On The Fly…Twilight Joys

Waltz Across This Cake With Me by JOtwell Perspectives (click for more)
Waltz Across This Cake With Me by JOtwell Perspectives (click for more)

One of the pleasures and perks of being a studio-owning muso in the relative twilight of one’s career is the ability to take on little projects for the sheer fun of it. One such for me has been a string of wedding songs written and recorded specifically for the nuptials of the members of our extended family.

I started this  tradition after my son, who was first out of the chute in the marriage stakes, got hitched, so he and his spouse  don’t have one, but from my daughter onward, and including all the cousins, there’s been a song for the occasion.

These are full-blown studio productions complete with packaging, and we usually make up 100 as keepsakes for the wedding guests. I like the fact that stylistically I can tailor the piece , in some fashion , to the couple in question , either suggested by their professions, or interests. I can stretch out musically – who’s gonna stop me ?-and it’s a one of a kind personal giftie.

There have been some suggestions that it could be a profitable sideline, but doing it for hire would take the joy out of it for me, so that isn’t an option, although I did branch out and do one for a dear friend of ours.

The Bells Are Ringin’…

The Skelly Suggests…Bacharach



Isley Meets Bacharach
Isley Meets Bacharach
Painted From Memory Costello/ Bacharach
Painted From Memory








A suggestion to any Bacharach freaks out there : take ” Isley meets Bacharach” and the fabulous Costello / Bacharach collaboration :

Start with track 1.of Isley, then play track 1 of Costello. Go through both albums in that order, and you will end up with the most glorious example of Bacharach’s art on one disc. I’ve already done it, and it’s sublime…

With love M.S.

On The Fly…Banjo, really ?

My First Banjo by JOtwell Perspectives

Banjo was the first string instrument I got my eager hands on, when I was  nine or so. There was an upright piano in our house, at which I was already flailing away , but the first whispers of skiffle were being heard, and guitars were starting to appear on TV, along with banjos, so I was primed…

My elder cousin, Pauline, was dating a fellow who was already playing in local string bands, and was in possession of a long-neck, four string tenor banjo, which was often to be found at Pauline’s house. Many a Sunday, my folks would park me there while they and the other  relatives would repair to a local pub for afternoon libations, which gave me a couple of hours with the banjo, flying blind, but figuring bits and pieces out , the way one does when there is strong interest. I also did a swap of some comics with a lad in our street who had a tacky plastic ukulele, but that banjo was a bona fide grown-up instrument, and consequently of more importance  to me than a toy-town uke.

When I got my first acoustic guitar at age eleven,  banjo retreated to the far periphery of my musical interest for many years. Electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and bass in various forms became the tools of my professional trade, which didn’t have much need for the old plink plonk.

When I moved to Nashville in 1973, I became aware of the locally favored 5-string banjo and the high-octane stylists who had followed in the wake of Earl Scruggs’ ground-breaking  innovations – scared me to death, to be honest. However, when my father-in-law passed I inherited a vintage open-backed Savoy short-neck tenor banjo from him, which had a lovely old-timey sound to it, so I began to plink and plonk again, just for fun.

Interestingly enough, tenor banjo (played with a pick) had remained in fashion in traditional Celtic music circles, and the upsurge in interest that occurred in that form of music  from the ’80’s on gave Irish-style tenor banjo a new lease on life. Being first generation Irish myself, I’d become re-interested in the form and the great young (and not so young) artists who were producing thrilling neo-traditional records on both sides of the big pond, and for the next few years I immersed myself in it, aligning  with practitioners in both live and recording situations. I really enjoyed that period, becoming adept at bodhran and getting the chops up on cittern and Irish bouzouki as well as the trusty old tenor banjo.

During that time my dear globe-trotting pal Bob Saporiti found the magnificent closed-back Concertone tenor banjo that was featured in the blog, and kindly gifted it to me. I now have it strung with nylon banjo strings, which give it quite a different tone, while I keep the Savoy steel strung .

Although I’d never consider myself to be a bona-fide banjoist, it’s been my pleasure to plink and plonk away on quite a few albums that needed the flavor of the old-time plectrum tenor…grand fun always !

Check out these other Banjo entries- they are fan favorites: http://wp.me/p2W71Q-dy and http://wp.me/p2W71Q-hG

In Memoriam… Joe Cocker

Joe Cocker by Naaman Saar Stavy Creative Commons
Joe Cocker by Naaman Saar Stavy Creative Commons (http://goo.gl/1drwOx)

“Joe came to Nashville with The Crusaders to sing on a couple of songs for an album they were recording.  This was Joe’s first foray back into music after his self-imposed hiatus, and he, the band, and Will Jennings, lyricist extraordinaire, were in our midst for several weeks.  The big hang-out in those days was Close Quarters, a/k/a the rock ‘n’ roll hotel, which actually was a boutique hotel, but the bar and lounge were ground zero for the local record people and for the visitors, too.  Joe and Will were actually staying up the street at Spence Manor, which was even more exclusive, while The Crusaders were ensconced in The Quarters.  For many a night, after their sessions, they all held court in the conversation pit, around a roaring fire, and I made a point of being a regular, as I was anyway, only living around the corner myself.  I’d run into Joe a time or two, back when he was still living and working around Sheffield, but I couldn’t say we’d been even passing acquaintances, yet he was happy to have another northern lad to chat to, so we got quite matey.  Very late on the night the album was finished, after the celebratory intake had done its work, Joe decided that he had to have a full English breakfast …

Spence Manor prided itself on the fact that they could get their guests anything they wanted, at any hour, so Joe asked me to come back and do the ordering, as he was somewhat compromised, and Will wouldn’t know what to ask for.  Armed with a fresh bottle of Scotch, we took the short walk to The Spence, and arrived in Joe’s suite at about four-thirty (that’s a.m.).

I figured I should call my wife to let her know I was OK, as this looked like it might take a while. I no sooner had a very sleepy Patti on the line, when Joe commandeered the phone … “Ello, missus, I’ve kidnapped your husband, ‘cause I’ve got to have an English breakfast and I need him to order it from these folk … y’don’t mind, do you?  Aye, good, well thanks then.”  Handing the phone back, he said, “Yer alreet, son,” and addressed the bottle while I got busy with the concierge.

You can imagine explaining the intricacies of a full English breakfast to someone who’d never heard of such a thing: “Yes, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, yes, that’s right … no, that’s fried bread, not rye bread, you heard me right, fried bread, fry it in the same pan you cook the bacon and sausage in … ,” etc. etc.  Now, I wasn’t stone-cold sober myself, but eventually the task was accomplished, and by dawn’s early light we tucked into a brilliant full English … Joe was a happy man!  (When I saw my wife that evening, she said, “Was I imagining it last night, or did Joe Cocker call here.”  Affirmative, my dear, affirmative.)” – an excerpt from Mersey Me! A Liverpool Lad On The Loose In The Swingin’ 60’s

I trust the heavenly kitchen had the full English Brekkie ready for Joe when he arrived – complete with black pudding!

On The Fly…Our First Country Christmas

Urban Snow
Urban Snow by JOtwell

Forty years ago, we experienced our first Nashville White Christmas, not the sooty snow of London or Liverpool, but pristine powder, shin deep on the side roads, ankle-deep on the main stems. We were nesting in Madison at the time, which was still a town on its own, rather than a bedroom community of Nashville, and as our little girl was safe with her grandparents in Florida, we decided to venture out on foot to seek some Christmas cheer. The nearest tavern on Gallatin Road was about half a mile away and the streets and the main road were hushed and muted , bereft of traffic, either motorized or pedestrian, except for us foreigners in the Southland….until we arrived at the bar, which was full of locals, creating their own warmth, and willing to share it with us.

Thus fortified, we trekked back through the drifts…the only people walking, or so it seemed. The experience led to a song, natch, as such was the way of things in those far off days. A sorry effort  at a country tune, it was, as that genre was still as foreign to me as I was to it….I didn’t even know that the general area was referred to as Middle Tennessee, so my little refrain referred to” the only people walkin’ in Central Tennessee”. When this faux pas was later pointed out to me, I dropped any further effort on the wee tune, reasoning that if I couldn’t even get the geography right, I was not yet ready to be attempting to write country songs.

Over the years we developed the British tradition of a Boxing Day party on the 26th., which grew and grew until people were marking it on their calendars in January, and our initial Xmas adventure was stored away in the memory banks as our legion of friends brought the season to us, White Christmas or not, and that first adventure receded, except for the very real warmth two strangers experienced in that little snow-bound tavern so many years ago.

May your season be filled with precious warmth, kindness and love !