I took this photo last night at a restaurant and blues music joint in Philadelphia. That’s Lightning Hopkins behind me. The music was good and I got to hear some amazing harmonica players. One of them, a great bandleader and singer named Mike Junior showed me some tricks on the harp and gave me a Hohner case after he saw me walk on stage and place my harmonicas on the floor. He’s like a big boss man from Chicago working the joint like Howling Wolf, digging deep and singing the blues all while directing the band. It was a nice jam - there were some guitars and saxophones and it featured a small asian man named Blue Willy Reed who played the harmonica - never too much, but always enough. I played a little bit of harp too, but I mostly just listened and took it in. I’ve been practicing; I can tell you that.
On stage I played my friend Paul’s electric guitar; it was unfamiliar and different, but nice to play, especially since it’s been months since I worked with a band. I’ve been traveling for 4 months now - from israel and back and from a musical standpoint, I’ve been playing acoustic and singing, working on the harmonica and the slide, picking, writing on the guitar and stomping my feet. Folksingers and bluesman like Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Gary Davis, Elmore James, Lightning Hopkins, The Wood Brothers, G-Love, Bob Dylan. English bands like the Zeppelin and the Stones. There is lots of Americana and southern music, funk and reggae and in Philadelphia there is soul music coming from the cafes. And because of the geography you can throw Bruce Springsteen and be ok. There is music around, that is for sure. But we lacked a keyboardist.
Afterwards, the manager of the restaurant and I got to talking. He knew my friend Paul in college - and we sat together on the barstool watching Paul on stage.
“What do you do besides music - you know to pay the bills?” He asked me.
“Well.” I said, “When I am in Nashville, I work at this hostel - they pay me and give me a place to stay - and it’s great I’m right in downtown Nashville close to a hundred live music venues and a thousand musicians and songwriters and I’ve got my spots there… And in Portland when I am not picking up jobs, I have enough connections to just play music and get by.
After a few minutes I decided to speak up. “I may as well offer it to you,” I said - knowing I had nothing to lose. “I may be sticking around Philadelphia for a while and if you need any help, I’m ok starting at the bottom and doing whatever you need.”
“Ok” He said, smiling, turning in his seat. “Let me know.”
Soon we got talking about the job and the restaurant and he mentioned they were always hiring and that I should I should get in touch with him later - if I was still around of course - ‘to join the team.’
In the car on our way home I asked Paul what he thought about the job. it wasn’t bad he said and I thought it would be enough to support myself while out here. “How much a month can you live on?”
"Well." Not much I said, "Especially when I am not paying rent."
But I’d have to move in somewhere. Thought of having my own room was nice.
“What’s your 6 month plan?” he asked me.
I looked at him. “I want to focus on music - on my career - and build something somewhere - put out my cd, record and play as much and as well as I can. Get serious, get to work.”
The thought of the word career, after time away was a bit unsettling. Especially at 26.
“I also want to go back to Portland in the summer and do a release show. And perhaps a small tour - and keep myself open for opportunities to travel.”
“There is a certain level of dependability that comes with any job,” He said bluntly. “It’s tough to just up and leave.”
I sat back and thought of Nashville, and Chicago, of Austin, TX and Mexico and The Great Northwest. Later on, in the street I flipped a coin which I always do to help me make a decision. Nashville was tails and Philadelphia heads and the coin said Nashville.
(Last month I had flipped a coin in Budapest hostel after I missed my flight to Tel-Aviv 19 out of 20 times to affirm I was going back to the U.S and not continuing my travels back through Poland to Germany. In Sevilla I flipped at 3:00 to decide to go to Madrid and Budapest and not an electronic music festival for 4 days. I had already experienced that in Granada and nearly froze my ass off in the cold Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.)
After a great weekend in Philadelphia, Monday has arrived. The weather is cold now and people are by themselves. It’s dark outside and there is a wind blowing but I’m not sure where it leads, and only time will tell. I may leave tomorrow - before my welcome is overstayed - to DC. and then Knoxville by Wednesday morning and Nashville the same night. My job at Nashville Downtown Hostel starts May 15th, so I would be early, which means I’d have to find a couch - or I will have to work for my stay at the hostel, 4 hours a day with no pay, but at least I’d be there. Or I could stay in Philadelphia and see about getting set up here; but after 4 months, I’m at the end of the rope and I need to start climbing.
Even more, the sun is shining in Portland, OR at the moment and I know can get work there - and perhaps get a band together for some shows. And grab a few things I need before I head to Nashville on the 15th. There seems to always be unfinished business in that town and this option is still in the cards.
At this moment I’m not sure, but I’ll have to decide soon.
I finally have time to sit in the back yard and discover music. It’s like fishing listening to unheard gems by John Hammond, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed (and others) - as well as classics by the Allman Brothers, Tom Petty, Ray Charles, and The Band. On this warm and balmy spring afternoon in Philadelphia, PA. I’m alive. Outside, the sun is shining, my belly is full and there is gas in the metaphorical tank.
There are some things that wont stay together and other things that never end.
That much is true.
I am in West Philadelphia now, at my friend Tim’s house, and the sun is shining through the window into the living room and onto my face. I went to bed on a loose cushioned couch reading Hemingway and woke up in the crack like so many times before. My first thought was, “It’s about time for you to find a bed.” Then I read some more Hemingway, looked out the window and forgot what I was thinking.
I am enjoying Philadelphia and the people like I thought I would. What a change from the absurdity of New York City. It has an East Coast feel, but is better for the money, as I found out when I purchased a jar of peanut butter yesterday for $1.64. I have played 2 open mics, gotten together easily with friends and stayed 2 days in South Philly where it’s rough and flat and where immigrants, families and students lived cramped lives in small row houses. There is more history and brick here than any place I have been. City Hall in Center City is an enormous European style building declaring at once something historically proud, strong, majestic and forever immovable. Plus it’s close to New York city - only 12 dollars on the Chinatown bus - and once you’re in the city, you can bike almost everywhere in 20 minutes, as many people choose to do. The first thing I did upon arriving was get a famous Philly Cheese-Steak sandwich from Pats and it cost me nearly 10 dollars; for the money it was the worst sandwich I have eaten in 20 years.
I am glad to be here, although I must say I am tired from traveling and ready to be in one place for more than a week, to set up an enterprise and have my own work space and something steady to lean back on. But the weekend is almost here, and that is the best time for music and fun, and plus my health is returning so I hope to make the most of the next few days, as I am not sure how much longer I will be here. I’ve been close a couple of times to returning to Nashville earlier than is expected of me - but that feeling has now passed and I have no other hopes than to enjoy my day and get some of this music out of me before it festers inside and dies.
( I’m doing this as I go, so get at me if you are there or can send some thoughts my direction!)
Ok this is my first update and I will begin the day I left home which was Wednesday. For as long as I can remember I had been constantly busy and working and staying up late and dreaming. I got done with my final show and the recordings in Portland, and then, finally I felt the time was right for me to leave. My mom had a lot to do with that, and she pretty much gave my little brother and I the boot the same day. They were shooting a movie down the street from our house and for some reason they decided to park this big moving truck covered in Graffiti right in the front of our house. For someone who takes note of signs and omens as much as me, I could surely read the writing on the wall. Not sure why it was here: my brother thinks it was because he flipped the guy off as he was driving in the neighborhood one day, and that might be the case. But anyway, I had done all I could in Portland and it was time to move to Corvallis where the wheels of fate had been spinning for a long, long time.
That morning I was walking around the house and I walked by this magazine and I saw John Lennons face. I quickly snapped my head and looked at the magazine but this time I saw what really was there: an asain girl in her 20s. It was a weird moment of vision and I knew it meant something, because John Lennon and the Beatles were coming into my life from all sides.
I was never one to have a big CD collection and only since I moved down to Corvallis to spend the summer months did I start to buy CDs and listen to them. I think it was Stevie Ray Vaughan, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkle, and Bob Marley, but I would wear the shit out of these CD’s. I was blessed with a copy of Jim Croce’s greatest hits which had been lying around the house for years. Like I’ve seen that CD since I was a little kid and I always remember that my grandpas favorite song was Time in a Bottle, that was something that always stuck with me. And then one day, it’s in my stereo and it feels like everything had changed.
I listened to that CD everyday for like two weeks straight and everything was perfect. But as I started to get closer to leaving I realized I was going to have to start building a collection because I’d have a bunch of time on the road. I had also been thinking a lot about the Beatles and I really wanted to listen to more of them… I felt I needed to listen to more of them. Then one day I get a hold of a Beatles cd, then I found abbey road sitting in the bottom of my bedside table, then I find like 5 more all around the house. I ended up after gathering all the Cds I could get my hands on, 10 beatles cd’s, by far the most out of any other artist. I could hardly explain it.
So I go down to Corvallis and I’m making shit up as I go, I have no idea if anything is going to work out. I get down and call my buddy Vince who plays guitar and next thing I know I am walking into his brothers house, where Vince is staying for a while. His brother as a big Bob Marley poster right in the middle of the living room, the same poster as the guys by the tree of life have in their room. And I’m like, huh ok that’s a good sign. Then I see Vince and he’s got a John Lennon shirt on, a big picture of his face, and it says in writing: Give love a chance.
And then we jammed and it went awesome; the dude can play and sing and it just was a very good thing. When I saw his shirt that said Give Love a Chance, it told me to play a song I wrote called open arms, which is a call for us all to come together and love and help each other. We play the song and I knew then I had to record that song on Friday, my idea being to get some people together, especially girls who look and sing like angels, to help record this song. Then right as we were jamming I get a text from my friend Haley who I have sang with before and is amazing, and she’s like: I am totally down to sing with you Friday. And then I left his place thinking that somehow someway, all my dreams may just come true. I just had to keep believing.
I knew in order for things to work out, I had to be smart and disciplined and I needed to stay calm and walk a straight path. The night before the studio session I went over to my brothers house a couple miles of campus. I knew I had to go there and rest up for tomorrow because I needed it to be a big day. I had been before and I knew the place was special, but seeing it again from a different perspective made me see it in a whole new light. Right when you walk in there is the Beatles Abby Road poster with John leading the way in white (same poster as the tree of life house), then right up the stairs there is a big poster of Jimi then a 49er poster (I am in love with San Francisco) then a Bob poster in my little brothers room, then another Beatles and another Jimi and Bob poster. And I’m just like, wow.
Then I go into his roommates room, who’s name is also Vince and he’s got Tupac and Jimi and Johnny Cash on the walls. And it was in this room late at night that I did yoga and all this stuff getting myself strong for tomorrow. The reason why Tupac and Johnny Cash are important are the things that I remember most strongly about them. For Tupac it is a quote he has that I remember reading all the time in my brothers room which was:
" I Believe that everything you do bad comes back to you. So everything that I do bad, I’m going to suffer for it. But in my heart, I believe what I’m doing is right. So I feel like I’m going to heaven" -Tupac-
And then the Johnny Cash song that comes most to mind is: sooner or later God will cut you down. So just a weird moment where I felt in safe hands.
I go to bed and sleep well and Friday was one my strongest days by far. Guitar Vince has another Beatles shirt on and is pumped about the session. We ride out together and originally my plan was to redo vocal tracks on the songs I did in Portland, but when we inserted the thumb drive it would have taken like two and a half hours to piece the songs together: so scratch that plan. And then I had bought a bunch of CD’s to burn and had on the CD files that could be accessed in the other studio, but all the CD’s disappeared, no one could find them. So now I’m thinking on the run. Ok let’s do home. Got it. Then cigarettes and beer. And then I realize that I needed to get out Life is Beautiful, Into me and Open arms, three of my deeper/heavier songs. These aren’t songs about blue jeans. In Into Me, a song that I felt was written by someone else, at the end says Experience it, experience it, experience it, like wine on judgment day. And I sang it, and felt I could finally mean it.
We do Open Arms and I think it turned out really well. Wasn’t perfect and there still is a lot of work to do, but it was a great, great start. Having Haley and Kayla sing was sweet, my vision with vocals is very elaborate, so it was cool to start experimenting. Vince is going to have the tracks and he is going to be mixing and mastering and adding stuff here in Corvallis with Sam Kincaid, the guy who engineered the project and who also teaches almost everything with music production and engineering at OSU and is a master at all things music. Vince is going to do some work for Sam down here to make up some credit, so it just works really well.
I got home with a 5 track CD of the rough mixes, popped it into my computer and saw what the tracks and album was titled: Judgment Shall Pass was the name of the album and the track titles were things like: time to burn, and something with death and bludgeoning. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen, I sat there going, WTF? An hour ago I was singing songs of truth about judgment and God and Love and this comes up. What does this all mean. If I believe so strongly in God and fate and the flow of life, what’s to say there isn’t an evil force in the world as well…
I go back over to Vinces and we drink some beers and listen to the songs out of his speakers in his room and that was a big moment listening to those songs with him. I felt a weird surge of energy flowing through my body and my muscles kept contracting and it was just powerful. Then we all jammed and played music and played beatles and blues and it was a great time for sure.
We get to Bombs away and we see Sam there and in our conversation I tell him about what happened when I put the CD in. And he was like that’s really weird, it’s been coming up in Japanese for me. So for the whole weekend I was walking around thinking what does it all mean, Judgement Shall Pass? I’m not sure I know. Also a line from open arms: “There ain’t no truth in hypocrisy/ the only truth is in the prophecy” Came hard, I started seeing and hearing those lines everywhere…and lately I have been thinking a lot about hypocrisy and what it actually means to live full of love and humanity. Not just use religion as a tool to manipulate people. Because really, love and music is my religion. It is the religion of life. The whole world over.
Yesterday was game day in Corvallis and it rained all day, just pouring. My head felt like it got ran over by a bus, but I had to run around town tracking down people and things. At around 6:00 I go to get a bite to eat and I choose quodoba and right as I’m about to dig in, I look over and see Greg Laybourn one my all time favorite people and closest friends out of nowhere. Greg has been my biggest Petty influence and I had been thinking about him over the weekend, because I knew our paths were going to cross soon. So all of a sudden Greg and I are in Corvallis having a great time, drinking beers and being idiots. And it was all perfect.
For those of you who don’t know Greg, he is best remember for his game winning pick against USC in 2008 and also for his fashioning of the all white neck roll circa 1988. He was telling us stories about getting beasted in his UFL game by some 260 pound monster of a dude who was kicked out of the NFL for steroids. He said the guy flat backed him on a kickoff and then was talking shit the next time, and Greg just said he sat there and took it. So funny. But watch this play, and be proud that a white dude from Portland, Oregon can tear it up like this man.
Wow, lot of writing, and this is just the beginning. Today was a truly beautiful day where it felt like you could actually touch the sky. I am off to do more uploads and downloads and burnings and things of that nature. Then tonight I am off to San Francisco, or the goal is to be there tomorrow to meet up with (among other things and people) my brother who will be going to the 49er game. My uncle doesn’t want to be named here, but he won a super bowl ring with the Niners and since birth we’ve been diehard 49er fans. Along with the Super Bowl ring he got a key to the city. Today I was talking with him and I said that I was going to have to carry him with me down there. “You have a key to the city my man!,” I said. And he said, ‘I’m just saying, it may not be the right one!”
Either way, I feel good, like anything is possible. I hit cruise control, I rubbed my eyes.
Running Down a dream.