Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A second to say thanks

HAPPY THANKSGIVING A day early, good world. It's a busy time in the Q-Town!

Tonight at 8, Tim Smith and I are playing at The Blind Pig at 12th and Lind. Tim and I make it up on the fly, much like we do in our band Pepper Spray. Wednesday night is a great party night, so come do it right with us!

Thursday night I'm actually playing a private party gig with Rock A. Bye Johnny B. Apparently Roberto Stellino from Tiramisu will be there as well with a rack of lamb, so of course Sheryl has bravely volunteered to come with us and make sure we play well.

Saturday night, Pepper Spray is at Twin Oaks in Quincy. And next Monday I'm playing at a bank holiday party. Then we have our final two Cheeseburger shows with Burt Shackleton and another solo party or two.

Phew! This Christmas season stuff keeps us busy. Yesterday while I was giving lessons Sheryl sold guitars and lots of other stuff to Christmas shoppers. It will be really busy at Fifth and Maine this year.

Peace to you and yours. Take a second during a very busy time to give thanks. And we will see you out and about.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Talking Heads and the gift of music

OUR GOOD FRIEND Ted Holt gave me the best birthday present ever - Stop Making Sense, the 1984 live Talking Heads record. That's right, a record. You know - the round black thing that spins and uses a needle. I think our record player is in Hi Fi, too.

The gift of music is a beautiful thing. That's why I got Sheryl the Led Zeppelin DVD for her birthday. I'm really looking forward to watching it.

Sheryl is at a doctor's appointment so I'm blasting Stop Making Sense through the store and it's righteous. The Talking Heads were way ahead of their time and took music, art and theatrics to a new level. This is also a very different concert film. If want overindulgent guitar solos and explosions and crowd noise drowning out intros, this is not your movie.

Hold on a second ... I need to flip the record over.

There. I'm back. Anyway, this thing rocks and I'm going back to the 1980s, no hot tub time machine needed.

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around ....

Monday, November 24, 2014

Closed Thursday, period.

FIRST OF ALL, many thanks for all the kinds birthday wishes. Fifty is truly the new 20! And I have leftover rocket fuel in the fridge if you want to reinforce the thought. Actually I feel really good and we had a blast in the store Saturday, and a great day with Sheryl's sister and family Sunday.

We are getting ready for Christmas, of course, at Second String Music. We'll have extended hours later in December and we'll do everything we can to make your Christmas shopping experience better.

There are retailers, however, that take it too far.

I noticed several of our larger local big boxes on Broadway will be open Thursday. As in, Thanksgiving. Is that what it's come to, the day BEFORE Black Friday?

I can point the finger at the stores all I want. But the fact is, they wouldn't be open unless they expected people to shop.

I've never understood Black Friday and if you are a person who lives for moving in the masses like mooing cattle to save a few bucks, well, fine. To each his own.

We are closed on Thanksgiving. We will be open at 10 a.m. Friday morning. We welcome and appreciate your business and we hope the upcoming season is a good one for you, and for us.

But not on Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2014

No presents required

I AM AWFUL about buying gifts. I stew about it too much and then choke when it comes to making decisions.

Fortunately, Sheryl is easy to buy for when it comes time to Christmas. So is Emily. The rest of you are probably outta luck.

That being said, tomorrow we are having a little gathering at Second String Music to celebrate my last day in my 40s. I refuse to say 50th birthday party. That just makes me sound ... old.

What would I like for my birthday? Nothing. I'm a blessed man and all I want is to have a good time with good friends and take stock of being alive to tell about it.

I'm sure some people will bring stuff - the awesome Anne Mays gave me a T-shirt and Christmas ornament. I got a very nice card and check from my father yesterday. Sheryl got me the Hill Street Blues DVD set, which we've been slowly but steadily watching. Some people are very creative and like to get stuff for others, an admirable trait.

Sheryl bought cupcakes and the fridge is full, so come on out to Fifth and Maine Saturday and we'll have a few laughs and you can make fun of an old man.

No gifts necessary. Well. Maybe some Aspirin for Sunday morning.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Long live The Cheeseburgers

BURT SHACKLETON IS leaving The Cheeseburgers. His last public show with us is Saturday, Dec. 6, at One Restaurant in Quincy. He is also playing with us at a private party the following week.

I am sorry to see Burt leave. He is a talented musician and on the good nights, it's more fun than should be allowed to play with him. And most of our gigs are good nights.

I wish him well. He and his wife, Jill, have eight kids and four are still at home. Jill just got her nursing degree and has a full-time job now, and they just became grandparents.

Playing in a band requires a lot of time and energy. How he's done it all these years is beyond me.

Burt will be difficult to replace. But read this next part very slowly and carefully - The Cheeseburgers are not breaking up. Since I joined more than 4 1/2 years ago, we've had three guys come and go. It happens, so you move on and adjust.

This band is too good and we have too much fun to stop playing. This will give us a chance to pause and rethink a lot of things, and to add a whole bunch of new and fun stuff to the Cheese.

Come on out Dec. 6 for Burt's last show. Long live Cheese!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Embracing 50. Let's party!

THIS IS MY last week in my 40s. I've been bouncing around from morose about getting old, like when I try to get out of bed, and excited about the challenge of maturity. Right. Pffffft. Move along, nothing to see here.

Our crazy friend Luke Lyter says turning 50 is no big deal. "It's actually great, man," Luke says. "Embrace it. The 50s are the best times of your life."

Age is one of those things you can't stop and doesn't make sense, like Taylor Swift or a naked Kardashian. But you can't ignore it unlike those two, so you may as well celebrate it.

Rodney and Rock A Bye of the Funions.
You can benchmark life by remembering benchmark birthdays. I don't remember being born or turning 10. At 20, I was living and working in the Grand Canyon National Park and there was probably beer involved. I do remember having to work the next day and making sure I wasn't hungover, which means I was being responsible and adult-like, and really, that's not good for my reputation.

Thirty was no big deal and I don't remember doing much. At 40, I had Funions band practice and got black balloons.

So this Sunday it's the big Five-O. Wow. I've thrown away my AARP mail and I'm thinking about asking for a senior discount the next time I go to dinner. Actually, we are celebrating both my birthday and Sheryl's earlier birthday on Friday night with the ageless and wonderful Anne Mays, who might just live to be 130 and refuses to grow up.

Is that a mullet? This must of been before 30.
Saturday we are celebrating with a store party that will hopefully rage out of control by noon. At 3 p.m. we will toast our friend Pat Cornwell, which we do every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The store is bulging with great stuff as we get ready for Christmas, so we'll have sales and remarks from dignitaries and keys to the city presentations.

Or we'll just try to survive so I can see 50 the next day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Alderman Hart? I don't know ....

I'VE BEEN ASKED several times if I'd be interested in filing for Ward 7 alderman.

On the one hand, I'm intrigued. There are some things I feel strongly about and that we need to address in our area of town.

On the other, I have no major issues with our current representation. And I'd have to go to meetings. I hate meetings, you know.

And I'd have to actually learn what a tax levee or levy or whatever it is, is. And I'd get a new cellphone and I'd have to learn how to turn it on.

I hate politics. I think we stay away from it at the local level, to a degree. Owning a small business is complicated enough.

And I couldn't run as a Democrat or Republican. Ick. I need to take a shower after just thinking about it. I'd run as an independent, which means I'd be up against money and organized people.

Still ....

Nah. I'm good.

For now.

Monday, November 17, 2014

New place to play

I PLAYED A solo show Saturday night at the Quincy Quality Inn, the old Holiday Inn. It was a blast.

The new owners have done a good job of fixing the place up. Drake's, Tim Hart's restaurant, was rocking and the food is excellent. The staff was friendly. And the venue is very cool.

I set up in the main atrium area. They've built a little stage near the bar, and it's very laid back. There were actually a few people in and out during the 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. show and they were very fun.

Sheryl and I talked to the owners after I got done. They were eager to learn more about booking acts and how to treat the performers. They were all ears and I think they want to explore making the venue attractive to both the acts and the audience.

Back in the day, the old Holiday Inn used to rock all the time. They had a bar area and the back banquet rooms used to be full for parties, receptions and general gatherings.

It would be great to see it rock again!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Heavy Metal Love

A LITTLE BIT of band love never hurts.

I wrote a story for Thursday's Whig about a local band playing a show Saturday night at The Club Tavern. They are called Awaiting The Gallows. They are super excited about the show and playing with two other bands, We featured them because they are good guys and they have a passion for what they do, and it's a big local event. A young copy editor at The Whig named Cody Bozarth put the page together and made it look great.

I know for a fact we sold some papers and I got a lot of positive feedback from the guys in the band and their fans. I don't write stories to get love - you'll last less than a day in the journalism bidness if you have that attitude. Most of the time if I profile a band or a person, I might get a thanks or two, and that's great. But in this case, I was overwhelmed by the response.

It tells me they appreciate it. They work just as hard as any musicians around here and getting a little recognition is a good thing.

I don't care what kind of music you like or listen to - rap, country, metal, classic rock, indie, emo, schmeemo, whatever. We are all in this together as a local music community and we need to appreciate and support each other, no matter the genre or style.

Rock on, boys. Have a great show Saturday!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Singing lessons with Angus The Young

WE HAVE A brand new voice teacher at Second String Music - Angus The Young, our recent arrival who blends Corgi, Australian Cattle Dog and howling to new levels of musicianship.

Angus hangs out in the store most of the day. Not long ago he grabbed a squeaky toy and went to town. Suddenly he began howling at the top of his little lungs and the store was filled with toots, squeaks and the chorus of "Hound Dog." Fast Eddie added his classic soprano "Meowwwww" and a fast tail swish. Snap.

Angus has two favorite squeak toys - a miniature football and a plastic cupcake. Because he's teething and his back molars are coming in, he likes to grab things like sticks, drum beaters and boxes, then methodically shred them. He's already disassembled a strange rainbow-colored chew toy, disemboweled every toy stuffed animal in the house and gummed the plastic squeakers to pieces. Thankfully he doesn't like shoes but he loves my stinky socks.

Tucker likes to join in with his tenor Border Collie "woo woo woo." Bella, our dumb black lab, just rolls her eyes growls her deep bass at Angus if he gets too close.

Angus has several favorite songs - You Shook Me All Night Long, of course, along with Stray Cat Strut and Shannon (the horrendous 1970s "song" crooned by Henry Gross, one of the all-time best bad songs ever).

And ... his lessons at the store are free! Everybody is welcome to come in and croon with Angus, especially a week from Saturday when we celebrate someone's 50th birthday and toast our good friend Pat Cornwell. 

What the .... Angus just belted out Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon! Next up, his rendition of Ozzy's Bark at the Moon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cleaning Up

SHERYL AND I live in a beautiful old German house. I have a room upstairs with music stuff and a big desk. I rarely go in there. That has to change.

So the other day I cleaned it up. I moved some boxes into a closet, threw away a bunch of junk and was glad to finally find my grocery list from a 2006 Lake Michigan beach vacation. Important historical documents need to be preserved, you know.

I also found old song lyrics and a dead bird. Yup. A dead bird. How it got up there and how long it's been hidden behind a table piled with old birthday cards and checks from closed accounts, I'll never know.

Ready to rock! Unless I find another dead bird.
I'm thinking about recording Christmas songs for a CD. I brought guitars and microphones and various cords and bells and whistles home from the store. I dusted off my old Boss BR 1200 digital recording work station. I've forgotten minor things like how to plug in my monitor speakers (Sheryl to the rescue again) and how the phantom power works and, well, how to turn it on. Baby steps, baby.

So I'm spending some quality time making noise and banging around. Tucker likes to come up and hang out, too. There is no internet in this room to distract me with cat videos or cell phones to bleep and buzz me every moment either.

Hey! My old college yearbooks!

It might take a while to start making noise.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Songs at funerals

SO I'VE BEEN tasked to play a song or five at Jay's funeral Saturday. Click here for visitation and other info.

I'm not comfortable with it. But who is, when somebody you know dies and people gather to remember and honor him?

Sheryl, Stephanie and I have talked a lot about what to play. There have been some requests. I respect Jay and his kids, and "Stairway To Heaven" was considered, but I never really learned it. There's too many words and hard chords for this strummer, so we've put together an instrumental medley of classic rock songs for the beginning of the service.

"You have to understand something - Jay was cheesy and literal about music," Sheryl said. "I mean, 'Stairway To Heaven' is the most overplayed song of all time. But Jay liked it and he probably would think it's cool."

There have been requests for "Christian songs" but I'm really struggling with that idea. This is Jay we are talking about. I believe he's in a better place.

We are thinking about doing "Kite" by U2, which is about Bono's attempt to fly a kite with his daughters, only to see it crash and his kids getting discouraged, then going home to play video games. Now THAT is more appropriate. There's some powerful imagery in the song and it's been used at church services before.

And no, Jay. Sorry. We aren't doing a Metallica/80s hair band medley at your funeral. Appreciate you asking, though.

I'm a man, I'm not a child
I'm a man, who sees, the shadow behind your eyes
Who's to say where the wind will take you
Who's to say what it is will break you
I don't know, which way the wind will blow
Who's to know when the time has come around
Don't want to see you cry
I know that this is not goodbye

Monday, November 10, 2014

You are in a better place, Jay

SHERYL'S BROTHER, JAY Collins, passed away Sunday in Peoria. He was 45.

Metallica anyone? Devil's Music!
Jay had his share of demons and challenges in life. When we first opened Second String Music at Eighth and Washington, Sheryl gave him a job as our web developer, but it didn't work out because of his erratic behavior. He wouldn't stay on his medicine, and the end wasn't pretty.

The move to Peoria a few years ago was good for him. He'd come back once in a while, visit with the family and hang out with his son, Spencer, who lives in Camp Point. He had his own apartment, had help staying on his medication and recently lost 50 pounds. He liked it over there - it was away from Quincy and away from a bad environment.

A couple of weeks ago he was back in town for his birthday and came into the store, and we ended up going out to his favorite old haunt, Spring Street. We are glad we got to see him one last time.

We are not sure about the circumstances of his death. There was no sign of foul play, so it could have been anything from a stroke to a heart attack. We will know more later.

Sheryl and her sister, Steph, are doing okay. They are both shocked and saddened, but Sheryl says she suspected something like this would happen someday. We went over to see their father, Jerry, last night, and he was busy dealing with the millions of details involved with a funeral and getting Jay's other two children in Maryland back to Quincy for the funeral.

Steph and Jay at a Blue Devils Game
I have experience when it comes to a family member leaving too early. It's gut-wrenching and a million questions swim around your brain, and in the end, you realize they are in a better place.

The visitation is Friday at Duker & Haugh and the funeral Saturday. We'll have details later today.

Smooth seas and the sun on your face, Jay. We will meet again in better circumstances, I'm sure.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ghost by the elevator

MONDAY NIGHT AT Second String Music, our band Pepper Spray took some photos. We are playing Nov. 29 at Twin Oaks in Quincy, and the venue owner is making a poster.

We took a bunch of photos in the main room, the back room, outside of the building and by the elevator inside the 505 Maine entrance. In that room, in front of the 1920 Hollister Whitney birdcage elevator which needs to be repaired, we took the final photos of the evening.

Original photo
The next day, as Sheryl was editing her pictures, she noticed a strange white cloud in the elevator photos. She checked the camera - no smudge on the lens. She checked the other photos from the other areas of the building, No smudge.

The smudge or cloud appeared beside Adam Yates, to the right up the stairs. It looked like a cloud of dust.

Trick of the light? Or something or somebody appearing in our photo? This white cloud appeared only in  the 505 Maine inside photo. Sheryl took several photos and each one on the stairs had this cloud.

With a little imagination, you can see the outline of a man. He appears to be coming out of the wall. He has short dark hair and is wearing a tie. He is facing our bass player, Justin Sievert, who is standing on the far right.

Sheryl circled the spot and you do have to look at it closely. Maybe it's just a bunch of hooey.

Original with circled image
Maybe it's Mr. Wilson, who started his law firm on the second floor exactly 100 years ago. Maybe it's Mr. Houston coming down from the fourth floor, or Dr. Glower coming down from the third floor, or somebody who worked at Fischer Jewelers on the second floor.

A lot of paranormal stuff today is trumped up and designed to scare and provoke. We've had a team of paranormal investigators go through the building and they didn't pick up anything. We've been up there at night and heard some strange things, but that might have more to do with the post-jam session conditions than anything.

Or maybe there are ghosts, and they hang out at Fifth and Maine on occasion. Maybe they like music. Maybe they just want to be in a band. Maybe they will be at our Nov. 29 show, too.

I say, the more the merrier, dead or alive.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fixing the Newsboys stuff

LAST NIGHT IN Quincy, the very popular Christian band The Newsboys played a sold out show at the Oakley-Lindsay Center.

The day before we got a panicked message about their amp that had blown tubes and burnt resistors. Turns out it was a power amp, and it was in serious trouble. Our guy is good but a one day job on an amplifier he has never seen, that might be tough.

We managed to get our tech to look at it and he spent considerable time Tuesday afternoon testing tubes, replacing another burnt tube and replacing capacitors. It also had a fan that didn't work and that is why tubes and capacitors kept blowing up. We got it done by 4 pm, and off to the venue by 5 pm. Our tech said it should work better than it ever has and from all accounts, the show went off fabulously. Everybody wins in this situation.

That's what Second String Music does for our local bands. It is nice to see we can perform this service in a pinch for a traveling act. We enjoyed going the extra mile to get it done. I even took extra tubes over to the tech guy's shop mid-afternoon to expedite the repair. THAT is why we opened our business and it is a pleasure to see the wheels of commerce grind and work. Further proof that keeping local small businesses alive and well helps everyone.

As Sheryl likes to say, "You can't get that kind of service from the Internet."

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Just Vote

SHERYL AND I have voted. It is something we don't take for granted, and neither should you.

To me, there are three races of interest. I am not telling anybody who to vote for, and why you should vote yes or no on an issue.

1. GOVERNOR CRAP: I despise Illinois politics. The ads for the Illinois governor's race have been sickening and disgusting. It's time to trade Chicago to Montana for lemonade and cookies. This state is broke and corrupt and our governor has done nothing to change my mind except hand out millions the state doesn't have. Then there's his opponent - how the heck do you vote for a "venture capitalist" who just looks oily? It's the lesser of two evils. Do what you gotta do.

2. SCHOOL AMENDMENT: This one will decide if Quincy schools can rebuild and restructure. Lots of good argument on both sides of the issue. I remember going to a school board meeting 10 or 12 years ago and this was brought up, and there was general malaise among the board members at the time. Not anymore.

3. COUNTY CLERK. Everybody loves an underdog. Right? The challenger has busted his butt trying to get support. Will people actually come out to vote for him? If he wins, it's the YCMIU story of the year - a convicted felon who gives "free" rides home from the bar is voted into a crucial county office requiring management experience and the ability to stay above the political fray. Did I say You Can't Make It Up? I did? Well. There you go.

So get out and vote, and if you don't, the finger you point has no aim.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lessons for a late brother

PEOPLE HAVE MANY reasons for taking music lessons. Bucket list item, bored with nothing to do, addicted to video games, got a guitar as a gift - all are good reasons, and motivation really helps.

Saturday we had a young man come into the store and ask about taking guitar lessons. Bill (not his real name) had a brother who tragically passed away in March, and Bill has inherited his brother's guitar.

I remember his brother. He bought a very nice electric guitar from us and Sheryl put new strings on it a week before he passed away.

"I have his guitar, and I think I'd like to take lessons in his memory," Bill said. "My brother was really into it, and he said you guys helped him. So I want to continue and I want to play his guitar. It meant a lot to him."


Motivation is often the most important part when it comes to learning an instrument. I don't think that will be an issue here, and it's my honor to help this young man remember his brother.