Taking it to the Highway
Recently I made the trek from my home in Kentucky down to Macon, GA to see my best friend. Over the course of my life I’ve made this trip A BUNCH. However, not since I was 19 have I made the drive alone. There’s always been someone to chat with or to share the driving duties. I was, least to say, worried about staying alert and so forth.
I spent the later years of my teenage-hood traveling the streets and roads that feed the Highway 41 of the Dickey Betts’ Ramblin’ Man. My love affair with the small southern town started in Jackson, GA, which is just north of Macon. My own relationship with the Blues began as I lived and had a ‘large time’ in the region. Nearly everyone I knew was obsessed with the Allman Brothers. I, chronically different, was obsessed with meeting Joe English who had once lived in Macon, but who was at the time Paul McCartney’s drummer. I was the one who knew who Lowell George was and often used the term ‘Dixie Chicken’ to flirt using all my newly acquired Southern charm. I tolerated Journey but loathed REO Speedwagon. I wasn’t at all impressed by Johnny Van Zant’s pathetic attempts to be his dead brother. I knew about the NewGrass Revival, and liked them even then, simply because the song “Goin’ to the Fair” was a favorite sing along song of my musician cousin. The very same cousin who would repeatedly state Jimmy Page was the greatest guitarist alive but did not listen to Zeppelin. Though I did have a “smoking buddy” who was fanatical fan. He would instruct me on the finer points of greatness of the band which in turn allowed me to “know my shit” around my cousin’s band mates. In short, I just wasn’t listening to what everyone else was listening to, but when I was with everyone else I had to listen to their music. So I, trying to be graciously Southern, knew what the Blues were so much more than they all did.
I have been taught what rock n roll really is by a master, my dad. He came of age with Elvis, Buddy Holly, Motown, and hundreds of Tin Pan Alley pop tunes. He started his twenties paralleling the English Invasion. He got his heart broken by the time he was 30 but found the healing power in the poems and melodies of the singer/ songwriter era. By 40 he had found his roots in the country rock of Linda Rondstant and therefore the Eagles. I buried him at 43, killed for God and Country so to speak. My dad also loved a great voice, pop jazz, and a good folk ballad. So in one moment by dad would be singing along with Vicki Carr or tapping his toes to the Tijuana Brass. A moment later he’d be pounding the steering wheel to CCR. My Dad knew about Margaritaville way before it become the most over played cover song in history. (Like one of my fondest memories of my dad is him semi-dancing his way into the Ship Watch Lounge of the Tybee Island singing that song.)
Is it any wonder my musical taste are beyond eclectic? Is it any wonder I can’t commit to a genre?
So for my journey south I downloaded to my iPad mini, via Rhapsody, a wide range of music. Amongst the Jason Isbell, James Taylor, John Gorka, Snow Patrol, Augustana, Modest Mouse, Goo Goo Dolls, 7Mary3, Jackson Bowne, Bruce Hornsby, and Beirut were two standards. One being Tom Petty and the other being Bruce Springsteen.
I have been a fan of Tom Petty’s since 1977. I ouzed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as a teenager. It drove my musician cousin batshit nuts by constantly begging him to learn and play Tom Petty covers. It was fact that Ron Blair had lived in Macon in the Cherry Orchard. It was believed by my best friend and I that Mike Campbell’s dad lived in Byron. An idea perpetuated by a Mercedes limo being parked fairly often at a house with Campbell on the mailbox. Adding to that was a tour bus being parked in an empty store lot near to the house we assumed was Mike Campbell’s dad’s. This bus was there in that lot just as often. So then just didn’t understand why Robin and I seemed to be the only fans around. Yet we were.
Years later I found out that it was most likely Joseph “Red Dog” Campbell‘s house I stalked waiting for a glimpse of my guitar hero.
As for Springsteen, I had been fascinated by him since he had been on the cover of Time Magazine in 1975. I didn’t become a fan until “Darkness on the Edge of Town” came out. Also around this time I discovered Patti Smith via a Springsteen song. The songs on Darkness on the Edge of town were so dramatic, but not just in verse. They were climatic. They exploded with angst. They would start with a trickle and before you knew it you were hip deep in a river. To this day I adore every song on the record and those songs still do everything they did then….and then some.
I soon began coveting the idea that Little Steven and Mike Campbell were better than Jimmy Page. I’ve since learned that there are pickers and players. Also that all art is subjective. Oh and I picked up on Mark O’Connor seeing him with Dixie Dregs….totally blown away.
A good long drive clears my head usually. Usually….
There hanging out in my ‘obsessing until I get it done’ section of my brain were two friends, musicians, waiting for stories from me about who they are and their work. Nick Dittmeier and Ashley W. Smith are two of the hardest working musicians I know, personally. Nick Dittmeier is a DYI musician who could and should write a book about the truth of self promotion. The guy works at it every single day. Usually he works an 8 to 10 hour day. Ashley W. Smith is either practicing for a show, in a show, or auditioning for a pick-up spot every day. My favorite thing about them both…no bullshit. It’s in their eyes that it takes work, tenacity, and faith to keep the dream alive.
Now tell the truth how many musicians do you know that kind of expect it to just magically happen? It’s one of things I constantly rant about, you know, the lack of real conviction amongst the bulk musicians. You know like the little things on Facebook that read: would you ask a plumber to work for exposure ? Really you think standing on stage and singing is comparable to crawling through sewage? Hmmm. Well a visual artist has to present work with no payment quite often. Dancers sometimes have to practice for weeks, with no pay, only to be dropped. So get over yourself. Anyway…neither one of these guys is so full of themselves that you want to just vomit. My level of caring about them and their career is much higher than most musicians I know.
Now I’m talking about the ones who don’t have record deals, and managers, or a publicist. They haven’t even come close to ‘making it’. Ashley and Nick both sustain themselves as professional musicians.
So I was running down the road trying to loosen my load….