Monday, April 30, 2012

Jamming With Logan


I JUST GOT done with one of those weekends, if you know what I mean. It was so insanely wild and fun and involved a lot of free beer. Now it's Monday afternoon and I'm still trying to get the license plate of the rock and roll truck that ran me over.

It started with a wedding reception Saturday afternoon at The Elks. Normally The Cheeseburgers are careful about booking weddings, but this one paid well and we started at 12:30 in the afternoon, so we figured it would be nice to have a Saturday night off. Except an early start meant an early start, and the people at the reception couldn't have cared less about it being afternoon. They were there to celebrate and it was a great time.

So when it was done I managed to get back to the store before closing, and there is our good friend Logan Kammerer of the awesome Quincy band Fielder, strumming a Blueridge and enjoying a little free time. It didn't take much convincing to pick up an Aria Auditorium and do a little jamming. Logan is a great songwriter and as much as I love playing in the band, nothing beats sitting around and strumming along to some really cool music. Sheryl recorded us and is putting some of the videos on YouTube.

On Sunday I hooked up with my buddies from the band Reasonable Doubt, which is the guys from my former band The Funions. We played at a cancer benefit at Turner Hall, one of my favorite places in town, and we even practiced to get ready.

The thing about benefits is that you never know if they are going to be on schedule. We were told we'd play at 4 after the live auction, but of course when we got there another band was playing and the auction didn't start until 4, and there was a boatload of stuff on four huge tables.

We looked at each other, shrugged, and Pooh the bartender gave us a mess of free beer tickets. Big mistake, doing that to a bunch of old Funions, and God bless you Pat Cornwell, cuz you know what I mean!

It was 6:15, and there was still a table full of beer steins being auctioned off three at a time. Fortunately a gal walked up and bought the whole load of them, and lo and behold, we were up.

A few people stuck around and I think we sounded all right. The people who ran the auction thanked us for our patience and were very nice about apologizing for making us wait, but really, it's a Sunday afternoon/early evening, and what else were we going to do, watch golf?

Well. Maybe. But it was still fun.

Anyway, be looking for more Logan and Rodney videos on the Second String Facebook page.

And I might sleep until Wednesday.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Band Practice

WHEN PEOPLE FIND out I play in a band, they say, "Oh, what fun!" Well, they are right. Partially.

Playing in a band is a lot of work. You go to the gig, and for The Cheeseburgers that could mean a show in town or up to an hour away. You set up, and that means another hour, maybe longer if we've never been to the venue. We play, and that's four hours. We tear down, another hour, drive home, and there's been a few nights I've just stayed up after getting home to watch the sun come up.

To be a really good band you need to practice. I miss my brothers in rock from The Funions, mostly because when we practiced we had such a good time. We practiced in church basements, band member's houses, and toward the end  at the old Vegas Music at 22nd and Broadway. Man, those were some riotous and righteous times.

When I joined The Cheeseburgers two years ago, I knew many of the songs but had to learn a bunch more. Guitar player John Hodge was coming on board too and we had some really good and intense practices before playing our first gig as a five-piece band.

You can practice all you want, but playing is where you learn and improve and get tight. I remember it took a few months before I really started feeling comfortable with most of the songs.

Band practice is an interesting study in human dynamics. Usually a band has a leader, a person who pushes the agenda and ideas with help from everybody. The Burgers have guys who have played for years and years, and there isn't really an Alpha male running the show.

Burt Shackleton, our keyboard/guitar/sax player/singer, does the set lists for every show and often has ideas about what songs to practice. New guitar player Eric McCaughey has a wealth of material he knows and has brought some very cool songs to the mix.

Some songs are easy to learn, others take time. A lot of other bands laugh at us for learning "Love Shack" by the B52s, but the way we do it gets em out on the dance floor every night we play it. The song took a bit to learn and we waited until we felt confident enough to play it live, and the first night at One Restaurant in Quincy it was awesome.

Toward the end of practice last night we were banging around some ideas when I suggested The Who's classic Baba O'Reilly. We'd messed around with it before when John Hodge was in the band and this was the first time Eric gave it a go. Burt plays guitar so all I have to do is be the goofball and sing it.

You can tell if a song is going to work almost right away, and for whatever reason it clicked. I got my Roger Daltrey on while Eric figured out the keyboard intro on guitar, and bass player Jeff VanKanegan kept us on track with the arrangement.

Who's Next was one of the first albums I ever bought on cassette tape and I wore it out on an old boom box when I was in high school. I know every word from every song and to be singing a Who song is a dream come true. We need to work on it a bit more but I look forward to unleashing it this summer during one of our many gigs.

So, yes, it is more fun than should be allowed to play in a band. And a lot of hard work to make it fun. Practice makes perfect, and getting it done on stage is where it counts.

Hope to see you this summer when we are out and about, you can find The Cheeseburger's schedule at our store website here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Always A Hockey Fan

I GREW UP in Canada and was a hockey fanatic. Played the game, watched the game, breathed the game. My team was the Montreal Canadiens and it was quite a ride in the mid to late 1970s, when LaFleur, Savard, Robinson and Dryden dominated the NHL.

After moving to Michigan in high school, I started following the Red Wings, and it was both fun and frustrating to see them slowly build from being horrible in the early 80s to getting better. Sadly, it wasn't until I moved to Illinois before they started winning Stanley Cups, but it was still fun to root for Stevie Y and the boys.

Quincy is not a hockey town, and I've missed the game. The closest NHL team is a few hours away in St. Louis, and until this year they have been terrible for a long time. But the Blues finally hired a real coach and the players have "bought in," as coach Ken Hitchcock likes to say, and they have a chance to make a real run in this year's playoffs. Also, it's nice being able to watch the Blues on Fox Sports Midwest because its  announcing team of John Kelly and Darren Pang is one of the best around.  

I will miss not having a team to root for, since the old and tired Red Wings didn't put up much of a fight against a much better, younger and hungrier Nashville team.

In past years I was a casual playoff watcher, but this year thanks to the NBC outlets I've watched more games, and the first round has been awesome. Right now Chicago and Phoenix are playing in Game 6 and it's been up and down, back and forth. No wonder the previous five games have all gone into overtime, and I'd like to see Phoenix move on.

Can't say much about the East, other than I'm glad the Penguins are done and I still hate the Boston Bruins.

If the next rounds are as good as this first round, then we are in for some very entertaining hockey indeed!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bad Rodney vs. Good Rodney, and all this music stuff

IF YOU THINK owning a music store means you can play with all kinds of new toys and get all kinds of neat stuff, well, you are right.

Sheryl and I started Second String Music in Quincy a year ago February and it's been quite the experience. We've had a lot of fun, learned a bunch and we look forward to being there for our local musicians for a long time.

My buddy Mark Hoekstra once described the desire for new stuff as the "want versus need analysis." Mark is the Smartest Man In the World and he was dead-on as usual.

"You don't need it. Of course you don't need it," Mark said. We were probably having a beverage, and we were probably talking about golf clubs, cottages, boats or cold beverages. "But you want it. It's want versus need. So what's it going to be?"

We have some incredible guitars in the store right now. I've got my eyes on a Dean 12-string with a nice pickup that would really sound good with The Cheeseburgers. This is where Good Rodney battles Bad Rodney, as they each perch on my shoulder and whisper in my ear.

"The band would benefit," says Bad Rodney, wearing a cap and devil's ears. "It would be a great advertisement for the store. You WANT this guitar and you should have it."

"Ah, point of order," Good Rodney says, dressed in white with a halo above his head. "You have an incredible Aria acoustic with a Fishman pickup. You don't need this guitar. Keep it on the floor and sell it to somebody who really needs it."

I hate Good Rodney. 

I've also got my eye on a gorgeous Fender Telecaster.

"That guitar is YOU," Bad Rodney says.

"You already have a Fender Strat," Good Rodney says.

Today I got a great Line 6 Verbzilla reverb pedal, and it's going to sound like a million bucks coming out of my Orange Tiny Terror amp. I've already told Good Rodney to take a flying leap. And if Bad Rodney starts gloating, I'll smack him off my shoulder too - the Orange amp doesn't have effects. 

And he can shut up when I'm eying the mouth-watering Blueridge acoustics that just came in, too.

So. Moderation and that whole Dutch Calvinistic guilt thing comes in handy, with all this great stuff seemingly within reach. I will take the high road, listen to Good Rodney and be smart about buying music stuff.

Though I would look good with one of those new Blueridges ....

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Covers vs. Orginals

DON VAN DYKE recently wrote a great blog on The Local Q about cover bands, what he likes and doesn't like, and what makes a good one.

I play in the Quincy band The Cheeseburgers. I am modest by fault but I think our band is pretty good. We don't look for gigs and we play two or three weekends every month, sometimes more. We play a variety of cover music, mostly classic rock, but we throw in blues and country, pop and tried and true songs everybody knows and loves.

We try to be as Cheesey as possible. We have a Disco Medley, a Cowbell Medley, a ZZ Top Medley. We play Mustang Sally, a song just about every band hates but everybody on the dance floor loves. We just unleashed a version of Love Shack that has gone over huge during a recent run of shows.

I enjoy playing in the band because the guys are a lot of fun to travel, practice and play with. We have never had a fight or disagreement, and we talk things out and communicate before issues arise. Our practices are productive, though we do tend to laugh as much as we work on music.

Burt Shackleton plays keyboards, guitar, sax and does vocals, and every band needs an all around musician like him. Eric McCaughey joined the band on guitar and vocals this year, and he has fit right in and brought some new (to us) songs to play. Bass player Jeff VanKanegan is the glue and Kirk Gribbler is rock solid back on drums. Kirk lights himself on fire, too.  FUN.

I would be remiss if I didn't give our roadie, Frank Haxel, lots of love. Ask Frank how he got the gig, You Can't Make It Up. Frank is worth his weight in gold, because after we play and collapse, he's wrapping chords and moving heavy stuff around. He also does the lights - you haven't lived until you've played Mustang Sally in the dark, and don't even know it.

I'm the goofball who sings a bit and tries not to wreck the songs with rhythm guitar. I also play acoustic guitar on a lot of songs, something no other cover band around here does, which sets us apart.

Our goal is to get people to dance and sing along and have fun. Burt does the set list for each show and we usually stick to it, but this band isn't afraid to veer off when we sense what the crowd is like. And the deeper we get into the night the faster we like to crank the songs out, one after the other, without giving anybody a chance to leave the dance floor.

We have some very good cover bands in the Quincy area. My favorite is probably Eleven, which plays songs no other band even tries. The Local Q has a list of local bands here.

One of my favorite bands is Fielder. They play their own original music, have recorded several CDs and have a big local following. We sell their CDs in our store, Second String Music. The Texas Funerals are another unique band with a large local following. There are some really good young bands that are beginning to get well deserved attention, which cheers the heart of an old and burned out rock guy.

My old band, The Funions, recorded three CDs at Coppermine Studio with the legendary Alan Lawless. I miss playing originals with those guys, and we had our share of good shows, but many times we had to institute the dreaded "We can't start until there are more people in the venue than are in the band" rule. Later in the band's run, we started playing more covers, until at the end that's pretty much all we did. And lo and behold, more people started showing up at our shows.

The Cheeseburgers get paid and we've had a lot of adventures playing weekend gigs in illustrious places like Keokuk, Iowa (ask my brother and sisters about the show last Labor Day Weekend), St. Francisville, MO, and Hamilton, IL. I love playing in the band and we are going to have a great summer, with some way cool shows lined up. Click here on the Second String Music blog for the Cheeseburgers schedule.

About a month ago I put together a band to play original music for the Baby Ella benefit at Union United Methodist. Former Cheeseburger guitarist John Hodge, Second String Music guitar teacher Warren Riley on bass and the The Mighty One, Sgt. Adam Yates on drums learned five or six originals in one practice, and we had a fantastic show before a small but enthusiastic audience.

For whatever reason the band, dubbed Sidewalk Chalk, clicked. Playing your own songs and seeing people get it is a powerful thing, and it has left us wanting more. There are lots of excuses for not playing, like we all have families, jobs and other bands, plus a lack of venues for original music, but they are lame and I would love to do more shows, maybe even think about recording a CD.

To me, a good band has energy and the love of playing is apparent when they are on stage, no matter what kind of music they perform.

Wherever you live, big city or small, get out and support your local musicians and bands!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Attack of the 50-foot woman - 25 years later

LIKE MANY THINGS, I take music for granted. And that's a shame.

Perhaps it's because I play in a classic rock cover band which plays just about every weekend. Maybe it's because Sheryl and I own Second String Music. Maybe it's because we are around it so much.

But this morning I watched the above YouTube video and got a new appreciation for the absolute power of music.

To prove it, I am now listening to one of the best albums of all time, The Completion Backwards Principle by The Tubes. This band was one of the best and most underrated group to come out of a very bad time in pop music, the early 1980s. It was one of the first cassette tapes I ever bought, and I wore it out. I knew every word of every song. I wanted to be lead singer Fee Waybill. I saw them in concert a couple of times and loved everything about them, from their quirky songs to the awesome studio guitar work of Steve Lukather on "Talk To Ya Later."

My friend Dale Winner has a Completion Backwards Principle tour jacket that hung in the store for a while. I am offering him $7 million for it. I'd pay it if I had it. How about $7, Dale?

At Christmas I got some iTunes money and downloaded the album. I've tried to listen to the whole thing a couple of times but either got distracted, fell asleep or got distracted before falling asleep.

So tonight I am determined to listen to the whole thing, and now I'm going back in time because I haven't heard most of these songs for 25 years.

Good grief. I STILL know just about every word to every song. Guh.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Amnesia and Mr. Hate are taking me back, and I mean waaaaayyyyy back. God lord, was I a high school loser. Yup. THAT far back.

I can remember playing I Don't Want To Wait Anymore and pining over a girl from East Kentwood High School. Well, I waited. I think. Wait, it's coming back to me now ... the less said, the better.

I remember blasting this album out of a cheap boom box when I worked at the Christian Reformed Recreation Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. One of my jobs was waiting by a gate for cars to come in and park. If they didn't have a sticker, they were charged a dollar. Dutch, if you know what I mean. Some people tried to talk me out of it, but it was hard to hear over Fee belting out "I'M NOT GONNA FRY YOUR BURGERS .... YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE!"

Have I mentioned how much I love Fee? In a music appreciation way, of course. It's A Matter of Pride.

So. When I get to be like the guy in the video above, 99 and feeble in a nursing home, put the headphones over my shriveled ears and crank up The Completion Backwards Principle. Or Who's Next. Or October. Or Avalon.

I'll go back and revive.

What the heck was that Kentwood girl's name, anyway?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Six String Heroes

MEET KEN WALKER, a local farmer and Vietnam War veteran who is our first Six String Heroes graduate. Ken is a great guy and has lots of stories - he was an underwater demolitions specialist and mucked through a lot of stuff in combat.

Ken was looking for something to do after serving his country for many years. He has PTSD and needed a hobby to take his mind off of things.  When they moved back to Quincy his wife got him a guitar. Then he found out about our program, started in St. Louis by Quincy native Steve Stoner. Six String Heroes at Jefferson Barracks has made a difference in many Veterans lives. Second String Music quickly realized how amazing this program is, and when Steve suggested we start a program in Quincy, we couldn't say no.

Six String Heroes gives Veterans six free guitar lessons, a loaner guitar to use and a real guitar to take home after the sixth lesson, all at no cost to the veteran. We are selling SSHJB T-shirts for a $10 donation and our friends at Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Vancil Performing Arts Center have raised a boatload of money for the program.  It is so great to have such community support for this great group.  We accept donations of guitars in any condition to help with the program.

Ken has a wry sense of humor and picks things up well. He likes to sit out on his porch with his guitar and do some simple strumming, and learning a few chords and some different techniques has helped him enjoy it more.

"When it's just you and your guitar, it's like everything else just goes away," he says. "It takes my mind off things. I love it."

It's the very least we can do for our veterans who have served our country and risked their lives. Ken is going to continue with lessons and I think he's going to turn into a fair picker, sooner than later.

It's an awesome program and we are humbled and honored to be a part of it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Big Dumb Bella

THIS IS THE first but certainly not last time on this new blog we will talk about our dogs, the loves of our lives.

After a day of chronicling human misery, I like to take Bella, our 3-year-old mutt, and Lucy, our beautiful 12-year-old Border/Aussie Shepherd mix, to a local cemetery so they can run. I can get my head back together and the girls have the place to themselves, chasing squirrels and ghosts with gleeful abandon.

Bella was described by my sister Charys as "a little dumb, but very sweet." Actually, Bella is very dumb. This was proven today when she ran through our fence.

I went out through the fence door and closed it before letting the girls out. I had to stretch out the sheet in the back seat of my car before letting them in it. But as soon as I closed the fence door, Bella came charging up and SPLAT went right through it.

I yelled. She shook her head and said, "What?"

No biggie. I fixed the latch, then off we went.

The girls go off leash and behave 99 percent of the time. Today, however, was a 1 percent day. A guy who looked like Fish from the band Marillion was walking two little dogs on a leash by the front of the cemetery as we got done, and Bella of course startled all three of them by charging up from behind.

"Old man! Old man!" the guy shouted. One of the dogs snarled at Bella, who just wanted to say hello, but of course Bella snarled back, so pretty soon we had Fish from Marillion foaming at the mouth and three dogs snarling at each other. Of course Lucy, the best-behaved dog ever, had to wander up and add dog butt-sniffing to the fray.


I apologized, got the girls out of there, got Bella in the car, and thought all was well. Except Lucy turned back to sniff more dog butts. "Old man!" Fish said again.

I had to grab Lucy by her considerable scruff of her neck and guided her back to the car. She wasn't happy. Fish went back to walking his dogs. I went home and contemplated nailing the back gate to the fence shut.

Dogs. Love em. They are completely sacked out now and Lucy is chasing cows and sheep in her sleep. Bella is dreaming about whatever dumb dogs dream about.

I'm going to watch Chelsea Lately and hope for a better day tomorrow. A better walk, anyway.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dreams and beaches

I AM DREAMING of a Lake Michigan beach.

People around here look at me like I'm nuts when I tell them what my summer vacation plans are. "We have a river here," they say.

I wish I could explain it to them, sugar cane beaches and clear blue waters, what it feels like to fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the waves, how you can survive with two coolers and sunscreen for a week.

But really, you have to do it for yourself.

Sheryl and I have made reservations at a Lake Michigan campground this summer. Life got in the way last year and we were determined to not let that happen again, music store notwithstanding. It's a long ways away but already, I'm dreaming.

I want to wake up and drink coffee while the sun comes up and the smoke from the previous night's camp fires still hangs in the air. I want to devour a cheap novel, see if there is still enough ice to keep the lemonade cold, load up for an afternoon on the beach, not give a flying crap about anything except too much sun in my face.

I want supper on a grill, a serious lack on phone and internet service, the promise of a glorious sunset, another camp fire and a Tigers game on the radio.

Maybe somebody else has an acoustic guitar and we can play till quiet hour, smore ourselves into stuffed oblivion, see if the ice is still keeping the lemonade cold.

I want to be so tired I don't even remember going to sleep.

And I want to wake up and do it all again.

I am dreaming of a Lake Michigan beach. It can't come soon enough!