Music Projects

lists, not Franz

I love analog lists. I am unable to use a “phone” to keep track of critical path activities. I am unable to keep them in my head, either. So I scribble notes on whatever is available. I can check activities off as they are completed, and then send the other activities to a new list.

Franz Liszt, was a Hungarian composer and pianist, He wrote impossibly intricate and technically challenging piano music. His music, to me, is just a head game though. He was a “romantic” in music history- music history being a bunch of non-musical people inventing labels for college courses.

Just give me some baroque. Johann Sebastian, for example:

Beer Bicycles Music

David Bromberg

I lived in a motel in Springfield, Ill. I had a little portable record player and listened to David Bromberg’s Wanted Dead or Alive album and drank cheap beer. I had a ’69 Ford truck, for which I paid 600 dollars. During the day I would drive around and install cable TV. I had some metal braces, with curved blades at the bottom, which were strapped to my lower legs. I would use these to climb telephone poles in order to make the connections for the coax cable going to the houses. I was paid according to how many installs I made every day. I did this in Leavenworth, Kansas and Anaconda, Montana too. But that is a different blog post.

There was, and still may be, a bicycle shop in Springfield which had on display a Motobecane Champion Team. A beautiful orange, full Campy bike for the same money my truck cost. I would have bought that bike but I still owed my parents for my truck.

I was often paid cash by the customers. One time I used that cash to buy groceries or beer. Probably beer. When the day of reckoning came- when I was supposed to turn over the proceeds from my work tickets- I didn’t have the money. I told them I had spent it. My boss just said, “Don’t do that shit no more”. And I didn’t. My boss lived in the same motel. We watched the movie Casablanca one night in his room with another fellow. He referred to me as the Montana boy, and he wondered what I did with my money.

I had a Peugeot PA-10 bicycle that I rode down to Champaign-Urbana on my days off. There is not really anything there, so I would just ride back to my motel and listen to David Bromberg and drink cheap beer.

Music Projects

Off the Grid

“Off Our Rockers”

Little Feat

Well, we have decided to scrap the house plans we have been working on for the last 6 months in favor of the idea we originally had when we found this property and thought about building.

It was important that the living spaces take advantage of the desert sunsets and of the views of the Santa Rita Mountains. The idea was for a 2 story house consisting of a living room with a western exposure, and a kitchen oriented to the east for the morning sun- all on the 2nd story. The 2 bedrooms would be on the first floor along with the entry.

We were not crazy about the resulting elevations which looked sort of like a fire lookout tower. Not that there’s anything wrong with fire lookout towers, it just seemed out of place.

Then I thought I wanted a sort of “compound” with several buildings of different scales and materials looking as though they were all built at different times. Like some precious old west reproduction. Fuck, I might be a hipster. We already have the shop/carport and thought we could build a casita between that building and the main house that would make a nice transition between the buildings and would create some drama. There were problems with the new plans too. After staking out the footprint, the house didn’t really inhabit the site like I thought it would. And there was some awkwardness with the floor plan. There was also awkwardness with financing and we started discussing building in phases. Those discussions led back to building the simpler, original house.

Those plans are now with the architect and engineer who will provide the information the Santa Cruz county building department needs in order to issue a building permit. The goal is to have the slab on grade poured this winter, the house closed in next winter, and the finish work done the following winter. That’s a ridiculously long time to build a 1400 square foot house, but hey, we’re old folks.

Music Projects

Chicken Coop

As soon as I typed this title I thought of Christine McVie. R.I.P.

Our chicken coop was built in response to a particular building, but also as an attempt to build something that reflects a history. A long time ago, people would build shelters which fit into the landscape and which provided shelter from elements like wind and sun and at the same time provided some sort of comfort. In the desert southwest there is a ubiquitous form which goes a long ways towards meeting these goals. Mainly as an outbuilding, lean-to sheds proliferate like Blue Grama grass in southern Arizona.

The ubiquitous lean-to shed was the inspiration for our shop and carport building

This particular building captured our attention when we first explored the area. The proportions and colors seem just about right. It may be just a work of art though, since we never see anybody around.

But, more about Christine McVie (Perfect). Really good blues pianist who, in her role in Chicken Shack, a British blues outfit, contributed a rollicking barrelhouse groove. She went on to write and sing for Fleetwood Mac after Peter Green left, which is ironic because Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac was a pretty hardcore blues band, and after he left they started changing direction. When Green left, along with Jeremy Spencer, I think the band sort of lost its way. They put out a couple of good albums but, after the “Future Games” album, Stevie Nicks joined the band and it all went to shite, in my opinion. Christine McVie died in 2022.

I wanted to build something which could be completed by hand, like a ten year old kid building a fort. Can I just bury poles in the ground, nail some supports to them, build a floor platform, bolt on some rafters, put on a metal roof and siding, and call it good? Apparently so.

Using a skid-steer tractor to clear off vegetation and to establish a rough grade.
Establishing rough grade.
Big kid’s hole digger.
post hole digger aka PHD
A little hand work from a little brother.
pole barn
These posts weigh a metric shit ton. We set them in the holes, then shoveled dirt and gravel into the holes and compacted it in 6 to 8 inch lifts, all the time trying to keep the posts plumb.

Piano Lessons

When I was in the fourth grade I took piano lessons from Mrs. Jandt. Hers was a big house on the corner; white clapboard with lilac bushes. Four or five concrete steps up to a small front porch, also concrete. The front door opened into a room- just a room, with no transition from the outside but with an upright piano against the far wall. There might have been other rooms, maybe rooms that I had been in, but I don’t remember them. Once a week after school I would walk to her house for my lesson. It seems like it was always spring. I don’t remember ever walking there in the snow. Considering that this was southwest Montana, my only conclusion is that I didn’t take lessons from her for very long. Her teaching emphasis was on learning to read music, which came relatively easy for me. I remember her placing pennies on the backs of my hands while I was playing, the goal being to not let the pennies fall. Then there were the recitals. Making a mistake was unforgivable. Watching kids freeze, watching myself freeze at the piano still induces nightmares.

My early musical “education” did not focus on music. I didn’t know what a chord progression meant or sounded like and I didn’t know what an interval was until I was 20 years old. In the Music Education curriculum at University I learned how a sonata was constructed and I learned that Bach, and the Baroque period, came before Beethoven, and the Classical period. Again, in music school, the same fucking thing happened; the music history professor, who also taught piano, would see me in the practice cubicle and come in and correct my hand position. Why not show me some music?

Now, in my mid 60’s, I feel as though I am starting from scratch at playing songs on the piano. By “songs” I mean either a solo piece or something I can play with other musicians while actually adding something to the music. Happily, there are many people my age who have musical backgrounds and love to play in jam sessions and who are happy to let me sit in.

Sitting in with other musicians means being able to follow the chord changes, which means reading a “chart” and/or being able to hear the changes and/or being able to see the chords by the shape of the guitar players’ hands. Then one must be able to make the chords and the transitions sound good sonically and rythmically. And one needs to be able to do this on the fly; the music doesn’t wait. I just realized I always want to be able to make the piano part sound full and complete. It’s hard to have the patience to play very basic notes and rhythms while “in the pocket”.

DAW (digital audio workstation) software allows one to import musical tracks and then play along with them while recording the whole thing. An audio interface like this one from performs the magic of connecting the instrument or voice microphone to the software. This site has a catalog of hundreds of songs performed in the style of, but not performed by, the artists who made them famous. Most of the songs can be downloaded by separate tracks, so I can get the complete version, the version with vocals (which doesn’t include the piano part) and the piano only version so I can learn that. Then I can put the vocal version in the software and play along while recording.

Sorry if this seems elementary to some, but it took me some time to figure this all out and it’s a lot of fun to use. Here’s one of my favorites to play along with. It’s a song written by James O’Hara and made famous by George Jones. If the reader/listener doesn’t like hard core bad breath honky tonk they may not like this. I think this type of piano, the Hargus “Pig” Robbins sound, is incredible.

The Cold Hard Truth

Beer Music

Hill Country Hideout

Hill Country Hideout- “Someplace down in Texas” (It’s in Canyon Lake). Wednesday is open mic night and just because it’s Christmas day, it makes no difference. There are 29, or so, taps but because of the holidays, there are only a few. Some real good singers (the host is not included in this description) share the mic, one at a time, and the one guitar. The sign says something about mics and bikes. “Bikes”,however, don’t mean pedal bikes, because, Texas.


The Queen Of Soul

You may or may not like this song, but Aretha Franklin!