In late August 2018, I completed the final stage of a four plus year musical project. Yes, it was the auspicious occasion of the album release party for my latest album, In This Circle. Wow, what an event it was! There was even a full moon that evening which lent a nice touch to the proceedings. During the week leading up to the party, I was visualizing myself nearing the end of running a long marathon, as I could hear folks at the finish line cheering and encouraging me to bring it on home.
About 40 folks showed up on a Saturday night to celebrate the accomplishment with me and enjoy some great live music. Of course, that crowd count doesn’t include the musicians and singers who appeared on stage with me, the sound tech, the videographer, and that guy at the ticket/CD table (my son, Kabir). Dena organized and whipped up a bountiful table of delicious refreshments and beverages which helped put the “party” in album release party and created a most festive celebration. I don’t think anyone went home hungry that night!
Looking for Space
The release party was held at the Friends Meeting Hall in East Sacramento in their main meeting room. The octagonal shape of the room has nice acoustics and there’s plenty of natural light coming through various windows and one skylight. Those were two of the reasons that I chose the venue. Another reason was all the great energy that has been imbued in that space by the folks attending the Dances of Universal Peace (DUP) held there twice every month. You can find out more about the Dances here.
Of course, every week the members of Sacramento Friends Meeting gather in that same room in silence to commune with the divine presence in their midst. So, that grounding energy pervades the space as well and is reflected to all who cross the threshold.
I’m With the Band…
The core band line up for the evening included myself on guitar and vocals, Tom Charlesworth on keyboard, and Bruce O’Brien on bass, violin and flute. We were joined by Dena on ukulele and vocals, David Clark on mouth harp, and Jon Merriman on guitar. All the musicians and vocalists that performed at the album release party, also appear on In This Circle as studio personnel, along with other guest musicians and vocalists. I really appreciate my fellow creatives showing up to give of their time and talent and co-create with me to manifest my musical vision. Well done everyone; you were all a part of something unique and special! For more information about the album’s line up of musicians and singers, click here to read the liner notes on my blog.
Set One, Set Two
I, and the other musicians, played two sets that evening with an intermission. The first set of music consisted of all twelve tracks from In This Circle with modified arrangements for live performance. Some of my favorite musical moments were David Clark and I rocking the house with No Changing the Truth and Gaia’s Voice. Another special part of the first set was sharing my tender family ballad, Daddy’s Symphony, with the audience. One of my good friends came up to me at the intermission to let me know that tune really moved him, as the father of his own son.
The second set included a few Souls Journey tunes sung and played with Dena and Bruce, other original tunes of mine in solo and duet settings, and a handful of Spirit-sized tunes for good measure. One of the highlights of set two was my duet with Jon Merriman playing lead guitar on Four Corners, one of my classic ballads dedicated to Mother Earth. Another crowd pleaser was The Blah Blah Song, a tune written by Dena. Every time we sing the first chorus on that song, we get a good laugh from the folks in the audience. It seems to strike a chord of familiarity in a simple, understated way. We ended the evening with everyone joining hands in a large circle around the room to sing a DUP classic, May All Beings Be Well.
Props for Completing the Journey
Wow, what a journey it has been to complete In This Circle! And, I could not have done it without a lot of fellow collaborators working with me. Right here, I must give special props and appreciation to my main creative collaborator and wife, Dena. Without her, there would be no beautiful album artwork and design and no spiffy newly refreshed and redesigned website. She went way beyond the regular call of duty in loving support of my creative expression and I am truly humbled by her most gracious giveaway. Thank you, Dena! My other big collaborator on In This Circle was my engineer, Ed Etzel, owner of Audio West. Ed, you make me sound good and bring a special depth to my musical creations. I appreciate you!
All in all, it was an amazing expression of living my vision and purpose in life and I felt blessed, supported, and appreciated. Thank you to everyone who helped make this a very memorable experience!
For those of you who were unable to attend, the event was videotaped and I will be sharing some of that content on both my website and YouTube channel after editing has been completed. As always, stay tuned!
I worked with Ed in the studio last weekend to create some booking demo songs. All the demos were taken from songs that will appear on my forthcoming album, In a Circle. Also, the songs consist of two tracks with me singing and playing guitar. After working to build up these songs over the last three years with various guest artists playing different instruments, it felt strange to hear these tunes without the drums, bass, etc. So, these demos are my “Unplugged” tunes, if you will. Here’s the demo version of Familiar Strangers:
Five of the twelve songs have now been mixed for the album by Ed and I. These songs have taken extra attention, due to the process of getting a good blend from the blended drum kit mics. Hopefully, I’m looking forward to the mixing process going faster, as we move on to other songs with no drum kit and even fewer tracks. At this point, I’m hoping to have all the mixing done by the end of April. Mix those tracks! Here’s the latest mix for Gaia’s Voice:
Artist Spotlight: The New Basement Tapes
Turning Lyrics into Songs
Last week, I watched “The Lost Tapes: The Basement Tapes Continue” documentary with a good friend. This documentary was released in late 2014, along with an album titled “Lost on the River” by the New Basement Tapes. The New Basement Tapes is an intriguing collection of great musicians: Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Marcus Mumford (Mumford and Sons), Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), and Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes).
The whole album project was based on a box of unpublished Bob Dylan lyrics that he wrote in the mid 60’s and didn’t make into songs or record. All of the lyrics were uncovered by Dylan’s archivists. Later, producer T Bone Burnett got permission from Dylan to have a group of musicians to complete what Bob had started.
Music in the Basement
As the history goes, after Dylan had a motorcycle accident in the mid 60’s, he just wanted to get away for awhile from his growing popularity as an artist. So he headed to upstate New York and retired in a state of semi-seclusion. In early ’67, Dylan invited a group of mostly Canadian musicians to join him in playing some music. They had played with Dylan as the backup band for his first U.S. “electric” tour in ’65.
So, Bob and “the band” wound up recording a series of demo’s in the basement of a house in Woodstock. This all took place a couple of years before the famous Woodstock music festival. By the fall of ‘67, the sessions with Bob and the other musicians had ended. The music they had created together was never intended to be an album.
However, after some folks got a hold of the tapes and began to bootleg it for distribution, Dylan decided to make it official album. The album was released as The Basement Tapes in ‘75. Within a year of making the demos with Bob, the same group of musicians had released their first album, Music from Big Pink. Their first album was also recorded in Woodstock, NY and they decided to stick with their humble name and became known as The Band. Apparently, the rediscovered lyrics were written by Dylan during this same time period. Hence, that led to the tie in of The New Basement Tapes.
Lost on the River
Even though the producers of the Lost Tapes documentary chose to have actors playing Bob and The Band filmed from a distance with a grainy effect, it doesn’t detract from the creative power of the music created by The New Basement Tapes group. The project explores the process of songwriting via the various players. All of them were given the same set of Dylan lyrics and directed to make them into songs.
So, what unfolds in the film shows the band bringing what they’ve written to the album “potluck” and trying out various arrangements with each other. It all took place over two weeks in a studio at Capitol Records tower in Los Angeles. My personal favorite of the songs was created and sung by Rhiannon Giddens. It’s called Lost on the River and is a beautifully, haunting tune. Check it out here. “I got lost on the river, but I did not drown…”
Last week, I made my way back to the recording studio. I had to take a break from working on my album, In a Circle, due to financial reasons. Ed has been very supportive of my first time out as a full producer and I appreciate him for that. I had a productive session and now all the song editing has been completed. Hooray! Also, I recorded a new piano track for Familiar Strangers. To hear a sample of the latest recording, click on the player below.
Next, I’ll move on to the mixing process to complete my time in the studio. If you’re wondering about the expected release date, that will be impacted by post production costs and logistics. At this time, I’m hoping to release the album by either May or June. I’m grateful to everyone who has been encouraging and supportive of me through this studio journey. As always, stay tuned!
Poetry Spotlight: Ego is a Funny Beast
I wrote this poem while I was part of a local men’s group. We called ourselves Men at Work. I continue to seek balance with my own ego, as a musician and songwriter.
My Ego is a Funny Beast
Written by Marshal McKitrick/ Copyright 1995
My ego is a funny beast
If I ignore him or try to lock him up
He comes in howling at just the wrong time
And I say things that make me wonder
Who’s really in charge
My ego is a funny beast
If I entertain his notions or just give in to him
He struts around the room like a peacock in heat
And this time I’m the prisoner
Easter Egg: Morning Lake
Folks who like my music and are serious students of album liner notes may have already heard Morning Lake and read about it on my website. You’ll find it included in my liner notes for my last CD, Older and Wiser. I recorded it near the end of my time at Bender Studio in Sacramento. If you haven’t heard it yet and are curious, you can listen below. To read more about it, click here.
This week, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate gratitude with a song written by one of my favorite children’s songwriters/performers, Raffi. It’s called Thanks a Lot. I appreciate the meditative quality to the singing and guitar playing. It’s a simple chant that kids (and adults) can sing anytime with gratitude for another day of life. May you have a peaceful and joyous time with your family this Thanksgiving season!
Adventures in Music Producing
Over two decades ago, I worked in a studio for the first time to record my original tunes. I had my friend, Christian Heilman at Bender Studio, on the journey with me as my musical cohort. He was my co-producer, engineer, and resident drummer. It was great fun to bounce musical arrangement ideas off of him and also listen to and put his musically creative ideas into action on those songs. We had a great time working with each other. Looking back at what transpired back then, I see what a blessing it was for me as a musician/songwriter, as well as a person. I’m grateful that my first adventures in recording were blessed by a good friend who encouraged me to explore and take chances with my music. That definitely empowered me to follow my own vision of what I wanted to manifest in the studio for future musical exploits.
More Thank Just Singing a Song
As most of you know, during this past year, I’ve been in the process of recording my new album, In a Circle. I’ve come to realize that I’m not just the songwriter, musician, singer, project manager, and financial backer on this endeavor. I’m also the producer for this project. I don’t have a co-producer this time around to depend on or get a second opinion from. When I considered the history of popular music, I was reminded that I’m in good, illustrious company with a number of other artists who were performer-producers of their own music: The Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Kinks. Some of them (ex., Donovan, the Small Faces, and the Who) later asserted that many of their recordings were either self-produced or collaborations with the recording engineer in the studio at the time. (for more on this, refer to this online article.
The Role of the Producer
I’ve experienced new responsibilities and opportunities while acting fully in my role as producer. Here’s a list of some of them.
• Contacting and scheduling other musicians and singers for studio sessions
• Communicating with those musicians and singers around what sound or feel I’m going for on each song
• Paying attention to my financial expenses and the album’s spending plan (studio fees, etc.)
• Tracking the recording progress of songs and practicing flexibility around initial musical arrangements
• Holding the overall vision of what I want to accomplish with this project
• Encouraging and challenging other musicians and singers recording tracks to do their best and bring on their brilliance while having fun at the same time
• Working with my marketing advisor to create a weekly blog and the Notes from the Meadow that captures the process of making an album in the studio
This whole enterprise has definitely been a labor of love. I hope it will reflect my passion for music and creative expression. I’m grateful for the gifts of tenacity and musical inspiration.
I hit the studio last weekend with a new creative thought. One of my tunes, Breaking the Chains, felt incomplete somehow. This was even after recording multiple tracks for it: lead vocal, harmony vocal, acoustic rhythm guitar, electric rhythm guitar, bass guitar, drum kit and a killer electric guitar solo in the middle. I still felt like there was something missing.
So, I trusted my musical gut and tried out adding a keyboard track. First, it was a Hammond B3 sample on Ed’s trusty Yamaha DX7 keyboard. Even though it was sounding nice, it just wasn’t making it. I chose to take Ed’s suggestion to try out the piano sample. Bam, that’s exactly what was needed! I had a great time rockin’ out with stabbing chords and even adding a downward glissando near the end of the song. Ah, the joys of creative expression. Gotta’ love it! If you want to hear last weekend’s demo with the rockin’ piano track, listen below.
At the end of October, Dena and I had further musical adventures when we went to hear a singer/songwriter new to both of us. The artist’s name is Carrie Newcomer. I’m grateful to our friends, Ralph and Alice, who kindly invited us to join them for the show. Carrie writes songs with powerful spiritual messages about change, nature, and Spirit. She has also spent time in India as a cultural ambassador for the American Center. Check out one of her great tunes titled, If Not Now. It has an empowering message and it’s a lively sing along tune with a friendly crowd, also.
After checking out her website, I discovered that she was born in Michigan and moved to Bloomington, IN during the 1990’s where she still lives and records. That was of special interest to me since I grew up in Bloomington, back in the 1960’s, which makes me a former Hoosier. As a matter of fact, after the show was over, I stood in line to speak briefly with Carrie and thank her for her music. I bravely asked her to sign my newly purchased copy of her latest CD after explaining what we shared in common. She graciously signed it with the inscription, “To a fellow Hoosier. Peace, Carrie Newcomer.”
A Venue to Check Out
I was also very excited to hear this inspiring music as my introduction to the legendary Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, CA. It’s been on my musical bucket list ever since I’ve lived in Sacramento to make a trip there and I finally got to check it off. This great venue, which opened in 1968, has lots of powerful musical acts coming through. For example, in March 2017, both Greg Brown and Noel Paul Stookey (from Peter, Paul, and Mary) will be playing there. So, the next time you’re in the S.F. Bay area, make plans to take yourself and a few good friends to the Freight for a folk music treat.
In mid-October, I took Meadowlark to the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new location of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op (SNFC) at 2820 ‘R’ Street.
For information on the new store, click here.
I’ve been an active SNFC member over 35 years since the Fall of 1981 when I moved to Sacramento.
Before moving here, I had been a food co-op member (or natural foods shopper) since my early 20’s. I’ve been a veteran co-op/natural foods person in cities like: Bloomington, IN; Atlanta, GA; Spokane, WA; Portland, OR; Denver, CO; Davis, CA; and Modesto, CA.
For those who don’t know the history, SNFC began in downtown Sacramento in 1978 as a buying club. After a couple of years, it moved to a location south of downtown on Freeport Boulevard (near McClatchy High School). It was referred to in those days as the “hippie dippy” store, due to the funky nature of the building and its main clientele.
I worked at this location for less than a year in the mid 80’s. Then, about 20 years ago, SNFC moved to Alhambra and ‘S’ Street and served the community there before it’s most recent move.
So, when I finally got to see the new Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op last month after hearing about it being built over the last six years, I was excited! The new store has a lot more parking (open air with a parking garage; Thank you!), an expanded deli and kitchen with a larger menu to choose from, more products to choose from, a new café area inside and outside, and a much “greener” footprint on the planet. Plus, it’s now fully on the midtown Sacramento “grid” and holds down the east end of it while the new Golden 1 Arena holds down the west end.
All in all, the new SNFC will be of even greater service to folks living in Sacramento and its outlying areas. To quote an old song from the 80’s by a band called Timbuk3, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta’ Wear Shades.”
MORE STUDIO NEWS
I was joined in the studio, both in September and October, by Paul Schwab on lead guitar. I met Paul through my Bender studio compadre’, Christian Heilman, back in the ‘80’s. For my Older and Wiser album of original tunes, Paul laid down quite a bit of good electric guitar shredding on Blood for Big Oil and The Waiting Room. He also played an elegant acoustic guitar track on my tune, Beauty Is.
This time around for my upcoming album, In a Circle, Paul played some tasty guitar licks for some of my newer tunes: It Ain’t Natural, Brand New Day, and Breaking the Chains.
(insert photos of Paul here; they’re on your phone) Once again, Paul has delivered the goods and I’m musically pleased. You rock, dude! It’s a joy to know and work with talented musicians such as you. Thank you, buddy!