Artist Spotlight: Jesse Colin Young

Artist Spotlight: Jesse Colin Young

Jesse live at the State Theatre

Last weekend, I went to hear Jesse Colin Young in concert up in the Gold Country foothills at the State Theatre in Auburn. I was accompanied by a good friend, who is also a guitar player and fellow songwriter. Great place to see and hear a show! The theatre is yet another old art deco style cinema built in the 1930’s, similar to The Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento. The State Theatre was converted to a duplex in the early 70’s. However, the Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center, Inc. purchased the theatre in 2006 and began reconstruction to restore it to the original layout. Here’s how it looks these days.

Everybody Get Together…

In his early career during the mid 1960’s, Jesse was a moderately successful folk artist who played folk clubs in Greenwich Village in New York. He had already released two solo albums when he met Jerry Corbitt and they began performing as a duo on the Canadian circuit. Shortly, thereafter, two other musicians joined them and they became Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods (aka The Youngbloods). Their only top 40 hit on the U.S. charts was Get Together which still stands as a classic 60’s anthem about peace, love, and unity. (Source: *Wikipedia)

Jesse started out the concert in Auburn- with a short, well-paced solo acoustic set and performed a tasty handful of original tunes. According to him, one of the tunes (Sunlight) was the first song he wrote after moving to California from New York in June 1967, during the Summer of Love.

Juli is 50, now…

In the second longer set, Jesse came back out on stage and brought with him a great band of young musicians. The band features his son, Tristan, on bass guitar, along with other solid musicians in the line up (saxophone, electric guitar, keyboard, drums, and two back up vocalists.) For me, the highlights of this part of the show were Get Together (complete with audience participation), Statesboro Blues (soul shaking solo by the lead guitar player), Ridgetop, What’s Goin’ On (Mercy, Mercy Me), and Darkness, Darkness. At one point in the show, someone from the audience called out to hear Song for Juli, a song that Jesse wrote for his daughter. He politely ignored the request by smiling and simply saying, “She’s 50 now.”

Darkness, Darkness

My personal favorite of all of Jesse’s songs is Darkness, Darkness. I’ve always loved the way the fiddle and drum kick off the original studio version of the tune. Recently, I learned that legendary country music artists, Charlie Daniels, played fiddle on that tune, and produced The Youngbloods album (Elephant Mountain) that the song appeared on.

In an interview with Ray Shasho, Jesse explained the song’s genesis:

It was written in New York although it drew its inspiration from listening to KSAN Radio in San Francisco.

“I spent one sleepless night thinking about my friends who were in Vietnam and how terrifying it must be. So much of the fighting was done at night and ‘Darkness Darkness’ came out of that sleepless night. I tried to put myself in their shoes.”

You’ll find some interesting covers of Darkness, Darkness by Richie Havens, Richard Shindell, and Robert Plant on YouTube. I really enjoyed the version by Richie Havens.

Here’s a live version of the song with Jesse and his currently touring band from earlier this year.

To read a great interview with Jesse with more details of his musical journey, click here.

The Brand New Cosmic Hokey Pokey

What if the Hokey Pokey Really is What It’s All About?

Dena and I have spirit-sized many songs over time, some of them secular and some old time gospel tunes. One of my favorites is one we’ve played with our Souls Journey collective at local kiirtan gatherings. At that time, we called it the New Thought Hokey Pokey in honor of some of the spiritual gathering places we played at.

In this case, the new version was inspired by a funny bumper sticker I had seen, “What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it’s all about?” This question seemed to raise various thought provoking ponderings on the nature of existence. Therefore, the old version of the song just seemed to be begging for revision a la’ the tool of spirit-sizing. It seemed to be a great opportunity to invite everyone’s Inner Child out to dance and sing.

Will the Real Hokey Pokey, please stand up…

According to Wikipedia, the origins of the original song start with a British folk dance, with variants attested as early as 1826. The song and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in the mid-1940s in Britain and Ireland. Also, it’s even claimed that a number of variations of the song and the dance go back to the 17th century. In 1953, Ray Anthony’s big band recording of the song turned it into a nationwide sensation.

In case you haven’t heard this song, here’s the Ray Anthony version. I think this is the same 45 record that was played in my house back in my childhood days.

Apparently, there have been copyright issues around who wrote the Hokey Pokey. According to a New York Times article, some of those issues arose in the UK during World War II between a band leader and a music publisher. Meanwhile, during the mid to late 40’s in the U.S., there was a copyright dispute between two different groups of musicians who played for resorts in different parts of the country. In this case, the lawsuit was settled out of court in a manner that granted both sets of authors shared ownership.

The Brand New Cosmic Hokey Pokey

Recently, I was preparing for an upcoming Sunday morning gig at a local Science of Mind church. I’d been informed that the topic of the day was Laughter as a Spiritual Practice. In my musical research, I was struggling with what song to choose that would bring about spontaneous laughter from the folks listening. As I sat there with our Souls Journey version of the song mentioned earlier, I contemplated that infamous bumper sticker question. And, voila, I started playing guitar and singing the first new verse. Thus, another moment of Divine inspiration had arrived with me as its recipient!

To wrap up, I call this version The Brand New Cosmic Hokey Pokey. I’ve shared it with a few friends over the phone and in person and, so far, it seems to land in that sweet spot between recognition and the metaphysical funny bone. Click below to hear a simple recording of the song.

  I’m also including the new lyrics here for your perusal. Enjoy the tune!

The Brand New Cosmic Hokey Pokey

Written by Larry LaPrise and Robert Degen/
Additional music and lyrics by Marshal & Dena McKitrick

What if the Hokey Pokey is what it’s really all about?
What if that Hokey Pokey took away all of my worries and doubt?
Could be the Cosmic punch line inspires me to wanna’ jump and shout (Hey!)
What if the Hokey Pokey turns out to be just what it’s all about?

You put your chakras in, you take your chakras out
You put your chakras in and you shake ‘em all about
Do the hokey pokey as you turn your soul around, that’s what it’s all about

You put your aura in, you take your aura out
You put your aura in and you shake it all about
Do the hokey pokey as you turn your soul around, that’s what it’s all about

What if the Hokey Pokey is what it’s really all about?
What if that Hokey Pokey brought the light shining right out of the clouds?
Could be the greatest secret living in the ever present now
What if the Hokey Pokey turns out to be the sacred Holy Cow?

You put your past lives in, you take your past lives out
You put your past lives in and you shake ‘em all about
Do the hokey pokey as you turn your soul around, that’s what it’s all about

You put your Inner Critic in, you take your Inner Critic out
You put your Inner Critic in and you shake it all about
Do the hokey pokey as you turn your soul around, that’s what it’s all about

You do the brand new Cosmic Hokey Pokey, do the brand new Cosmic Hokey Pokey
Do the brand new Hokey Pokey, that’s what it’s all about…

[Note: Extra words for choruses: True Self/ karma/ dogma/ shadows, etc. – also, invite audience suggestions]

Local Artist Spotlight: Jon Merriman

Local Artist Spotlight: Jon Merriman

It’s time to shine the friendly Meadowlark spotlight on one of my favorite local Sacramento artists. This week, I present to you the one and only, Jon Merriman.

Jon Merriman Trio

Jon MerrimanI met Jon way back in the mid 1980’s through another good friend and musician, Christian Heilman. At the time, Christian was playing drums with Jon and Richard Siegl on electric bass in the Jon Merriman Trio (JMT). I recall the JMT playing in small, intimate venues around the Sacramento area. I have fond memories of listening to the trio back in the day. They put on quite a satisfying show playing Jon Merriman originals with verve and joyful abandon. Here’s a photo of Jon from the JMT era (or shortly after)

When the Rain Stands Still

After the trio broke up in the late 80’s, Jon moved on as a solo act. He put his focus into his unique playing approach to instrumental jazz guitar (see the bio page on his website). Since 1995, he has released three albums. The first one was all original tunes; the second one was mostly originals; and the third album was covers of some his favorite tunes. You can find two of his albums, When the Rain Stands Still and, Solitary Man, on CD Baby. All of Jon’s albums are released under his in house record label, Genwa Records. Here’s the title tune from his first album, When the Rain Stands Still.

Over the years, I’ve had the persistent idea of adding lyrics to some of Jon’s melodies, so more folks can enjoy his sense of melody and composition. Also, this would transform Jon’s tunes into full songs that I can play and sing. We met last year for a songwriting brainstorming session. Now, I have yet another musical project to work on in my retirement years. My hope is that at least one of those co-written tunes will make it onto a future album of mine. And, speaking of musical collaborating, Jon did play guitar on three tracks of my Older and Wiser album. His graceful guitar voice will also appear on my new album, In a Circle.

Growing Up in Nebraska

In May 2015, Jon put his own time and money into presenting himself in a solo showcase at the Harris Center in Folsom, CA. I knew this was a big deal for him, so I had to be there in support. He titled it, Music of the ‘60s. Dena and I attended the concert and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I was happy for him to see a great turnout of friends, neighbors, and family.

Here’s what had to say about Jon’s showcase:

If you think a solo, instrumental guitar concert is the most boring thing you’ve ever heard of, this is the concert to change your mind! Upbeat and lively and full of the great pop songs of the 1960s, Jon Merriman and his guitar take on the golden age of pop music. From the early British invasion to the great American bands of that day, Jon brings back all the sounds of the most exciting musical time in recent history.

Jon Merriman - contemporaryJon also shared anecdotes from his days of growing up in Nebraska during the ’60s. Apparently, his boyhood town was one of the last ones to get on the state’s power grid with access to electricity and modern lighting. Even though the media choices were limited at that time in Nebraska, he was still able to hear and see The Beatles on radio and t.v. It seems that had a huge impact on his musical journey.

Your Tuesday Morning Guitar Song

About six years ago, Jon began producing guitar music videos and they’re all published on his very own YouTube channel, Genwaworldwide. Most recently, he began a new series of YouTube videos called Your Tuesday Morning Guitar Song (YTMGS). In this series, Jon brings into play his earlier experience as a college radio broadcaster and blends it in with his friendly way of sharing his passion about music. I invite you to check it out!

Also, to show that Jon is not just a one-trick pony, he currently provides live music for a monthly Sacramento event, Soul Talks.  And, before I forget to mention it, Jon also has years of experience in running sound for live shows in the greater Sacramento area like the annual Earth Day celebration in Southside Park.

Finally, to complete today’s Local Artist Spotlight with a flourish, here’s Volume 3 of YTMGS in which Jon does his solo acoustic guitar thing on a big 80’s hit, Take On Me, from A-Ha. Keep making it real, Jon. Enjoy!  [For more information about this local artist, go to]

Demos in the Studio

Demos in the Studio

Studio Update

Making demosDemos

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:

Mixing Continues…

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…”

Songworms on My Mind

Songworms on My Mind

Sometimes I am haunted by songworms. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head for hours or days on end? I have a close musical compadre’ who has coined the name “songworm” for this phenomenon. Some researchers use the term “earworm.”

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm: sticky music, or stuck song syndrome, which is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing. For full article, click here.

Can’t Get it Out of My Head

As I’ve described to my wife, I have an internal jukebox that plays back any song I remember. While this may save on my CD purchases or downloads, it backfires when I can’t seem to “get it out of my head.” I’ve read of at least one psychological study that states this is more common for musicians.

Most of the time, I find that a songworm that’s got a hold on me includes both music and lyrics and it usually has an upbeat rhythm. Sometimes, it’s a catchy lyrical phrase that gets my attention. Here’s a classic example.

More Adventures in the Studio

I’m now on the last leg of completing my album, In a Circle. This past week, I began the mixing process. I’m learning that when a drum kit is involved, it takes longer to complete mixing the song. Due to the nature of drum kits and microphone placement, it’s necessary to edit out the “bleed through” that happens during recording (ex., between the cymbals and the toms). Since half of the songs on the album have drum tracks, the mixing process will go more quickly after those have been done.

It’s All in the Mix

I know it’s important to get the sound I want, so I’ll be satisfied down the road. I look forward to listening to a completed album much later and being happy with a job well done. While it’s a tedious task, the mixing process is what can make or break an enjoyable listening experience. Since my songs are strongly based on the lyrics, I need to pay attention to make sure the vocals aren’t buried by the instrumental tracks.

An important part of the mixing process is playing the mixed song on different audio devices (car stereo, PC, tablet, and boom box). The folks listening to the final product will appreciate the ability to play the album in different environments. And, I definitely want listeners to enjoy and connect with the music. So, hang in there, everyone! I will keep you posted.