Here is a song that was recorded live off the floor at the old Phoenix Theatre downtown space probably 25 years ago, featuring most of Captain Tractor as well as the one and only Julien Arnold. Scott on guitar, me on lead vocals, and some of the most talented folks I know singing harmony
My friend Hank Wayne Snell, AKA Hank Wright, was moving from Ontario to New Zealand with his wife and kids. I was thinking that he just might be lonely down there, chewing on a kiwi fruit and reflecting on life, so I wrote this song called Hankytown about how he will rise again.
Here is the original basement recording the night I wrote it.
Then the nice people at Rawlco Radio picked me to fund a music project, so my friend Scott and I decided to put Hankytown on the album.
Here is the full band version.
Which one works best?
I’ve been told my singing voice sounds a bit like if Neil Young and John Denver had a baby together. I’ll take that comparison every day of the week.
I was reading the Wikipedia entry about Neil Young: “Young's music is characterized by his distinctive guitar work, deeply personal lyrics and characteristic alto or high tenor singing voice.” I have a distinctively poor guitar technique, and lyrics that at times can be deeply personal (much of the reason why I don’t share them often) and other times the words are baffling to me.
Before I joined the Singing Christmas Tree choir I had no idea what I was, a bass, tenor, alto—I had no clue. Until “the tree” sent out the practice tracks and I quickly realized I could only sing tenor. I joined the ranks of Neil, Freddie Mercury, John Denver and Elton John…oh and that lad Bono as a tenor. I’m kind of like them, except I have no musical success or fan clubs.
I have a musical process that just might be unique. Maybe not. When I feel in the right way about writing a song I’ll go to my music space and will quickly—mostly in an hour or less—crack off a song. Start to finish. Then I generally record the song on my computer right after I write it so I remember it. I may play around with it for fun but for the most part it is done.
Here is an example to listen to. What is it about? I will leave it up to you to figure out! This was recorded the night I wrote it. You can always find more of my warbling on iTunes.
I’ve been listening to an audio book in my car. Audio books are still kind of new to me, but the book I’m onto now, suggested by my friend Paul, is as captivating as its title.
Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and Diet of Worms is the eighth volume of collected essays by the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Only Paul would suggest such a thing to me and be right that I would like it. It is fascinating.
The very idea that Leonardo was trying to prove that the earth was a living organism (Gaia) is intriguing. And even more intriguing is all the chatter over history that, perhaps, just maybe, Leonardo was an alien. How else can you explain is body of work, much of it not truly understood for hundreds of years?
Which led me to a new word in my vocabulary. Polymath. He was one. One who excels or is expert in a great many things. I personally like Renaissance man as a term. Leonardo was the archetype of the Renaissance man, someone of “unquenchable curiosity” and "feverishly inventive imagination.”
I write songs as my area of interest outside my regular occupation, For Leonardo his interests were: invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history and cartography. He is credited with the invention of the parachute, helicopter and tank. Which leads me to think I better try harder.
How do you do all of that in 67 years?
I’m sure Bill Gates, one of the true visionaries of the technology age, has been wondering the same thing as he enters his 60’s. In 1994 Bill purchased the Codex Leicester (or Hammer Codex), one of Leonardo’s manuscripts for over $30 million US. Previous owner was Armand Hammer. I suspect there is a reason why two of the most influential men of our time have owned this document.
My best guess is they are trying to connect with an alien ship and hoped there is a message in there to summon it to earth. That or they are interested in the subject matter. I hope it is the alien.
Sometimes you need to challenge yourself, and take yourself out of your comfort zone. Such a challenge for me is performing on stage. And I am happy to say I faced it in 2015 with the Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree.
In 2014 I was a "tree family" member, learning to sing choir (I've never done it before), and being taught by a master, Emmanuel (Mannie) Fonte. It was a great experience. So in 2015 I decided to take it to the next level and audition as an ensemble (stage) singer. The audition was at that point the highlight of my musical life. In a room full of talented singers, we were called up as foursomes to sing a snippet of two songs, and were evaluated by the team. I was thrilled to receive an email saying I was selected. Above is a photo of my trusty sidekick Triffany Baker on stage at the Jubilee Auditorium in front of thousands of people. Crazy. And the time of my life really.
A few of us were also featured in a few videos that were used to promote the show. Here is one of them.
So what is going to happen in 2016 for my singing career? Only time will tell, although I do know I will try out again this year to join the ensemble. And I may just put myself out there and do some open stage work with my guitar. Talk to you all soon.
I've been to so many concerts in my life, most of them in the early days living in Toronto. There were bands like The Jam, David Sylvian, Devo, Echo and the Bunnymen, The English Beat, U2, Tears for Fears, The Specials, and the Stray Cats. Throw in every Police Picnic that was held in Ontario (Iggy Pop, the Bangles, Oingo Boingo, The Police). Oh and Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. And some of the classics who have been on a farewell tour for the last twenty years.
I was reading Rolling Stone's website to see who was touring this summer. The list was interesting to say the least. The band The Rolling Stones, The Who, Van Halen, U2, and Neil Young are performing. Seen all of them. I've seen Neil Young several times. The only guy I've seen more than Neil Young is Gordon Lightfoot.
Then there are the younger, more current folks like Taylor Swift (would love to see her), Ed Sheeran, One Direction, and Mumford and Sons.
But there is one individual that just hasn't played anywhere, one that I wish would tour. And I have been waiting for over 30 years—Kate Bush. Now 56 years old, she took the UK and some of us on the other side of the ocean by storm when she was just 19 with Wuthering Heights. And while her album The Dreaming was not her best selling album the song Get out of my house, inspired by Stephen King's The Shining, is such an amazing song to listen to with headphones. I was reading how she was "discovered" by David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. And the rest as they say is history.