|I've been a musician since the age of seven, playing at various times Hawaiian steel guitar, six-string and twelve-string guitars, Irish folk songs and traditional tunes, classic guitar, conga drums, sitar, and more; you get the drift. Whatever music excited me at the time, I had to try to play it. or at least play along with it. Hours were spent .. '. what am I saying ... years were spent with ears glued to the record player, figuring out what chords to use or what notes to play. I was obsessed like some kid alone on the basketball court shooting free throws. My fascinations numbered in the hundreds. I couldn't practice enough. I used to cut school or go home early from my job in order to work on whatever music I was currently in love with. I'm sure I drove everyone crazy. I didn't care.
Recently I attended a reading by the great poet/songwriter Patti Smith, who said: "What you should do is work, work, work on developing and improving your craft. Never mind trying to make a million dollars. Remember Blake or Van Gogh who were ignored and actually vilified in their time, and are now considered gods. They worked constantly on their art. Never stopped." Possibly the best advice I've ever heard. As she said, it's all in the work, however you can do it - either through formal lessons (I studied classic guitar for several years, and Irish music with some great local trad players) or, as the expression goes, 'playing by ear'. In the long run, regardless of training or lack of training, a student actually teaches himself how to play and write.
Writing songs came easily for me because of the two great influences on my heart and mind. My Grandpa played Irish fiddle and mandolin in a country band and, as a kid in Lewistown, Montana, I used to sit at his knee enthralled by the beauty and joy that he created. He was also a tall tale teller who could suck me into one of his wild stories, and then laugh like crazy when he hit me with the punchline. Malarkey, as they say; pure blarney.
Then Grandpa introduced me to Guy Townsend, who was ninety years old and had been a real honest-to-goodness cowboy in the 1880s. He had been around for the whole Wild West era. I was reading Shane at the time, and the sight of Old Guy's saddle in the basement, glistening in the light of a single bulb, put the whole western mystique into focus for me. I honestly feel it was then, in my heart and soul, that I became a songwriter. Once I hit my stride, it was only natural for me to combine those influences into musical form. If I were to list all the storytellers I have admired, I wouldn't know where to end. But to begin with, after Grandpa, there were The Weavers, who opened the door to Leadbelly, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Shane MacGowan, Warren Zevon, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Patti Smith, and on and on. It's like when you discover a great author, and you find that his favourite author was so-and-so, and you read that author's work, and find that he studied such-and-such, and pretty soon you're on a literary journey.
It's the same with music. Music is the 'old swimmin' hole'. It has always been there for anyone to jump in. When the weather is right. you can stay all day. The upshot of all this (along with four other albums) is my triumvirate of Western/Irish CDs, Out West Somewhere, Sea Of Freedom and [most recently] Calamity James, all of which share a Celtic flavoured taste of unabashed cowboy mythology, a la Ned Buntline.
If I were forced to tell the truth, I wouldn't have anything to say. Isn't songwriting great? You can be rewarded for being a liar! But, what is art anyway, but a reorganization of reality?