . the one who comes once a month to offer an hour's diversion from regular daily emptiness or loneliness . . . an hour's diversion from the normal task of "waiting for God" as one resident recently told me.

I sing because I'm happy
I sing because I'm free
For His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He's watching me.

Thank you God, for the healing power in music.

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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Therapeutic Music Entertainment . . .

Therapeutic Music Entertainment . . . . "A performance or activity which, by virtue of its diversion, amusement and/or pleasing qualities, promotes healing."

This is the definition of TME that I was taught during my certification training time with the gang at Hugworks. 

Short, simple . . . to the point.

As I get older, the idea/concept of promoting healing through music takes up a lot of the time I spend thinking about important life stuff.

Actually, just the idea of promoting healing ... however, whenever and wherever I can ... takes up a lot of my thinking time.   In fact, it's taking up a lot of my personal and professional time.

I currently sing at 4 area assisted living centers each month.  This month I will also lead worship at two of these assisted living centers.  Seeing the smiles on people's faces as they engage a song through singing, hand clapping or dancing . . . is therapeutic for me.  My experience is that TME promotes healing in many ways to many people for many various reasons ... To the ones entertaining and to the ones being entertained.

What kind of healing and how the healing takes place . . . I will leave that all to God.

I sometimes work out theology like math problems.  I had the following equation in one of my journals a while back:

Music + Worship = Healing

Actually the words I had written down were "music + worship (should) = healing.

Worship, for some, is a time when they expect to be set straight, or "guilted" back into doing what is right, more often according to someone else's opinion of what is right and correct.  

How is that therapeutic?   How does that promote the process of healing?  How does that help anyone come to know God as a loving Lord?  

John Wesley suggested 3 general rules (simple rules) for all believers associated with the then Methodist movement in England.  They are good guides for us today.

1)  Do no harm  (that would seem, to me, to promote and facilitate the possibility of healing)

2)  Do good  (that would seem, to me, to also promote and facilitate the opportunity for healing as well)

3)  The regular practice of those things that help you get and stay close to God  (it seems to me that being in God's presence would promote the possibility of healing for mind, body and soul).

Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I want to learn more about how my life, and how I live it, can be an instrument of healing, especially through music, pastoral care, teaching, preaching, engaging people when they are grief or in pain . . . that can help improve people's lives in new and fresh ways.

I'm ok with being a diversion . . . if it helps to promote healing in some way.

I'm ok with being an amusement . . . if it helps to promote healing in some way.

I'm even ok with helping others smile . . . if it helps to promote healing in some way.

Lord, make me an instrument of worship and healing.

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