Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Send The Cheeseburgers to the moon

THERE IS A company out there sending two people around the moon. So I want the company owner to know this - I'll do it, for free.

In fact, I'd bring my whole band. Cheeseburgers In Space. Has a certain Saturn ring to it, n'est-pas?

Is that our drummer in the uppper left?
Sending the Cheeseburgers to space is a great idea. Imagine the Cowbell Medley without gravity! I'd have to bolt my word house and amp to the space ship floor. Actually, we'd have to bolt everything to the floor, including our drummer. The Keystone Light cans flying around would be hazardous but we'd deal with it. Maybe we could talk the company into landing on the moon, and we could play a show. Fabulous night for a Moon Dance, or Walking On The Moon, right?

What's that? The two "tourists" are paying a hefty fee? And the people who went up to the International Space Station also paid huge money? Well, rats.

I can't afford to it. I'd do away with the normal band gig fee, however.

Everything is better with Cheese, including the moon and spaceships.

Monday, February 27, 2017

More Six String Heroes love

Steve, Sara and Kevin are pleased as punch at another BCBS donation!

EVERY FEBRUARY, THE employees at Blue Cross/Blue Shield have a fundraiser for Six String Heroes. Every year they vow to raise a little more than the last. And every year, they deliver.

Saturday at Second String Music, Sara Heiden and her crew presented Six String Heroes founders Steve Stoner and Kevin Sullivan with a check for almost $5,000. In the six years they've been doing this, Blue Cross/Blue Shield has donated $30,000.

It's mind-blowing and humbling to have such great backing. Steve and Kevin are overwhelmed with gratitude, and we can't thank Sara and her angels for busting their butts every year with T-shirt sales and lunches at BCBS headquarters in Quincy.

Sheryl and I join Frank and Cindy at Vancil Performing Arts in expressing our appreciation and gratitude to Sara and crew. And thanks as always to Mike Sorenson of Bad Wolf Media for taking photos.

We all have stories about how this program has helped veterans, and I've had several awesome students go through the program in the past couple of months. One of them was a pretty good player already but just needed a little direction and idea why things work. He uses guitar for therapy, precisely the idea behind Six String Heroes.

When we were done, I presented him with a beautiful donated Takamine acoustic, and he shed a tear when holding his new guitar..

Truth is, so did I.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Farewell to Jumby The Jeep

EMILY BOUGHT A new Suburu last weekend. It's the end of an era, because she will no longer be driving Jumby The Jeep.

Jumby came to Emily 10 years ago. Her grandparents bought it new, then gave it to her mother, who in turn gave it to Emily. She's been to New York, Toronto and Michigan many times in Jumby. The check engine light was always on and Jumby usually needed new tires, brakes, a belt and/or the air conditioner fixed. Emily had somewhat of a love/hate relationship with Jumby, but I suppose it's like anything else - you have it long enough, you become attached. Ten years is a long time to own your first vehicle.

Jumby has been good to Emily.
The first and only new car I bought was in August of 1988. I had my first real job, as a sports writer at Advance Newspapers in Jenison, Michigan. I needed reliable transportation because we covered a huge area of West Michigan. So I went to a Grand Rapids Ford dealer on 28th Street and bought a Ford Festiva. The price was about $7,000, according to the internet. I remember the salesman asking for a down payment. I had $10 to my name. He said, "That will work." And I had a new car.

It had surprising leg room for such a tiny car, but not much else room. For a while it was a great ride. Then one snowy afternoon I pulled into the parking lot of an elementary school, where I was coaching the basketball team. There wasn't another car around for miles, but of course I lost control and it slammed into a light fixture, crumpling the front end.

We got it fixed, but it never ran the same again..

I don't remember what I ended up doing with it, but I likely sold it in Alpena for next to nothing. And I've never owned a brand new car since.

I'm hoping Emily has better luck than I did with her new ride. I'm waiting for her to name it. And I'm glad she got around in Jumby safe and sound all these years.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Waiting at the drive-through drives me nuts

LOOK. I UNDERSTAND we have huge and pressing issues in our world. My neighbor just got arrested for robbing a local sandwich shop. We can't come up with a budget compromise for Illinois - my suggestion to trade Chicago for Montana has fallen on deaf ears. We have unrest in the Middle East, Russians are hacking our elections and sailing off our shores, and don't even get me started about massacres in Sweden and trips to Florida costing us gazillions.

But really, here's the massive issue facing us today, and it dwarfs all our other problems. Namely, why do young people in big pickup trucks decided to unload five years of change at the bank drive-through?

Open drive-through lanes are beautiful things.
I prefer to go into the bank most of the time, especially if Angus or Tucker is with me, because the employees love the dogs and they get treats. One time I even got a sweet State Street Bank sippy cup. It literally pays to go into the bank and get great personal service.

But there are times when we are going to the store that we use the drive-through. It's just more convenient. We stick the deposit in the tube thingy, and two minutes later we have a receipt and more treats for the dogs.

This morning, all three lanes had vehicles in them. So picked the lane with only one vehicle. Unfortunately, it was a massive Ford F-150 about the size of the WCU Building. I waited. And waited. And waited. The other two lanes emptied out. The fumes from the truck started to make my head spin, and I don't need any extra help. So I backed up and swung into an open lane, next to the pickup truck.

The young guy behind the wheel never looked up. That's because he was tapping on his phone. You can get a lot of bidness done while waiting at the bank drive-through, you know. Or win at Minecraft. They are both important. He got done at the same time I did, and I saw the teller give him a blue bank bag.

In other words, this guy was probably putting a week's worth of deposits and business into various accounts.

I'm not very good at waiting, so it's probably my fault for growing impatient.

But here's a little drive-through etiquette for you, if you are able to get out of your vehicle and like to socialize. If you want to open up a checking account, see how much you owe on your mortgage or want to take out a loan, go inside. If you have a massive deposit and it will take the teller a while to go through everything, go inside. If you want to shoot the breeze and talk about the weather, go inside.

You might even get a treat for your trouble.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Music store party time again!

I CANNOT FATHOM we are celebrating anniversary No. 6 next month. It's Saturday, March 4, starting at dawn and continuing until 2017. Sounds like another hazy crazy day to me!

Details are here. Every year we try to do something different - you recall the foggy details of the Guitar Pinata last year, and the Dropping A Guitar Off The Roof of Second String Music the year before that. We are looking for another audience participation event, and so far the discarded ideas are the Four Corners of Washington Park Beer Relay and the trampoline off the roof plunge. Without a safety net

One thing we are seriously considering is a SSM Talent contest. We'll have three random judges and put up millions of dollars in prizes. Or maybe an Eighth and Washington store pick. Details are still being worked out.

So. . . Get your thinking caps on. Or off, if that works better. It's time to celebrating yet again, and nobody does a music store party better than Second String Music.

We have broken guitars to prove it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Drum help and new guitars

SHERYL IS NOW substitute teaching full-time for the next month, taking over for a Quincy Junior High School teacher who just had knee surgery. I will give the kids a piece of advice, although I think they have figured this out already - behave. Thank you.

That means I'm at Second String Music with the dogs and a fat cat as company. Steve Reese comes in a few days a week when I have lessons to help out.

Yesterday was insane - lots of interesting customers, strange phone call requests, and a woman who came in asking for $20 so she could go visit her sick grandmother. Right. I was also chastised for not making a house call and fixing somebody's banjo - free of charge, of course. I'll just be quiet now.

The Jacksons are here!
On the other hand, I helped several local musicians with some gear questions and fooled around some more on the awesome new Boss Katana guitar amp. We also got a big shipment of Gretsch ukuleles, and our first Jackson guitar order came in -sharp looking axes! This is a business and we treat it as such, but sometimes I just feel like a big kid in a candy store.

Sheryl tasked me with putting together a drum kit together. I am horrible at this stuff, clueless. But I got everything out, scattered it all over the floor and gamely attempted to follow the instructions between phone calls and selling stuff.

Then Paul Wood walked in. Paul is one of our awesome local percussion players and musicians. He looked at me staring forlornly at the mess on the floor and laughed. I said, "Do you know how to put a drum kit together?" He laughed again. Next thing I know, he's down on the floor while I'm running to the bank to get change for the cash drawer. I come back and the dang thing is nearly put together.

The sense of community is something I really treasure about this crazy music retail business. Thank you, Paul, for your enduring patience and support of Second String Music. It's the little things that count. Sheryl was pleasantly surprised to see the assembled kit and I made sure to share the credit. "Paul did it," I said. At least I was honest.

I'd love to tell you more, but the Fed Ex guy just showed up (to see Angus, mostly). More ukes and guitars! But hopefully no more drum kits. At least ones that need to be put together right away.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Limping Border Collies

TUCKER, OUR BEAUTIFUL Border Collie, hurt his paw the other day. Sheryl noticed him limping last night. Tucker just gave us his mournful "Ah it's okay don't worry about me suffering from death" look and hobbled away.

This may have had something to do with Tucker and the other dogs getting their shots this week. I wouldn't like it either if a strange dude jabbed me in the butt with a needle. Wait. That sounded really wrong. But you get the idea.

Tucker using his good paw to drive.
Lucy, the Queen of Calftown and Sheryl's beloved Border/Aussie mix, was very good at the whole injured paw thing. She'd limp around and make sure you could see her in all her pain and agony. Then she'd see a squirrel and dash off to chase it, and there wasn't a thing wrong with her.

On our walk this morning, Tucker was noticeably limping and stayed off his front left paw. This is the same leg he broke several years ago jumping out of a Second String Music window on the upper floors. He hasn't been up there since, obviously.

So there could be something to the whole paw thing. Tucker is at the store this morning and seems to be doing fine - he just terrorized Fast Eddie and greeted the UPS and Fed Ex delivery drivers.

If you want to come see him today, make sure you shake his right paw.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How to make a CD

SECOND STRING MUSIC has a big display case of locally-made CDs, or music made by artists with local ties. They sell fairly well. The musicians around here realize they aren't making a living off of their recordings, but there are some still brave enough to put new music out, and a lot of it is really good.

From left: Paul, Zeke and Logan jamming away!
There are various ways to go about it. Logan Kammerer and George Cate have home recording studios, and they mix and master their own recordings, even burn their own CDs. Zeke Cernea recently recorded a CD with Paul Wood at Nice Guy Studios in town - you can tell because the production is amazing. Tim (Egan) Kayser has started Gem City Records in town.

Copper Mine (Alan Lawless) is still in business. We even had a recording studio on the second floor of our Fifth and Maine building for a while.

I have an old Boss digital recording system. I did a Christmas CD a few years ago, just goofing around. It wasn't great but it was fun and it turned out okay.

Our friend Will Leffert is recording songs at his home studio and has started a page to fund the project. Buying the equipment and doing it right isn't easy, though it's a lot cheaper today than it was years ago. I remember doing demos with Lana Hawkins at Copper Mine back in 1999 and 2000, and The Funions made three CDs with Alan in the early to mid-2000s.

The recording industry has changed so much because it's possible to do demos at home, if you have the right equipment and the time. And nobody wants to pay for music anymore - we'd rather watch a soap opera disguised as a talent show, judged by people who like hearing their own voice.

As for the local talent, well, you can be the judge. It's here at Second String Music. Most of the CDs range from $5 to $10, well worth it to support hometown musicians.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Quite the gaggle of kids, we were

MY YOUNGEST SISTER, Charys, is the keeper of Hart family records. She managed to save most of my mom's stuff after she passed away in 2005. Every now and then Charys will post a photo on Facebook to take us back.

She put this latest Hart siblings picture up a few days ago and a debate began. Where was this taken? How old were we? How impossible is the white belt I am wearing?

From left is me, Stephen, Greg, Kathy and Charys. "I could tell who you were by your pensive look," Sheryl says. Also, I'm a foot taller than everybody. And Steve has the chubby cheeks, and Greg looks pissed like he always did, Kathy strikes a pose and Charys just takes it all in with a smile.

Charys thought this was taken in Montreal. But I do believe my father solved the mystery of the location - it's Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, near Midland, Ontario. I can't remember what I had for breakfast, but I do recall visiting this place when we were vacationing at the Georgian Bay one summer. I remember bones of the martyrs, lots of candles in a church and a big open space with funny looking buildings. Years ago I went through some stuff and found a pamphlet, too.

You gotta love the soldier charging toward us - we were probably being too loud. For some reason I seem to remember it was raining, which is probably why my parents got us out of the cottage and doing something instead of killing each other. Maybe there was a break in the clouds when my mother snapped this photo.

So there it is - the Hart kids, circa 1975, actually behaving long enough for a picture.

What a crew were were!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Chicken wings and super naps

IN THE OLD days I'd go to a Super Bowl party or make an event out of it. Now the only day off we get is on Sunday, so we prefer to stay in, stay safe, and nap or watch nothing on TV to our hearts content.

I made a mountain of chicken wings before the game for me and Sheryl, then retired to the man cave. I spent much of the first half dozing in and out of a food coma. It was lovely.

Getting ready for the nap ... er, game.
I didn't watch the halftime show. In fact, I'm not sure what I did instead - probably put away the rest of my laundry. I don't have anything against the performer, and supposedly she put on quite the show. Good for her, and if you liked it, good for you. I don't know a single song she sings and it simply had no appeal.

I fell asleep again in the third quarter, and I almost turned the game off early in the fourth quarter. But it's the final game of the season, it's the Super Bowl, and you never know what Tom Brady might do.

The end was riveting - I feel badly for Falcons fans, seeing the game slip away to its inevitable conclusion. You can hate the Patriots all you want, but you can't argue that they win, and win, and win. And now you might make a case that Tom Brady is the best NFL quarterback of all time. Sheryl says Joe Montana is the best. I wouldn't argue with her.

It was quite a game. I'm glad I watched. And napped. And stayed awake for the end.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Charles Sharpe and Heartland legacy

CHARLES SHARPE, THE founder of Heartland Ministries in Northeast Missouri, passed away earlier this week. You can read his obituary here. Mr. Sharpe was no stranger to controversy and being in the news, and that's putting it mildly.

Heartland is a faith-based ministry and takes in troubled kids and people with substance abuse issues. Say what you want about Mr. Sharpe, but he wore his faith on his sleeve and his fiery sermons were direct and to the point.

Many years ago I covered a trial near Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It was for one of the Heartland employees, if I remember right. Authorities alleged some of the Heartland Christian Academy students were abused when made to clean out manure pits. The trial lasted a week, and it was a joke - the jury found the employee not guilty after deliberating for less than an hour.

Students were removed from Heartland by the state of Missouri in 2004 after allegations of mistreatment. A jury eventually ruled against Heartland, even though settlements were reached with some of the families. Click here for the 2010 Whig story.

I vaguely recall going to Hannibal and covering some of the tedious civil trial proceedings. Mr. Sharpe stopped me in the hall during a break and said, "I like it when  you cover our stories, because at least you are fair to us." Well, I tried to be fair to everybody. I appreciated the comments, but I was just doing my job, nothing more and nothing less.

Heartland has undoubtedly helped a lot of people, but it isn't for everybody - there are websites and stories about people who balked at the strict Christian programs. Some of them end up in Quincy when they want out of the program, and I've heard some of the stories. You always have to consider the context and the source, so I don't rush to judgement.

Mr. Sharpe certainly made an impact, and as has Heartland.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bigger isn't better

WE GET MUSICIANS in Second String Music all the time asking if we have a big amp with a lot of power. The answer? Of course we do! But bigger isn't better. It's about tone and volume, not just volume.

Some players want the massive half stacks and 1,000-watt tube amps to blow people out of the water. If that's what you are after, more power to you. What? I said, more power to you. Might want to see our friend Kevin Ballard at Quincy Audiology and get your ears tested, too.

There's an old saying in the band business that goes, "We don't get paid to play. We get paid to set up and tear down." It's so true - the three or four hours (or, in The Cheeseburgers case last weekend at a private party, five-plus hours) we are on stage are a blast. But it's a lot of work to lug all the stuff in, set it up, check levels, make sure everything is working, and go. And it's a lot of work to pack it all away after you've played your butt off and have little strength to stand up, let alone haul more crap around.

This guy packs a huge punch .
I use a Roland Cube 80-watt amp with The Cheeseburgers - I can't turn it up past 3 or 4 on stage, and I can lift it with one finger. Today's technology means you can buy incredible sounding amps without a ton of weight. And if you have a sound guy who knows what he is doing, it's pretty simple - put a microphone in front of your amp, make sure you can hear it through the monitors, and start rocking.

We just sold a 120-watt Roland Cube bass amp. And we just got more of the 100-watt Boss Katana Guitar amps in - they are unbelievable. Try one out!

As always, we encourage you to play a guitar or an amp before you buy, and Roland doubles your warranty if you purchase the amp at a small retail store.

Go big with your sound. But don't throw out your back. See? Best of both worlds, right at Fifth and Maine!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Emily's coach and hoop wildness

I'M BEGINNING TO get the hang of the sports writing thing again. Maybe. I've been covering the Quincy High School girls basketball team, for The Whig, and coach Brad Bergman and his girls are fun to watch. Brad is great to talk with after games and I feel really at home at QHS Gym.

Of course, I spent a lot of long nights in there when Emily played, and saw some good games, and some not so good.

Sans smoke and hat, this is me .....
Last night Springfield Southeast came to town. Southeast is coached by Sandi Devoe, who was the QHS coach for seven seasons, and Emily's coach. Emily definitely learned how to deal with adversity during her four years of varsity basketball, and she can still say she played on the last QHS girls team to win a regional (2007). Coach Devoe was always fair to Emily and her music aspirations, and made sure there was time to pursue both hoops and oboes.

It was nice to talk with Sandi last night before the game and catch up on stuff - both her kids are now playing college basketball, and her husband, Fred, is the Southeast athletic director. Sandi has had some very good teams at Southeast and I'm glad she is doing well.

Unfortunately for her, last night's game didn't end well. It was among the wildest high school hoop games I have ever seen - QHS finally won in overtime on a last second shot. Despite the loss, coach Devoe still gave me some good quotes and took things in stride.

Quincy is an entertaining team to watch. Jada Humphrey, the jitterbug point guard, plays with an unmatched passion and she simply willed her team to a big win last night. The Blue Devils have a lot of younger players and the future looks good for the program, and I couldn't be happier for coach Bergman and his team.

QHS has a home game against Galesburg Thursday night at 6:30, plays at Quincy Notre Dame in the Superfan Shootout at 9 a.m. Saturday against undefeated Clopton (Missouri), and has one more home game a week from Thursday against Moline before the regional tournament starts.

Good grief. I'm starting to sound like a sports guy again ....