Several years ago, I drove to Oregon for a week-long songwriting workshop and music festival. I went to heal after a particularly stressful time. Little did I know I would slide through the rabbit's hole, into a parallel universe inhabited by writers, musicians, artists who sang their songs in the forest moonlight. It was a world without a King, a world where souls and hearts reigned. After that, my life wouldn't quite be the same.
For many reasons, I barely got here. I was born in the fertile Sacramento Valley and raised by California pioneer stock. Family legend had it that my great-great grandfather arrived by ship outside San Francisco Bay on New Year's Eve, 1849. The ship was caught in the doldrums that day, so it couldn't dock until the following day. Thus my first California ancestor missed being a 49er by one day. I was never quite sure why that was important, but that fact elicited solemn expressions and head nodding from the elders around the dining room table. And then there was the story of my mothers' parents who fell in love after a jealous suitor shot my grandmother, leaving her for dead. He then ran down the basement stairs at the hardware store where they all worked to shoot and kill my grandfather. My grandfather, hearing the shots, ran up one set of stairs, while the gunman ran down the other set of stairs. My grandmother recovered, unexpectedly, and their good fortune allows me to write these words many years later.
The family stories didn't hit me directly at the time; they just kind of waited outside the backdoor until I was ready to let them in. Over time, they shaped me.
I always thought of myself as a songwriter. From the time I was five, I would sing along with the radio, then hide in the backyard and sing made-up melodies. When I heard the legends on the radio, I thought: "I'm going to do that someday." I pictured myself on stage at my future high school, singing to the kids. The girls would like me and the boys wouldn't pick on me. It almost worked out. When I was in junior high, I was invited to join a thriving teen rock-and-roll band, "Size Five" by my friend and band founder Peter Andrews. We played frequent gigs around Sacramento until the band broke up a few years later. A couple of my songs even made the band's playlist. There was only one deviation from the dream: I was the kid in the back playing bass and singing harmony, and the girls couldn't see that far. But that was fine with me because I was one part skinny and two parts shy back then. And I loved playing music whether anyone noticed or not.
In college I continued to play music, again in a back-up role. I would write a song now and then. I would sing them to my friends and they would tell me I should sing louder and stop mumbling.
I didn't play much music after that. I had this odd notion that I should get a job and be responsible. Those middle years were lean musically, but I experienced the joys of family life, raising kids and building a career. Still, if you had woken me from a dead sleep and asked: "Who are you?" I might have answered: "I am a songwriter."
Several years before the Oregon journey, my mother mailed me a book of poems by William Everson, aka Brother Antoninus, the brooding California poet who left a monastery after twenty years to marry a young woman. I had taken his class, "Birth of a Poet" in my last year at U.C. Santa Cruz. His searing honesty and vulnerability had shocked me. I had never seen this in an adult male before, particularly one who stood 6'5", bore an uncanny resemblance to God, and wore a buckskin outfit and bear-claw necklace given to him by a Native American chief. When I looked at the photo on the back cover, his piercing blue eyes stared at me and called out: "Are you living your truth?"
It's a funny thing, but when you bury an essential part of yourself it eventually comes back one way or another, either as an old friend to be embraced, or, if you wait too long, as a vicious dog.
At that point, I figured I had no choice but to play music again. With a friend, I formed Stone Soup, a vintage rock-and-roll cover band. We had a great run playing summer concert series, parties and the occasional wedding reception. I played lead guitar and sang back-up. At some point I asked myself "If I'm a songwriter, why aren't I writing songs?" Oh, I had started quite a few, and I had drawers of fragments. But it was time to get on with it.
My first CD, "Twice" came out in 2004. That effort resulted in a re-union with Peter Andrews from my Sacramento days. Peter played guitar on "Twice", as well as on my second CD, "Under Beautiful Skies", which came out in 2009. "Twice" was used on the hit TV show, JAG, during the show's final season.
I am asked what my goal is: for once I have no goal. I write, play and perform music because it is what I do and who I am. In the words of Brother Antoninus, it is my calling.
Ironically, I could not have imagined where music would take me. I have come to love standing up straight and center, performing my own songs. (I've also learned to sing louder and stop mumbling). I have traveled tens of thousands of miles, played hundreds of gigs in front of thousands of people over the past several years, many of whom I have had the pleasure to get to know personally. I have had the joy of co-writing with remarkable writers, including Windham Hill artist Barbara Higbie, Keith Greeninger, Oregon writer Bill Valenti, Rick Glaze, Jeff Lionz, Peter Andrews, and most extensively with Bob Hahn. I have shared the stage with Johnsmith, Keith Greeninger, Claudia Russell, and many other fine musicians and songwriters. I have toured with Portland singer-songwriter, Chris Kokesh, and Peter Andrews. I have played the local clubs with Bob Hahn, Julie Baker and Paul Fifield. I have recorded with some of the finest musicians on the West Coast, including Keith Greeninger, who produced and played on "Under Beautiful Skies", John R. Burr, Peter Andrews, Roger Feuer, Chris Kokesh, Jim Norris, Paul Olguin, Bob Hahn, Dayan Kai, Sylvia Herold, Cindy Brown, Steve Ucello and others.
"Under Beautiful Skies" received extensive airplay in the U.S., Canada and Australia, and it made the Americana radio charts in 2009. I played on numerous live radio shows around the U.S. I have played on stages that bear the footprints of the greats: hallowed places such as Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, Backstage at the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, the Sisters Folk Festival in Oregon, Yoshi's lounge in San Francisco, Tidewater Friends of Folk in Virginia Beach, Ashland Coffee & Tea in Virginia, and the Bluebird Café in Nashville, not to mention numerous house concerts and cafes.
The future? Recently, I unearthed an old song I had written in my youth. The chorus goes: "Travelin' along, with a suitcase for a song and a song for a friend on my old mandolin." I look forward to continuing down the road, guitar in hand, friends by my side, and seeing where it takes me. Hopefully I'll run into you one of these days.
I want to thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something in my music. But mostly, I wish you peace and joy on your journey.