This section of a musician’s background is typically meant to convey their various influences and their complete and utter commitment to their art.
Uhhh . . . well, I can’t do that. The fact is that I do have a “day job” which I have not “quit” to focus on music because of enjoyment and talent . . . that is to say I enjoy what I do and am pretty good at it . . . oh yea, it pays the bills! I work with technology and Universities and I get a charge of doing my little part with people who are changing the world one (million) calculation(s) at a time. I do love my music and I sincerely hope you do to. Still, I have not quit my “day job” tho I have not always loved my job. I was a software programmer once after college. Let’s just say I wrote a classic while there: “The “Jesus this job sucks!” Blues (Album # 1, Keep Makin’ Memories). But, I digress . . . .
One of my very earliest memories was waiting for my father to return from work with our Christmas present of 1962 . . . I had just turned four. I had a new 45 of the Beatles version of “Twist and Shout” . . .but the problem was that we did not have a phonograph. Dad brought one home and I can picture him walking towards the suburban Chicago ranch house, emerging from the winter darkness, with the suitcase sized technology. The speakers on the side in white. A orangish-tan turntable drawer that folded down to play. I played that album into the ground and danced around while listening. We all had our favorites. Dad could play his Patsy Cline, mom loved Dave Brubeck, Herb Alpert. The next year. 1963, I played “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” so many times I ruined the needle. I love Christmas.
We moved out to the provincial “country” of Illinois when I was 7 or 8 . . . near where my father had grown up. Significantly, at some point we moved up to stereo. My oldest brother joined one of the record clubs (remember those?) and we feasted on Simon and Garfunkle, James Taylor, King Crimson, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Rare Earth, The Temptations etc. etc. etc. I took piano lessons. I hated them.
Mom knew I always had a song in my head. I still do, to this very day. I was able to quit the mortifying piano lessons and, for that Christmas (I was in my early teens), M & D put a guitar case under the tree. Mom wanted me to take lessons. I wanted a BB gun. Sure enough, there was a BB gun in that case, but mom always regretted not getting me a guitar way-back-when. Me too!
High School came and went. Most people are lucky if they get even one teacher who positively impacts their life at that crucial period. I had three at Barrington High School. Charles White and Dale Griffith taught me how to write, and write, and write some more. Phil Mark, the choir director, taught me to sing and the sheer magic of music. Outside of class we listened to the Who (Baba O’Reilly), Boston, Peter Frampton. In class we did classics. Handel. Vivaldi. We did more eclectic stuff. We did Christmas. Mr. Mark and his wife were killed by a drunk driver sometime in the 80’s. I cannot sing without thinking of him. I am not the only one.
Dad lost his job my senior year in High School. I stayed in Illinois until graduation and then joined my parents where they had landed in Florida. It was 1977 and the Eagles had just released Hotel California and there I was, near the ocean in the South where I started taking guitar lessons. Jimmy Buffet was a regional sensation and there were more than a few nights spent with new friends around a campfire singing on Juno beach. There are condos there now and fires are strictly prohibited. Sorry kids.
College was centered back in the Midwest. I was a bit of a fish out of water there and I quickly took to driving my fraternity brothers crazy by practicing guitar in the fire escape stairway at all hours of the day. The guys across the way loved Bruce Springsteen and they would mark the end of a day’s classes with Thunder Road. I owe those guys a great debt for putting up with me. I started writing music when I met someone who shared a distain for a small school with a big emphasis on cliques. "Partners in Misery", I suppose.
I could digress here but, of course, that is what music is for. One may find “Marry the Man You Meet Right After Me” and “Goodbyes” (Album # 2: Stories Amidst the Blue) somewhat instructive on this topic.
My junior year was spent mostly studying in Europe. My senior year, 1980, was marked by a decision to study in Washington, D.C. and a determination to sing happy songs. I took banjo lessons and dove into the influences of the mighty Blue Ridge Mountains. On December 8, myself and thousands of others simply showed up at the Lincoln Memorial at the news of John Lennon’s death. No FaceBook or social media. No cell phones. No technical way for people to communicate on where to meet. We just did. The day was simply clear and cold . . .and a very sad one indeed.
I landed in Chicago after graduation from DePauw. I ended up downtown with a good group of new friends living on the near north side. I listened to more Rolling Stones in the next 12 months than I had in 12 years. I took lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music and tried to walk in the footsteps of Steve Goodman and John Prine. I was even asked to sing some of my Chicago tunes (Kickin’ Pigeons (Album #1), et al.) on their weekly syndicated radio show. I took some time off, sans guitar and banjo, to bicycle across Europe. I came home to finish grad school. I had been smitten (smote?) by love once more and I took a job with . . .(wait for it . . . ) IBM. The rest, as they say, is history.
There is much that is not written here. Important people that have dramatically impacted my life including my family and my beliefs are hardly mentioned at all in these paragraphs. But there is the music that helps tell the stories.
I hope I tell them well. Thanks for reading this far. More important, thanks for listening for, surely, that is a skill we all could benefit from.