Friday, February 27, 2015

Learning at any age and the KHQA morning show

WE HAD A blast early this morning with Lauren Kalil and the KHQA morning show at Second String Music. Her story about learning an instrument at an older age is below. She was a great sport and it was fun teaching her a few things about the guitar.

It doesn't matter how old or young you are. You want to play? You can play.

Thank you Lauren and Bob Frank, the cameraman, and KHQA for the love.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dutch Chocolate Letters

SHERYL RECENTLY ORDERED a bunch of Dutch licorice, called dropje, and Dutch chocolate letters. This was after our whirlwind trip to Toronto and her exposure to the crazy Hart family and their love of all things Dutch.

Dutch licorice is an acquired tasted. Don't try it unless you are ready. Click here to see what I meant.

It's traditional to receive a chocolate letter on your birthday, Christmas or other special occasions. It's part of the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition, and I remember many Christmas mornings as a kid, waking up with a sock full of treats, dropjes and a big chocolate R.

After we got our shipment from a Dutch store in Holland, Michigan, Sheryl ate the letter H and immediately ordered me to hide the other two letters, which I dutifully did until I ate them. The boxes were getting soggy and I didn't want the letters to get ruined.

Dutch licorice is good for sore throats, curing scurvy and raising blood pressure if you eat too many, like I did when they came in last week. Topdrop hard zout is the bomb. I think I know what it's like to do hard drugs, and I just opened another package. BLEEP. I'm eating them all day.

If you aren't Dutch, you aren't much, as we like to humbly put it. We have lots of licorice at Second String Music, but it won't last forever, and you are more than welcome to come on by and sample some.

Unfortunately, the chocolate letters are gone. I'll try to save some for you next time. Right.

I believe the C stands for "crack."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Overbooked again

THINGS HAVE BEEN fairly quiet around her recently. Of course as soon as I say that, the craziness resumes.

The morning after Pepper Spray ain't pretty.
Friday morning, the KHQA morning show is doing live segments from Second String Music. They were just here filming a piece about adults learning a new instrument - thank you Lauren for coming over, and for my student, Vanessa Crowe, for coming in at the last second and agreeing to be interviewed.

The morning show starts at 5 a.m. GUH. At least I can roll out of bed and be at the store in five minutes.

Later Friday morning, I'm playing at the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Six String Heroes lunch promotion with Wayne Bridges and Cori Lyssy. Then on Friday night, we are celebrating the store's four-year anniversary with a little party and jam session.

Oh yeah, almost forgot - there's a big Pepper Spray show Saturday night at Twin Oaks. And our new upstairs bathroom shower is being installed Sunday.

I'll sleep when I'm dead. Bring it on, weekend!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fifth and Maine crash

THERE WAS A crash at Fifth and Maine last night. It hit a little too close to home, er, the business.

WGEM photo of the crash last night by our front door.
Click here for the WGEM link. It doesn't sound like the physical injuries are really serious, but I feel for the poor people who were simply minding their own business while another vehicle ran a red light.

Judging from the footage, there was a ton of debris in the intersection, and there's still a lot of glass and car parts on the sidewalk and street. One of the vehicles came to rest about 15 feet from the front of Second String Music.

Without speculating why the red light was ignored, it's safe to say one moment of carelessness or not paying attention can cause a lifetime of harm regret and harm. I'm just glad nobody lost their lives.

One of the vehicles could have very easily hit our building, too. We've come too far and are doing too many good things to have something like that happen.

Be careful out there, Q-Town!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Miracle on ice - the other side

SUNDAY WAS THE 35th anniversary of the famed "Miracle On Ice" game between the United States and the USSR. We all know the story - a bunch of no-named college kids pulled off an upset for the ages by beating the big bad Russians.

I was 15 years old and living in Canada at the time, and I remember watching the contest on a TV with bad reception in my bedroom. I don't think it was even broadcast live. The game two days later is a little more vivid, when the USA clinched the gold medal by beating Finland.

Sure, I still get chills watching the last two minutes and hearing Al Michaels immortal call. But listen closely - "Do you believe in miracles?" is framed perfectly by the other announcer. First, as the puck goes out of the U.S. zone with about three seconds left, he shouts, "It's over!" Then he utters "Unbelievable!" right after Michaels' gives his legendary summary.

The color commentator is Ken Dryden, my childhood hockey hero and Montreal Canadiens goaltender. So one of the most amazing moments in United State sports history was analyzed by a Hoser. Beauty, eh?

The gathering this past weekend in Lake Placid was the first time the team had been entirely reunited since those magic moments 35 years ago. And, as usual, time provides perspective and looking at things from the other side.

Back then, as a Canadian, it was all about beating the big bad Russians. They were the evil empire and robotic demons, even if they skated beautifully and taught us Canadians a thing or two about our game.

Take a look at the bad guys as the United States celebrates on the ice. Shocked and stunned aren't accurate enough to describe the utter disbelief and "what truck just hit us?" looks on the Soviet faces.

I'm hoping to watch a new movie about the USSR team called "Red Army." We never think about the team that lost, the movie appears to be about a hockey game framed by history and change.

Years later, I became of fan of players like Slava Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak and the new generation of stars like Sergei Federov. The Soviet players helped the Detroit Red Wings to Stanley Cups in the 1990s, and there's a guy named Vladimir Tarasenko who is pretty good right now for the St. Louis Blues. He's from Russia, by the way.

Looking back, even at a hockey game from 35 years ago, helps us relive and learn, and those are never bad things.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bathroom and kitchen renovations - I'm outta here

WHEN WE WERE in snowy New York state last weekend, Sheryl's nephews came over and destroyed our kitchen ceiling.

We have some leaking in the kitchen during bad weather, so we are redoing the plumbing and ceiling. Evan and Brant tore out the ceiling and now we can see the original shingles from the original roof - the kitchen was added to the back of the house many years ago.

Hopefully no skeletons in our walls.
Then we had our friend Nick come over and look at the plumbing, and we discovered we need a new upstairs shower. Sheryl has now decided to redo the shower and floors up there, and there will be a lot of banging and clattering as we smash walls and take apart fixtures in the next few weeks.

I say "we" with reservation. She'll do all the work. I'm allergic to home renovation projects. I'll help  her carry stuff and clean up. Maybe. I can work the shop vac and burn wood.

There's a fine line to walk when your spouse is working hard and you are really useless. It's not that I don't want to help. It's just that there's a genetic code in my brain that goes off when home repair is mentioned. Something like, "Ohhhhh nooooo."

Sheryl just asked me to go upstairs in our historic building downtown and measure a room (she says an opening). I simply can't follow what she wants and how she wants it done. My brain just doesn't seem to process the instructions. So, she went up and did it herself. It took her longer to explain it to me than it did for her to just do it herself.... See, she's learning.

In other words, I'm a musician. And kinda dumb. At least I admit my weaknesses.

So. We'll see how it goes, and how long it takes, and how much I help/get in the way. Always an adventure. Always.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's winter and it's cold - deal with it

SHERYL HAD AN appointment in Hannibal this morning so I walked to the store. It's about a mile. It was cold - right now our local weather station reports it being about 6 degrees with a wind chill of minus-4.

But it wasn't that bad, even heading into the light breeze. And Angus sure enjoyed the stroll. "I don't feel the cold," he said. "Hey. Is that a squirrel? Let me go! Let me go!"

Lucy always loved to make snow angels
in this kind of weather.
There are upset parents complaining about Quincy not closing schools. "It's too cold," they say. "Many kids wait at bus stops or walk or don't have warm coats. They are going to catch colds and get sick."

Of course, these are the same parents complaining about having to make days up in June when the schools run out of snow and cold days.

Look. As a parent, you have a right to protect your child. If you felt is was too cold for them to be outside this morning, call the school and tell them. I'm sure your child can make up whatever they miss today. Apparently if kids don't show up it can be an unexcused absence, and that's not right if you do call the school.

Our schools tend to shut down way too soon and for nothing. It's snowy and cold. Deal with it! Slow down and be a little more careful. Put on a couple of extra layers. Take a little more time. It's not the end of the world.

As a kid I used to walk to school and ride the bus in horrible and snowy conditions. I lived to tell about it. Yeah, that's right - I walked two miles uphill in blizzards without boots or shoes. Both ways. You know, the good old days.

Sorry about being cold-blooded about this. And for the kids who made it to school today - stay inside. It's too cold for recess.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Guitar lessons with a real teacher

I GET ASKED a lot about online guitar lessons. Of course my first reaction is to tell you to forget it, and to take lessons from a real human being in the same room, not on a computer screen.

Jim Bier and Rodney Hart give guitar lessons
at Second String Music.
As always, there's a little more to it.

I go online and to YouTube if there's a requested song I can't figure out. The latest example is a song by Incubus called "Drive," which is surprisingly acoustic and has some very cool chords.

I tooled around to a few different lessons sites, and a couple of them left me frustrated and almost angry. They were nowhere near close to what was being played and it was pretty obvious the "teachers" were bored and full of themselves. Eventually I did find a good lesson and I've gone back to that site since.

My best piece of advice is to be careful going online for guitar lessons. If the guy or gal showing you the song looks stoned and starts singing way out of tune while playing, well, you are on the wrong site. There are great guitar players out there who are lousy teachers, and there are average players who seem to connect.

Here's another thing about going to a real teacher for a real lesson - you will be a bit more motivated since you are paying for the lesson, and you'll get a lot more than just learning chords, strum patterns and technique. Playing music is only part of what makes a guitarist - and I guarantee if you take it seriously, we'll have a lot of fun. And you can ask me all kinds of questions that an online instructor can't ever answer.

Be careful when you click and watch, and rock on.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Parking in the snow

WHAT AN AMAZING trip we had to Rochester and Toronto. Emily's master's recital was beautiful and we had an adventure going across the border and visiting my crazy Canadian family. Fun memories.

It started snowing in Rochester Saturday morning and it was still snowing when we left Monday morning. It never stopped. People in town just shrugged and said it was a brutal winter, though I took great relief in seeing a TV news guy standing in front of a downtown snow pile and declaring it cold outside. Doesn't matter where you go, I guess.

Rochester has a beautiful downtown. But like all bigger cities, there are parking issues. No free parking, no spots open and our parking garage was its own force to be reckoned with. Blocks and blocks of parked cars seemed permanently attached to the street.

Emily lives a few blocks from Eastman School of Music campus, thankfully. I don't want anybody in downtown Quincy bitching about the lack of parking, EVER - compared to cities of equal or bigger size, we have acres of space to park the automobile. And I do mean acres.

Not actual image from our trip. It was too dangerous
to take our own photo.
The plows were out and tried to keep up, but it was a losing battle. If you want a thrill or want to take your own life into your hands, try driving on a major highway packed with 3 days of ice and snow. You are allowed to go 65, but we were lucky to hit 20 in some spots - especially coming off the highway. Sheryl has a special technique that will slingshot you off the guardrail and in the right direction when you hit that ice. We survived.

We ate breakfast in Leroy, New York. We crossed Niagara Falls but couldn't see a thing because of the snow and fog. Yup, it was snowing in a fog. We got stuck in traffic outside of Toronto because a crash closed the entire highway - five lanes of no fun. We saw huge chunks of ice on Lake Ontario. People were ice skating on the lake. We drove past the CN Tower and Skydome and Air Canada Center, and we really need to go back to Toronto when we have more time to explore one of the great cities on earth. But only when the snow is gone!

It was a whirlwind trip, and it's nice to be home - no major airplane issues, lots of snow in St. Louis - but almost none compared to Rochester. We got to the store about 5 p.m. and parked right by the door. I think we only walked about 30 feet, Wow. It is really nice to be home.

A big thanks to Steve Rees, who watched the store and sold stuff left and right. And a big thanks to Sheryl's nephew, Evan Boyer, who watched our dogs and got a major kitchen renovation project started.

This morning we drove to the store and again parked nearby. Absence makes the heart grow fonder of little old Quincy, Illinois!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

New York visit

WE ARE HEADING to Rochester, N.Y. to see Emily at Eastman School of Music. It's our first trip there and we are really excited - she's playing her master's recital on Sunday night, and it's hard to believe she's almost done and will get her master's degree in music performance.

We will also spin over to Toronto to visit some of my crazy Canadian family - it's always fun when the Hart clan gathers.

Our friend Steve Rees is watching the store and Sheryl's nephew, Evan, is hanging out in Calftown to watch the dogs and do some badly-needed home repair.

I think the best part of the trip is the fact we are going off the grid. We won't be tied to computers or Facebook or work. It is nice to get away.

I'll be back Tuesday with a report and photos. Here's to smooth sailing, on-time airplanes and clear roads during an adventure. Anchors away!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Second floor is full!

WE GOT GREAT news this week - our historic Dodd Building second floor space has been filled!

A local photographer is renting it, and she has already started tearing up the old carpet. The old wooden floors are gorgeous and we are so excited to be breathing back life into our building. We leased out the other second-floor space to a local musician who has installed a recording studio.

There's a lot of work to be done - we called our electrician and he came this morning to check it out. Fortunately all the innards are modern and up to code so it isn't too hard to get additional outlet and light fixtures to the rooms. The windows will need some TLC, the rooms painted, and we've already hired a local contractor to fix the ceilings. Finally, we have the motivation to "finish" the space.

The second floor just exudes character, history and charm.

We have a lot more work ahead, but it's a great start. We still have first-floor retail space available as well - you can call Second String Music at 217 223-8008 for more info.

Here's to calling downtown home and to fixing up old buildings. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Filtering through the BS in election time

 WE HAVE A primary election coming up and there is a race for a City Council seat. I am not telling you who to vote for or why you should vote. But I do have some advice for people who are in the election.

If you want somebody to proofread your letters to residences, send them to my wife. Sheryl will read them and use her BS meter to determine if they make sense.

Don't tell us you will "reduce our taxes." Do you really have that much power? Wait. No you don't.

Don't tell us how you will be fiscally responsible or how you will represent us and give us a voice. Your job as alderman or in any political office is to be fair and to make tough decisions, and you are going to piss people off. It's the nature of what you do. Stop trying to tell us it isn't.

Don't have some stupidly-named group send out letters smacking your opponent, and using a fake return address on the envelope.

Don't go pointing out the speck in your opponent's eye until you take out the log of your own.  And if you've already served in public office, really, why are you running again?

You don't need a BS meter to tell I hate elections and politics.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Jam for Ted

MARK MESTER AND Rollo Carder put together a jam session at Turner Hall Sunday afternoon to honor the late Ted Tappe. It started at noon and when I drove past there at about 6, they were still going strong - who knows how long they went.

Smells like old Cheese on the Turner Hall stage!
I got up there with former Cheeseburgers Eric McKay and Burt Shackleton, along with drummer Kirk Gribler and bassist Mike Carter. We tore through four songs and it was just like falling off a bike, to quote former Quincy University hoopster Jay Driscoll.

And we did it to remember our friend Ted, who passed away last April.

What I really loved about it was musicians of various ages and experience talking and hanging out. Again, music is the great equalizer and common bond for all people.

Thank you Mark, Rollo and Ted's family for letting us hang out and make some noise!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Cheese and Pepper Spray

ONCE AGAIN, RUMORS of the Cheeseburgers' death have been greatly exaggerated.

We are on hiatus right now while we bolster the ranks - the Cheese will be back! We are hoping to make an announcement soon.

Not that the bands are blending but this is funny!
In the meantime, I'm having fun playing with Tim Smith of Pepper Spray. We have a show tonight at the Blind Pig at 8:30, and we'd love to see you pack the Pig. I've dug up some songs that might even surprise Tim, who seems to know the first verse to every tune every written.

Pepper Spray also  has a show Feb. 28 at Twin Oaks, where we had a fantastic time last fall. I'm also working on another very cool project, debuting at the end of March.

As always, get out and support live music!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Patient veteran radio guys

I HAD A blast with Greg Haubrich, Dylan Austin and the WGEM News Talk 105 crew this morning, talking about our Six String Heroes press conference and program. It brought back a lot of memories as we sat in Studio H at the corner of Fifth and Hampshire, a mere block from Second String Music.

When I was the crime and courts reporter at The Herald-Whig, I did a Tuesday morning segment with Greg and Rich Cain that became pretty popular. We called it the "You Can't Make It Up" segment, and we talked about court cases, the crazy people doing crazy and dumb things, and life in general.

We got into a pretty good routine. Then reporters at the paper started working random night shifts, and my last months at the paper I didn't do the radio show as much. I missed it, and still do.

This morning when I walked in, Greg was patiently working with a new producer, a young gal who seems pretty sharp and is learning on the fly. When we got done, Greg went over a few other technical issues, and I was impressed with how he kept his cool - radio is easy, right? You just flap your gums and mess around. The commercials play themselves and the bumper music comes on automatically. It's no problem!

There's a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes and it's not a job for the easily-rattled.

It's good to see a veteran like Greg still doing his thing. The journalism business is a young person's game, but you can't substitute for experience.

Thanks for letting me hang out again, Greg.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Six String Heroes donation

SIX STRING HEROES has given the Illinois Veterans Home $3,500 in musical instruments for the activities department. We had a press conference this morning at the Vets Home and had a great time talking about Six String Heroes and the amazing power of music.

Mia Meacher, activity therapist at the IVH, told a great story about one of the residents. He's struggling with dementia and couldn't remember his own name, or the name of his wife. Mia played a song used at their wedding all those years ago, and the man remembered the song, his name and his wife.

Studies show music triggers memory recollection, and it can last for more than just a fleeing moment.

Both KHQA and WGEM will have stories tonight. Frank Haxel and I were on Y-101 this morning with Dennis Oliver and Jeff Dorsey, and the Quincy Journal gave us some love, too.

Huge thanks to Sara Heiden and the Blue Cross/Blue Shield employees, who have raised thousands of dollars for Six String Heroes. They are doing it again at the end of February, and don't forget about our big party March 7 at Turner Hall, featuring Avenue Beat, Clockwork and Eleven.

Awareness is important, but it's all about Six String Heroes and the amazing things done for veterans. We are honored to be a part of it!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Dance a jig in the store

SO I'M GIVING a guitar lesson in Second String Music's back room this morning when I hear some singing and hooting and hollering. I walk out and there's Justin Haubrich playing guitar and another older gentlemen singing and dancing and having the time of his life. Our Dean sales rep, Phil Jost, is just sitting there with a smile and several other customers enjoyed the show.

Justin is considering the purchase of a Takamine GD-30ce to play at the Blind Pig for Open Mic nights starting this Wednesday at 8 pm. He is the host and will be playing too. Be there.

Yup. That's the corner of Fifth and Maine. You just never know what will happen or who will walk through the door.

Sheryl deals with it all and just keeps forging ahead. I just strum the guitar, give lessons, walk the dogs, buy lunch and stay out of the way.

Pinch me again.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Avoiding bad halftime shows

YESTERDAY I AVOIDED watching the Super Bowl halftime show. I don't know who the "singer" is and I had no interest in watching Kaorake. So I walked the dogs and put away my laundry.

I think the halftime singer is the second one from the right.
A couple of times I wandered by the TV because Sheryl was watching it (she was bemused and horrified the whole time). Sheryl had some interesting comments, like "I think Lenny Kravitz is using her as his sex slave" and "I'm not sure who these girls with the hats are but they seem to be dancing around a lot."

If you like the singer and what she does, good for you. You are probably 12 and impressionable, but there is nothing wrong with that. I just don't go for the costume changes and auto tune, that's all.

A few years back The Who tore it up at halftime and I loved it. Many people complained that it was rough and raw and "didn't sound like the record," and that's exactly the point and why I love them. If you don't, no problem.

I was also watched the second half on my laptop since Downtown Abbey was on, and the Sky broadcast was really good - no dumb commercials and some interesting analysis during the breaks. And the game was really good, in case you didn't know, which most people don't since they were talking about sharks and Teletubbies and singers swinging from the sky.

New England won, by the way.

Next year, I'm holding out for Weird Al at halftime. Then I will watch.