Singer Songwriter Blogger Guitarist Content Creator
Here’s a moment my friend Kelly captured last night from the Urban Campfires show with Susan Gibson and Elizabeth Wills. They asked me to play a song and then sat to the side and watched. Truth is I am fortunate to have these two smart women on my side all the time…they are great writers and musicians but they are also really exceptional human beings.
I’ve been inspired by a whole mess of people on acoustic guitar but lately I’ve been hesitantly (but with love and enthusiasm) paying a little more attention to my electric playing. I aim to incorporate it more into what I do live, and I’ve been looking at the folks who taught me what I like. Here are my top 4, culled from Youtube. It’s rare that I do a Youtube post but heck, show and tell, right?
My first guitar hero. John has played with Mary Chapin Carpenter for…ever. He plays EVERYTHING…electric, acoustic, all the other things, AND something called a Martin Backpacker (aka “The Stick Guitar”). I got one in high school because of him, and he signed it the very first time I saw him with MCC in Santa Fe in 1998. We go way back. I have popped up at Mary Chapin shows from Denver to San Francisco and Atlanta to Austin and he always says hello. A gentleman and a very tasteful guitar player who knows when to let it rip.
Another genius I was introduced to through Mary Chapin, Duke is the master of tone. I was certain he was using all kinds of crazy pedals for his sound and I read an interview somewhere that all he uses is a tremolo and a delay. It’s all in his hands and his brain. I was kind of hoping I could buy a magic pedal but alas, practice it is. Here’s a mini-lesson with Duke in which you can see magic flow from his fingers.
Lloyd is pretty much the godfather of pedal steel guitar in Texas and has played with everyone, but he’s also a master of the dobro, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, and this Papoose short scale guitar. When he plays this solo with Terri Hendrix I get goosebumps EVERY TIME. Another of of those humble, nice people who deserves all the acclaim he gets.
Dire Straits. Sultans of Swing. We all know the Knopfler tone. I think his composition “The Way It Is” consists of the most perfect guitar riffs ever. I aspire to this.
You pretty much know it’s an interesting venue when this sign is posted:
The sun bears (which I had never heard of and they walked weirdly on the sides of their feet, so I’m not so sure about the “bearness” of them) were right next to one of the stages and while they remained mostly docile, they had some outbursts. Not during Susan’s set, which must mean she appeals to a large swath of bears and non-bears. I also gave my treatise about how Mother Nature has been trying to kill the Panda off for decades and Susan was a little bit appalled, but really. Their own genetics don’t want to them to exist. And they’re hardly in the bear family. She called me a Panda-ist.
The other day/week/month, Jananna had a gig at a…place. There were 4 of us total on the bill.
Somewhere in the back and forth about the show, the venue said they’d supply some food, which is super cool. Something about a sandwich was mentioned.
When the time came to cash in on said food after supplying an entertaining 2 hours of music, it turns out the venue really did just mean…one sandwich. Not a sandwich for each performer. One sandwich. I clarified this at the counter, where they said, “Yes…one sandwich” with a straight face. I then uttered these words that kind of made me want to slither under a table and never come back out:
“Can I get the Band Sandwich, then?”
Sigh. Our other compatriots had other places to be so Anna and I split it. It didn’t taste good, but that might have been the acidity of shame.
I try not to be a complainer, and we play for tips quite a bit. We just want to play at this point, and it’s all fine (I know, there’s a larger discussion to be had about playing for free at all, but not for this blog). But I think maybe…just for self-respect purposes, we should have gotten a discount on our food or not been offered anything at all. The four-way Shame Sandwich split just seems a little…awkward.
Because I like to be happy, I will point out that a lot of venues all over really treat musicians well and are very generous. I know that this type of thing will probably continue because the world is full of musicians who just want to play, and we are grateful every time someone gives us a slot.
It’s just that next time, we’d really prefer to split a bowl of queso instead.
Time for another Ask Jana! Thank you all for your questions. You all are some food-oriented askers, I’ll say that. Read on…
Cody asks: Why do pop tarts make a line that does not have frosting? Why do Oreos keep trying to toy with their recipe and add flavors? Why are Girl Scout cookies seasonal?
I think perhaps the plain pop tarts because maybe people like to add their own thing to them, perhaps Nutella or peanut butter. Frosting is not a universal breakfast food. Oreos are an American institution except with this new watermelon flavor they have clearly jumped the shark, and I don’t mean in a Sharknado sort of way. Well, maybe I do. Sharknado was pretty abysmal. Girl Scout cookies are seasonal because there are child labor laws.
DC asks: What’s your very very favorite app?
I think my favorite is Zite, a news curation app that lets you pick topics you like, and then slowly learns what you read and don’t read so it’s even more attuned to your interests. I spend a lot of time learning on Zite.
John asks: What’s your fave New Mexican dish?
This is plebeian of me, but I enjoy eggs in a tortilla with chile all over it (red or green or both). There are fancier things like chile rellenos and enchiladas with an egg on top, but nothing beats breakfast with heat.
Oh heck yes. All the time. And once I had Bubble Gum and it was disgusting.
Morgan asks: Can you answer the almighty woodchuck question in a quantitative unit? What is your favorite preparation of an egg? Finally, if you could make an exotically shaped guitar, what shape would it be and WHY?
a) 157 Gogurt Tubes
b) Call me plain, but scrambled. Over hard is 2nd…runny freaks me out.
c) A pyramid because certainly it would channel something ancient and mystical.
Amy asks: What’s your favorite cd right now?
Hmmm…I think for an album I enjoy listening to from start to finish lately there are 2 contenders, neither of them exceptionally new. Ke$ha’s Warrior makes me happy, and Rose Cousins We Have Made A Spark is amazing
I don’t know, but between cigarettes causing cancer and fake sugar causing cancer, those things are probably dangerous.
Stephanie asks: Where have you been that you don’t want to see again?
Good one. I can find a redeeming something about most places but yes, that doesn’t mean I want to return. Maybe Hardin, Montana. That was a desolate town, and not in a romantic Western way.
Carol asks: Would you ever like to be a Mom?
Fascinating question. Short answer: I don’t think so? The only maternal instinct I have is for cats, which is more of a caternal instict. Also I have lots of nieces and nephews so that’s good and they’re fun to hang out with.
David asks: Jana, are you having fun on this tour? *trick question, I’m sure you are*
So far so good! We are in Denver and heading to Wyoming, one of my most favorite states! Yay!
Mike asks: what are your thoughts on Schrodinger’s kitten and its implications for the reality we live in?
I am aware of this novel but haven’t read it. So first I need to enter into a reality where I have read it and am able to give an informed opinion on it, which would probably end up stopping the Vietnam War.
Chad asks: Whose footprint is that on the inside of your windshield?
It remains a mystery, but my guess is…it’s maybe mine? I was probably passengering at some point. I like to stretch out sometimes. It’ll probably stay there forever. Don’t ever have a foot print on the driver’s side windshield, kids. That’s just dangerous.
Linda asks: If birth is the opposite of death, and life is in between, what is the opposite of life?
Linda answered her own question by saying, “Nothing.” Maybe the opposite of life is inaction.
Jon asks: Did Tennessee the same thing Arkansas?
I don’t know, but Iowa’s hoping so.
Amy asks: What would you do if flip flops were outlawed?
I would start training myself to be in the Barefoot Society so my feet would acquire one large callous on each foot and I wouldn’t have to wear shoes anywhere. It would be my right, as they have outlawed the best footwear ever. Also, I’d have to get over some major OCD to walk in some places with no shoes, but it is what it is.
David asks: What is the meaning of life. Besides 42, I mean…
A wise man in Alamosa, CO answered this for me last week…”Seek Joy. Seek deep, meaningful joy, and don’t put it off.”
Kristina asks:What are your 3 favorite numbers, colors, movies, foods, and articles of clothing?
Numbers: 3, 7, 12
Colors: Rainbow, clear, black
Movies: All the Hitchcock, all the Christopher Guest, and The Shining
Foods: Green chile, peanut butter, eggs
Clothing: flip flops, scarves, ironic t-shirts
I kind of cheat when I pick 3.
Corey asks: Why am I having trouble sleeping? Why do my senile dogs start barking at 4 am?
I am not sure on either, but I sense they are perhaps related. The senile dog just probably wants to get the senior breakfast special for $2.99 at Denny’s before it runs out.
Clara Marie asks: Why is it acceptable to have mimosas and screwdrivers with breakfast or brunch, but not a glass of wine or a rum and coke? The OJ in the glass is a negligible amount.
It’s because we are a civilized society, and the rules state that when you add fruit to something, the fruit overrules the other contents, making it ok to drink that early if you are indeed consuming it with fruit. That is also why frou frou drinks like daiquiris hardly count at any time. It is also why if you order a fruity dessert, it’s almost like eating health food and doesn’t count.
TC asks: Hey Jana – How would you go about getting a raise from a venue you have played at for years? It has never happened to me.
Ooo, good one. Well, I would say if you steadily pull in people to a venue whenever you play, that’s impressive enough to warrant a bump up. Another tactic, if it’s a restaurant or bar, would be to ask for your normal pay plus a percentage of their sales while you play, which would put a little less burden on them to just shell out, but allow you to earn more. If that worked for a while, maybe you could angle for a permanent raise. Bottom line, unfortunately, is that the numbers have to line out right for profit margins to make the venue agree to it. Fortunately, you can probably make that happen!
Michael asks: If you were Ice cream, what flavor would you be and why?
Some weird esoteric gelato flavor like basil lavender lemon mascarpone. No, Susan says that’s silly and that I’d be peanut butter chocolate swirl.
Anna asks: Which planet would you be best friends with and why? Excluding earth, of course. Pluto is still acceptable.
Probably Mars because I like the red hue and it’s the planet we all keep threatening to visit in person but never do, and that’s just kind of a mean thing to do. “Hey, yeah. We will TOTALLY come visit. Any day now. Absolutely.” Poor Mars.
Jess asks: What is the best way to split a ham and cheese croissant between four adults?
This warrants its own blog post, Jess. Excellent question and it’s coming right up.
Terri asks: Jana, what comes first, the words or the lyrics?
Terri, it’s a delicate balance between words and lyrics. Sometimes I just write words but they aren’t lyrics. Sometimes they are lyrics but they are always words. Yes, it always starts with words and sometimes they surprisingly morph into lyrics. The music never comes first, except when it does.
The other day I received the best “No” ever. I’ve decided this year that I’m going to start gearing some of my personal songwriting efforts into getting a cut. It’s always been a goal of mine, to have someone else sing a song I wrote. I grew up listening to country radio and then switched over to whatever they call it when they play Sarah McLachlan, Goo Goo Dolls, and Everclear on the same station (Adult Contemporary? Eh…). I also grew up listening to a lot of folks who wrote their own songs. Mary Chapin Carpenter is never, ever looking for songs to cover, and that is probably what made me start writing my own songs, too. You write them, you sing them. Easy!
Except there’s a whole industry centered around writers penning things for artists that sell a lot of records. About 5 people write every Rihanna song, and while that’s an elite group, there are tons of working songwriters all over the country and sometimes…they get songs on other people’s albums. My good friend Walt Wilkins currently has a song on the charts because Kellie Pickler cut it, and it is an amazing song (Someone Somewhere Tonight – check it). Commercial doesn’t always equate to “lame” as situations like this Walt song have taught me (oh, and the ever amazing “Wide Open Spaces” example penned by Susan Gibson thank you very much).
Anyway…I have a song I really think is something that should get “out there.” And there are companies that act as middlemen and send your work to publishing companies, who are in turn looking for songs for their artists. I wasn’t sure if these things were legitimate or not, but the opt in fee is low and there was a call for submissions for a country artist I love, so I sent it in, expecting nothing, really. After a few weeks I got the best, nicest rejection letter ever. In part:
“We, of course, realize this is disappointing to you, but please do not get discouraged as a writer. We can offer only one opinion in a world of many, and we can assure you that we have been wrong just as often as we have been right. That is the nature of the business that we are in. If anything, we would want to ENCOURAGE you and let you know that many professionals listened to, and discussed your work this week, and without exception, they were all impressed. Thank you again for a quality submission. We very much enjoyed listening to, and discussing your work.”
WHAAAAAT? That made my week. It continues to make my month, even.
This is hairy, weird business, especially when you start talking commercial and “hits” and “singles.” I’ve got friends who have been literally sucked in, chewed up, and spit back out of the Major Label Machine. But there are a number of people writing songs with integrity and heart, and those are the qualities that sometimes get through all the noise. Sometimes. You never get anywhere if you don’t try, though.