Rock Music

Jeff Beck RIP

I was truly devastated earlier this week when I heard the news that guitar genius Jeff Beck passed away at the age of 78. I expected that the mainstream news stations would mention it as a footnote, but I was pleased to see the outpouring of tributes on YouTube and other internet outlets. While the general music fandom may have only hear of Beck in passing, the true rock and guitar fans knew what a great player he was.

His first and biggest claim to fame was his two-year stint in the Yardbirds. Rock afficionados know that this band was famous for having three of the greatest guitarists in history – Beck, Eric Clapton (whom Jeff replaced), and Jimmy Page. While the band had moderate success when it was living, it was afterwards, when Page later formed Led Zeppelin and Clapton had his successful career, that the Yardbirds gained notoriety. It was Beck’s lead work on songs such as “Heart Full of Soul, “Train Kept A Rollin’,” and “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” that are the most memorable from the band’s catalogue. For a few brief months, both Beck and Page were in the band together, and there’s a great scene in the movie Blow Up where Beck smashes his guitar due to uncontrollable feedback.

It was Beck’s style that was most distinctive among his peers. During his early playing career, he would often drop his guitar picks, so from that point on, he picked the strings with his fingers. However, it was not in the style of a folk finger picker or a classical guitarist. No, he attacked each string with a combination of pulling, hammering, and rolling a la Scruggs-style banjo playing. It was uniquely his own style, so that when you heard a Beck lead, you knew it was a Beck lead.

As for his band history, he always seemed to be reaching for something that no one else was looking at yet, but would take interest once Beck brought it out. He formed the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, performing heavily influenced R&B rock, which Stewart and Wood would later take to the Faces. Throughout the 1970s, Beck experimented with bringing in jazz fusion into mainstream rock, which brought out some amazing compositions such as “Freeway Jam,” Beck’s Bolero,” and “Blue Wind.” In the 1980s and ‘90s, he delved into rockabilly and straight-ahead blues, always pushing his own boundaries. In his last few years, he was performing and recording with Johnny Depp.

He was a bit of a recluse, shying away from celebrity status. He often said in interviews that he did not want that life and the stress that it would put on a famous person. He instead enjoyed studying English history and Formula One racing.

Beck was never popular with the mainstream music crowd, but when you mentioned his name, you knew there was greatness there. Amazing tone, amazing style, amazing approach. I saw him probably 25-30 years ago, I can’t even remember what album he was supporting. He was totally into the music, even though he didn’t play too long. Watching it, you knew that there was guitar royalty on stage. Something special was being shown to you.

Jeff Beck will be missed by so many of us that have rock-n-roll in our hearts. I am glad to see that other true music lovers have felt the same way over the past few days.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Perfect Song #8: “Thirty Years of Farming” by James King

James King (1958-2016) was widely known in the music industry as The Bluegrass Storyteller, a moniker given to him by the great Tom T. Hall. With his hefty baritone voice and his Appalachian inflections, the listener would hang on to every word. Moreover, he put himself into every song, especially when he would sing live to an audience. He admitted to shedding tears and getting choked up on occasion while singing one of his many heartfelt songs.

King has a number of great songs in his catalog. “Bed by the Window,” “Carroll County Accident,” and “Just As the Sun Went Down” are a few of his classic bluegrass and gospel classics. However, the one song that he made a standard in the bluegrass jamming world, and stands out as probably his best-known bluegrass song, is “Thirty Years of Farming.”

James Elroy King was born in Carroll County, Virginia. His father occasionally sang with the legendary Reno & Smiley. After a stint in the Marine Corps, he worked with Ralph Stanley, eventually forming his own band as well as working with the bluegrass supergroup Longview. He received a number of awards and nominations from the International Bluegrass Music Association and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. Unfortunately, he dealt with alcohol issues later in life and passed away in 2016 from liver complications.

The song “Thirty Years of Farming” was written in 1987 by Canadian singer-songwriter Fred Eaglesmith, an artist known for writing some tender and tragic songs about farming. In 2002, King recorded it and released an album titled after the song. Since then, it has remained a favorite of bluegrass fans and jammers everywhere.

The subject matter is comparable to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Told through the eyes of a little child, he and his siblings see a sign posted at the home’s front gate. It reads that their farm has foreclosed and will be auctioned off. The chorus repeats the tragic news, only this time, the sign is posted at the local general store for everyone in town to see. The second verse talks about the family matriarch alone in the garden while listening to the auctioneer calls off sales. The third verse talks about the family packing up what little they have and driving away from the farm forever.

King’s voice hits the heart with every word. You can see a 50-something older man telling of a sad event in his life when he was a kid, soaking in the sight of his mother crying and reading the Bible, while his father is so distraught that he has nothing to say about the matter. Every syllable that he sings is gut-wrenching, and when the harmony chorus comes in, those voices are just as hard and powerful. There’s no place for lovely singing in this song. It’s heart-breaking, but it is still in-tune.

The song itself is a medium-fast tempo, almost a breakdown speed, which if you didn’t already know the song, that instrumental intro would make one think that it was going to be a happy song. But when King belts out the first line, you know that something is just not right in the world. By the third line, when we learn that the children are starting to cry after reading the posting, it is all hurtful from there.

The banjo sound keeps it from being an all-out depressing song, which is a trademark of bluegrass music. It seems to make the listener imagine that, despite the tragic story, perhaps there is some positive news on the other side of the hill. Even the mandolin and fiddle solos are laid back so as not to change the mood. However, it is the last chorus, with the first two lines sung a capella with perfect bluegrass harmonies, that hits the heart the hardest. The emptiness of the song, with just those voices, will give anyone chills of loneliness. Without directly saying it, there is that sense of asking God what more does He have planned for this farmer.

I challenge you to listen to this song and not be moved in some way by the time that last chord is strummed.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Review of 2022 Resolutions

I decided to use this final day of 2022 to look back on how much I followed/missed on my resolutions for the year (

As for getting my house cleaned and sold, that hasn’t moved too far along. Mom is now 90, and I am literally at her house taking care of her when I am not at my job. I have been able to sell a few things on Craigslist, but there is a ton more. Every time I think that I have something big accomplished with that house, I turn my head and see something bigger that needs to be done. My getting that new job then quitting two days later did not help, as I could have been taking some PTO (that I lost when I returned to my old job) to get in there for a day or two to make a dent.

The guitar and fiddle practice has also slipped. I picked up the guitar for a bit around Christmas, but the fiddle has been dry since around Thanksgiving. Well, this weekend I should grab both of them for some refresher. The arthritis is starting to kick in more with the fretting hand as well as the first finger of the picking hand, so I may need a bit of aspirin or put something on them before diving in to a regimen with the two instruments.

The Songwriters Anonymous group has been getting together in-person since the spring, and I have been able to attend a few meetings. However, because of mom’s care, as well as getting up early for work, I have missed the past few months. I hope to be able to hit a few more over 2023.

Songwriting itself is still lukewarm at best. I have jotted down a lot of ideas, and even bought myself a little pocket recorder to record some lyric ideas just in case a pen and paper are not around. However, no complete song for 2022. God, I hope something inspires me enough for a full song or two in 2023!

Attending SPBGMA last year fell through, but not this year! In a few weeks, I will be in Nashville! Everything is set – hotel, registration, and a rough itinerary. This is my first vacation in over three years, so I won’t let anything screw it up!

As for lutherie, that was also slow. I did some minor work on one of the Yamaha guitars that I bought specifically to clean up and make more playable. But again, I wish that I could have done more.

I was able to get to two days of the Milan Music Festival this past August. Unfortunately, the festival has been retired for good, so I am hoping that something else will take its place, at least for that weekend or near it. Other than that, Bela Fleck’s show, a few indoor shows at the Kentuckians of Michigan Hall and the Michigan Old-Time Fiddle Contest, I really didn’t get to see much live music. I’m not interested in large concerts at all, and The Ark still has high COVID restrictions, so I don’t plan on attending that venue soon. I do find myself scanning the internet for live music in the area, especially bluegrass shows, a lot more than I used to.

So for 2023, it seems that I am on Repeat from 2022. More songwriting, more guitar/fiddle practice, more cleaning of the house, and more searching out live music.

One thing that I did do this past year was video myself performing one of my old songs in my Kitchen Koncert series.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Christmas 2022

Well. I don’t have much to say. This past year has not been the best for me, but I am still on two feet. Here’s to hoping that 2023 will be better for all of us. I will try to have more to say next week for the year’s end. In the meantime, I’ll be hitting Midnight Mass at my church, where they sing Polish Christmas carols before mass. Keeping it low on Christmas Day.

Have a safe Christmas, and try to enjoy it. Chew on it and comment.

bluegrass bass Musical Instruments

The $47.01 Bass Guitar

As many people know, I am always looking for a good bargain with musical instrument equipment. Bass guitars are probably top on my list, mainly because I have always loved playing the bass, and I love teaching bass to young students. I have posted a few blogs about using the electric bass in a bluegrass setting, so I really am conscious of finding inexpensive bass guitars for those interested in bluegrass bass.

About a month ago, I found a listing on eBay for a Glarry Burning Fire electric bass that a third party was selling overstock for about $40.00. Tax and all made it closer to $49.00, but I took a shot. About a week later, a small package arrived with the same USPS tracking number that was provided upon payment. The package turned out to be a pair of ladies underwear! I contacted eBay and PayPal, and fortunately, I got a full refund (and am stuck with some underwear !).

I knew that it was too good to be true. At least I got my money back, and all that it cost me was a little frustration. About two weeks ago, I was surfing the website for bass guitars. You can usually pick up a Chinese no-name P-bass for about $65.00, coming out to about $80.00 with shipping and tax. However, I did come across one ad that had a P-bass for $32.35! I wondered if I should take a chance. I have had decent luck with, the only problem being a long delivery time. With tax and shipping, the total cost was $47.01. I rolled the dice and took a chance.

A week later (a lot faster than usual shipments), the package was at the post office for me to pick up. And yes, it was a full-sized P-bass! I shook the box a little to hear if there were any broken parts (my previous experience with Glarry was that it was shipped with no packing material to cushion). OK, no noise, so let’s get it home!

To my surprise, it was packed really well, inside molded styrofoam and wrapped in semi-bubble wrap. Pulling it out of the package, I found it to be typical of the Chinese no-name basses – lightweight body (so the headstock tends to drop down if you are not holding the neck), mediocre tuning gears, fret ends needing some smoothing, and the neck feeling a bit rough on the back. I haven’t yet plugged it in to see if the pickup and controls work fine, and I’m figuring that the pickup will need to be adjusted for height. A good set up will make this a decent playable bass. For $47.01, it is well worth it!

A bit of learned information about this purchase was a lucky shot. Occasionally, the site will have sale prices, but you have to be in the right place at the right time. When checking on this same P-bass a few days ago, the price was back up to $68.00. They will also have items like cords, tuners, foot pedals, and practice amps sold at decent prices as well as the occasional deep-discount sale. But you have to be scanning every day. Again, the only real concern is shipping time, so if you were buying a Christmas present for someone, you would have to order it in early November to get a guarantee pre-holiday arrival.

Now getting a gig bag for this bass is another thing. Trying to find one less than $20.00 is near impossible, even on Which leads me to what I want to do with the bass. I already have four other basses, including a Chinese no-name P-bass. I will probably just get this new one set up, then sell it on Craigslist in the same packaging that it was shipped in.

I’m not sure how next weekend looks, as it is Christmas. Hopefully I will find the time to post some short note.

Chew on it and comment.

Music Industry Nashville

Peter Cooper RIP

I was heavily saddened this past Thursday morning as I woke to learn of the death of Peter Cooper. If you do not know who Peter was, you definitely should know of him.

Peter worked as a music writer and editor for the Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, for nearly 15 years starting in 2000. During this time, he interviewed dozens of legendary country artists, including Johnny Cash, George Jones, and Bobby Bare. Kris Kristofferson once said he “looks at the world with an artist’s eye, and a human heart and soul,” He was also a vocal supporter of the rising tide of the Americana format, yet still was able intellectually critique and praise the modern artists such as Taylor Swift. You knew that whatever he wrote, it was well thought out and came from his heart.

His words were the type that impressed people. Johnny Cash told Peter during an interview that he read everything that Peter wrote. George Jones’ grave marker has a few of Peter’s words etched into the stone. He had his enemies, as does any journalist (Google “Peter Cooper Toby Keith” to find out more).

He left the newspaper in 2014 to become senior director at the Country Music Hall of Fame. No other person deserved it more, and no one but Peter Cooper could truly handle such a position while still being totally creative with his writing. In 2017 he wrote the critically acclaimed book, Johnny’s Cash and Charley’s Pride. His position at the HOF helped him network with many songwriters, which in turn perfected his songwriting talent. He became close friends with Tom T. Hall, Mac Wiseman, and Todd Snider just to name a few.

Peter put out a number of solo albums, as well as discs with songwriter Eric Brace. They produced a tribute album to Tom T. Hall, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2012. Along with all of that, he also hosted the HOF’s podcast, “Voices in the Hall.”

What I loved most about Peter is that he never used his position in the Nashville music industry as a badge. He treated everyone, from the biggest names in country music to the Joe on the street, with the same courtesy. I met up with him many-a-times in Nashville during either the IBMA or AMA music conferences. Each time we talked, it was always interesting. He was a true journalist, listening to every word that you said to him, knowing that something might come across that he could follow-up on for a story.

He was also extremely humble and courteous. Even if you weren’t talking to him, just passing by and he was talking to someone else, if he recognized you, he would give you a friendly nod or a small wave. He like people, but more than tat, he loved to hear what people had to say.

Earlier in the week, Peter had fallen and severely injured himself, and never fully regained consciousness. He was 52 years old, and leaves behind a son. He also leaves behind a wealth of amazing stories and songs. Nashville will not be the same without Peter checking out a new face on Music Row, showing up at a music conference held in town, or even trying out a new song at a local open mic. I will feel a bit of emptiness the next time that I go to Nashville, knowing that a good, trusted friend will not be there to talk about who is the next artist to watch in bluegrass or Americana. I will definitely miss you, sir. But I do hope that you are up there doing a guitar pull with Johnny, George, Tom T. and Mac.

Chew on it and comment.

Rock Music

Christine McVie RIP

Earlier this week, Christine McVie passed away after a short serious illness. She was 79 years old. It seems that the media was a bit slow to pick up on it, as most of the news reporting that I witnessed mentioned it either Thursday evening or Friday morning.

Christine was the keyboardist, co-vocalist, and contributing songwriter for the classic rock band Fleetwood Mac. She joined the band around 1970, as it was moving away from a hard English blues sound to try and sound more mainstream. She married (and later divorced) band bassist John McVie, and when the duo of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the fold, there was music magic.

Christine would sing and write on some of the band’s most memorable songs, including “You Make Loving Fun,” “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me.” and “Don’t Stop.” The band had a great pop-rock sound that could be appreciated by both classic rock fans and jaded popsters. A lot of that had to do with Christine’s keyboard work. Her clavinet playing in “You Make Loving Fun” sets the entire sexy mood of the song. The string-imitating synth sound in “Don’t Stop” coinciding with the barroom honky-tonk piano is hauntingly beautiful.

Rumours, from 1977 and a Grammy winner, to me is one of the greatest rock albums of all time. There are no flashy guitar solos. It is the combination of three great vocalists (Christine, Lindsay and Stevie), as well as very smart musicians as a band, knowing that the song is the most important thing. All of the musicians know exactly what will fit into each verse or chorus. Rumours, along with the 1975 self-titled album, are extremely special. There is not a bad track on either one of them. I blew out cassette copies of both of them a while back.

Christine semi-retired form the band and music in general back in 1998, although she made some appearances and re-joined Fleetwood Mac for a tour in 2014 and recorded/toured with Lindsay in 2017. While none of her solo work never achieved the popularity of the 70s-era Fleetwood Mac output, she was always kicking out quality music that any other songwriter would be proud of.

She had a motherly voice, but it was angelic as well. I never turn off a Fleetwood Mac song when it comes on the radio. My personal downhearted feeling this week was telling someone at work that she passed away (he is about 15 years younger than me) and he didn’t know of her. THEN, I told him about Fleetwood Mac, and he said that he never heard of the band. I know that I am a music fanatic, but you must be really sheltered if you never heard of Fleetwood Mac!

Rest in Peace, Ms. McVie. Your magic will never be forgotten.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Kate Lee O’Connor and Your Help

This week’s blog is a little different. Instead of me ranting about something that irritates me, or lauding about something that makes me happy, I want to tell you about someone dear to me who is going through a rough time, as well as asking for your help with her.

Kate Lee O’Connor is one of the most talented young ladies that I know. An fine fiddler, wonderful vocalist, and a personality that outshines her extreme beauty. She is married to Forrest O’Connor, mandolinist and son of legendary fiddler Mark O’Connor. The three of them, along with Mark’s wife Maggie, have performed together for the past few years as the Grammy-winning O’Connor Band. Forrest and Kate Lee have also recorded and toured as a duo.

I got to be acquainted with Kate Lee a few years back after a performance of the duo during an AmericanaFest showcase in Nashville. It led to me doing an article on her for Fiddler in the Summer 2020 issue. She is one of the few artists that I have interviewed that have thanked me personally for her coverage, and has posted her appreciation on her Facebook page. Since then, we have stayed in touch through emails.

During the beginning of the COVID pandemic two years ago, her doctor at the time had her taken off of a medication that she has needed since she was a child. The result was Kate Lee suffering from a severe case of SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome. Despite trials of other medications, they failed to curb her bouts of heavy anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. She had attempted the act this past September, which caused her to be in a coma for one day and required a number of surgeries.

Medical bills have been piling up for the couple. As so many are aware, musicians, especially in the bluegrass fold, are not wealthy enough to have substantial medical coverage. Forrest has set up a GoFundMe page to seek assistance in covering the bills. I implore you to visit the page, read more about Kate Lee’s situation, and make a donation if you can.

Kate Lee O’Connor is a talent that only comes along once every few years, so it is crucial that we in the music world help when we can. Please keep her and the O’Connor family in your prayers, and provide assistance in any way that you can.

Chew on it and comment.

Live Music Musicians

“And Bring Your Own PA!”

As I continue to clean out my house, there are more artifacts from my past that make me reminisce about why I became a musician. One of the items that I am cleaning up and looking to sell is a small PA system.

Back in the mid 1980s, when everyone was forming a band, one of the stipulations was that someone in the band had to own a decent PA system. You needed it to practice the vocals, and more importantly, you need one to get a gig many times. Bar owners were willing to let any four kids with guitars and drums take a corner of the bar up for a night, thinking that they would bring in their friends who would drink and spend money. However, only established live music bars usually had a PA system to provide. Most dive bars told the band to bring their own.

Of course, to prove my worth as a reliable musician, I made sure that I had a small one handy. It served its purpose for the small 50-person dives, but for any larger bar that didn’t have a PA, you either looked to do a shared booking with some other band that did have a better PA, or you lost the gig. Back then, I had a mini-truck that I could haul a whole PA as well as my gear and a drum set around. I traded the truck days for a subcompact about the time that I left the electric band life for playing bluegrass.

Why I kept the PA system I don’t really know. Either I figured that one day I would need it for a gig, as if I was ever going to play in a band again, or was just too lazy to pull it out of my attic. The PA speakers were the biggest concern, in more ways than one. The two that I have were from the 80s, probably from Radio Shack, that I know that I bought used from someone. Covered in gray carpeting, they have 12-inch woofers. One has the original radial tweeter, and if I remember correctly, the other one had a blown tweeter that I replaced with a horn and some plywood. These are the small venue size PA speakers meant for basements or small dive bars, handling probably 100-150 watts total.

I have a few variants that I used for the mixer/amp configuration. The most useful proved to be a four-channel Kustom PA head. Small in size, 80 watts, it was easy to carry around. The downside was if I needed more than four microphones. I do remember connecting a six-channel ROSS mixer from the 70s to it for more flexibility, but it started to look like a mad scientist setup after a while. I also have a few power amps around that I would hard-wire into the system if I needed more power, but I do know that I had to either borrow or rent out larger speakers for those gigs.

The same situation was with monitors. I have a few homemade ones along with a compact Peavey pair that I would also use as main speakers for really small/solo acoustic gigs. I would get lots of snide remarks about my mismatched equipment, but I always said the same thing back: “Next time, YOU bring the PA!”

Finally, microphones and cords. I have well over a dozen dynamic mics laying around now, even after selling off some over the past few years. I have put more on Craigslist, hoping to clean house a bit. As for cords, those have always worn out or shorted out faster than you could buy new ones. I was a bit of a wiz with a soldering iron, so I could repair some of them, but not many. As for mic stands, those would occasionally disappear at gigs (i.e., get stolen) to the point where I was tired of replacing them. Over the years, I probably had 20 or so in my arsenal, and now I have two or three.

I really don’t ever see myself performing live again, especially with a band, in which I would need a PA system. I laugh because the bar scene has shrunk to about 10 percent of what it was when I was in my 20s playing in punk bands. I don’t miss much of it, especially working with other personalities. However, there are some memories within those PA speakers that will never go away.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Bluegrass vocals Lutherie

What To Do During The Winter?

Winter is around the corner. More time indoors, most of the time outdoors (especially north of the Mason-Dixon Line) is spent shoveling and snowblowing instead of out on the road heading for a festival or jam session. There is little to look forward to during the next few months. Even most bluegrass bands go into hibernation, since most of their in come comes from performing at outdoor events.

This doesn’t mean that everyone (including you) have to forget about anything musical until March or April. This is the perfect time to better yourself for the 2023 bluegrass summer season. There are a number of activities that you can do to busy yourself at home while improving on your musical skills.

Practice – That concept cannot be repeated enough! There is always something that you can learn to improve on your playing. Time spent outside gardening or lawn maintenance can be spent indoors (once the driveway and sidewalk are shoveled) learning new things on your preferred instrument. There are tons of books, videos and YouTube channels devoted to lessons on all stringed instruments. Moreover, I have discussed jam-along videos in previous blogs that can help you improve your playing with others ( I have also mentioned checking out instructional videos from other genres (rock, blues, jazz, Celtic, etc.) to see if there is any tips that you can pick up.

Learn Another Instrument – So you play guitar and that is the only instrument that you own. Get a beginner bass guitar rig, or a mandolin, and transfer some of your skills to one of those instrument. How about a tin whistle? Those are extremely inexpensive, and you can pick up a few tunes within a week or so. If you want to stick with strings and have a little more dough to blow, start working on a good banjo, dobro, or fiddle. Make yourself more viable at the jam sessions next year.

Vocals – If you are a lead singer, keep stretching those pipes! Do warm-up exercises every day. Sing loud, like in a band, not in a lower talking volume. If you are not a singer, then start working on it! I did a two-part blog on bluegrass harmonies ( and Bluegrass vocals depend on great-sounding two- and three-part harmonies. Some people have an ear for harmonizing naturally. Others need to work on it. Now it the time. Find some bluegrass recordings with great harmonies, and pay attention. Then, tune-in to those harmonies and see if you can match the pitches. Find some solo-singing bluegrass vocals and try to harmonize. This is something that takes a lot of work, but again, makes a bluegrass performer more viable. If anything, you can check out Cary Fridley’s YouTube courses on singing.

Basic lutherie – This does nto mean to try and build a guitar or mandolin on your own (although if you have the time, money and passion, go right ahead!). Do some basic maintenance besides changing strings. Clean the fingerboard, polish the instrument, perhaps even do some more advanced work like crowning frets or adjusting the truss rod. Again, there are a number of books on guitar/musical instrument maintenance out there, plus dozens of videos on YouTube that can walk you through simple maintenance.

Chew on it and comment.