Keep Reaching For That Golden Tambourine

Have you ever thirsted for music, so much so that it ached in every cell of your body?  That every decision you made was in answer to the primal longing to bring the music in your bones to fruition?  Reading S.A.C. Member Joe McLeod‘s story of coming into being as a musician, one can feel a deep unsatiated longing that led him to a musical adventure from Vancouver to Nashville to Toronto and back again.  As a budding musician, Joe had a hunger for inspiration and connection to the deeper roots of music that led him to earn a forestry degree in order to apply for a work visa to move to Nashville.  As a result, Joe has shared the stage with artists such as Johnny Cash,  John Pennell, and Angaleena Presley to name a few.  Joe felt that deep thirst for creating music and has answered it with courage and perseverence.

In His Words…

The first time I ever heard bluegrass music was at the age of 17. At the time, I was enthusiastically exploring all of the classic sounds of the 60s and 70s spending countless hours scouring my Dad’s record collection for some deep cuts by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. What I found instead on this particular day was the original album by Old And In The Way, a 1975 Rounder Records bluegrass project featuring the likes of David Grisman, Peter Rowan, John Kahn, Vassar Clements, and of course Jerry Garcia. If you are familiar with the album, you know the allure of Greg Iron’s cover art depicting five caricatures feverishly picking bluegrass amidst a backdrop of general store sundries. I was immediately drawn in and noticed the banjo player’s resemblance to Jerry Garcia. I was astounded that I had been listening to the Grateful Dead for a few years and was unaware that Jerry played banjo. I immediately eased the vinyl from its sleeve and proceeded to spin the wax. As the first banjo notes of “Pig In A Pen” rolled off Jerry Garcia’s fingers I was hooked on bluegrass music. I went on that day to tape the album and that tape went on to define my summer and in many ways the musical trajectory that I have been on for the last 17 years. As time went on I learned that the music, driven by banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and stand-up bass, had a deeper history and that the genre’s birth was credited to Mr. Bill Monroe.

A few years later at the age of 22, my quest to further understand bluegrass music led me to visit Nashville to drink from the fountain of inspiration that wells there. I was enamoured by the depth of talent in Nashville and the ubiquitous music. I will never forget that first trip and my fortune to see artists such as Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings own the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. These were artists I had listened to for years, but to see them on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry was like seeing a wild lion in the Serengeti. They were the best players in the business and they held me captive during sets demarcated by Eddie Stubbs’ impeccable radio voice reading various advertisements for Goo Goo Clusters or Martha White Flour. By the time I returned to Canada, all I could do was scheme a strategy to return to Music City USA.

Stage one of this plan was to finish my forestry degree at UBC in Vancouver, stage two was to get back to Nashville and work legally. In the end I arrived there circuitously by working first in Colorado and then eventually getting a job as a tree climber with Davey Tree in Nashville. With a work Visa being one of the more difficult mechanisms to negotiate in a post 9/11 America, tree climbing fell under the umbrella of forestry related work and consequently afforded me a Visa to work in Nashville. The work was secondary to the ultimate goal of digging into the depths of Nash-Vegas to further understand the amorphous beauty of music.

As everyone knows, Nashville is the ultimate acid test for a musician and to be humbled by Nashville is to become a better musician. I was fortunate to live in Nashville for three years and have my share of humbling experiences. I had the rare fortune of sharing stages, songwriter rounds, parking lot jams, and friendships with some fine songwriters and musicians including Johnny Cash, Vassar Clements, Harley Allen, John Pennell, and Angaleena Presley. These experiences left an indelible mark on who I am and the music that I create. I have since played in a handful of bands in Toronto and currently play with the Scattered Coals in Vancouver.

As humans we are not static beings, but rather we shift and evolve trying to polish our edges as we go. When I started learning to play the guitar at the age of sixteen I recall a high school classmate chuckling and saying, “you won’t be able to learn guitar now, you need to start when you are six years old to get any good”. Of course if we never followed our dreams because it was too late to start life would be meaningless. With this in mind, we should all keep polishing our edges and remember that Antonio Stradivari’s 25 year long “Golden Period” only began when he was 56 years of age.

Visit Joe McLeod’s Songwriters Profile.

Joe is currently working towards his first independent release in 2012.
Click Here for a sneak peek.

 

 

Songwriting for Radio Play

Tom Bedell

Tom Bedell is 24-year broadcast veteran, and currently Afternoon Drive host at Q104FM in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He also hosts ‘Route 104‘, a program spotlighting up-and-coming East Coast talent.  He is one of the judges of the Radio Star National Talent Search sponsored by Astral Radio and presented in association with Canadian Music Week.  If you’re thinking of submitting, here is some sound songwriting advice.

In Tom’s words…

I sat in the front row at a John Prine concert last week. I’ve been a fan for years, and as I’ve thought about songwriting, and made some recent attempts myself, what’s always amazed me is the simplicity in his music, even when exploring sometimes complex subjects. Songs like Sam Stone, Hello in There, even Angel from Montgomery immediately spring to mind.

That performance underscored the fact that the greatest, most memorable songs have always been infuriatingly simple. Not to say there aren’t more complex compositions that aren’t masterpieces, but from Gershwin, through the Motown era, to today’s writers, we’ve seen over and over that less is definitely more. Bob Dylan, who has many intricate pieces in his catalog, also has classics which are immediately hummable, and equally unforgettable. For every ‘Visions of Johanna’, there’s an ‘If Not For You’.

While there’s never been any clear-cut formula for radio play, sitting on a recent panel on the subject with the great Ralph Murphy was an eye-opener. His ideas on inviting the listener in, and letting emotion cut through whatever their day-to-day life may bring are the key to a good pop song.

While it’s easy to get swept up in whatever technical advances and toys that have come down the highway in recent years, a simple tune that evokes genuine emotion, be it sadness, humour or outright joy, even a combination of those emotions,  along with the ability to distill those emotions down to pop perfection.

As the music industry as a whole has gone through innumerable changes over the past decade, so has radio. Formats are more plentiful, yet tighter as far as the ability of new acts to gain adds. But, as has always been the case, a great song is a great song. Even though I, like most people, have never been able to grasp the intricate codes and conventions of songwriting, I know a good song when I hear it, as most of us do, I’m sure.

Write from the heart, go wherever it takes you, and don’t be afraid to keep it simple.

Click Here for details about the contest.

From Boston to NY City to Dublin to Touring Worldwide – Laine Henderson’s Adventures in Songwriting

Choosing to pursue  your passion for songwriting and music can take you places you never imagined.  For S.A.C. Member Laine Henderson, this has meant leaving the Vancouver North Shore where she was born and raised, studying alongside the very best at the Berkley College of Music in Boston, making a go of it in New York City, performing and songwriting in Dublin, then touring the world with the world-famous Riverdance show.  Each part of her adventure has added to the fabric of her music as well as the story of her life.  While we all might aspire to perfection and glory as our destination, Laine’s story is living proof that the journey has great value unto itself.   She recently released her album, “Occasional Rain.”  We look forward to hearing where these new songs will take her.

1.  Please tell us about your experiences training at the Berklee College of Music and how you came to discover your gift for writing songs.  I first attended Berklee on a vocal jazz scholarship. I wanted to study jazz music and sing jazz music. It was music all day, all night and weekends too. Every evening the classrooms would be filled with jam sessions and the studios would be busy splicing together projects. I received a few late night panicked phone calls to help finish a jingle project. It was overwhelming and inspiring. Songwriting came the following term as I scanned the school syllabus for classes. It had never occurred to me until that moment that people WROTE the songs we sing and I could do it too. I was very fortunate to have my first writing class with jingle writing legend, Jon Aldrich. He was wonderfully inspiring and made it sound so effortless. So, I jumped in pen first and began writing and trying to express my self poetically and tell my stories. Luckily they sounded fairly catchy and held together with just piano or guitar. When I hit Pat Pattison’s lyric writing class the following semester I was in for a shock…cut 50% of my lyrics and music? Do that again? My writing was never the same.

2.  You have lived for periods in New York and Dublin.  What was the environment like for making music in these places and what brought you back to Canada?  Moving to New York was a natural progression from Boston. Most of the people I went to school with were trying to make it there. There were open mics Mon-Thurs and then gigs to go to on the weekends. The week was packed with music, just like at Berklee and just as intense but without the safety factor of college. I would write in the mornings before catching the subway to whichever record label at which I was temping, then come home and write more before going out. I wrote a lot and with so many open mics was able to see what worked and what didn’t pretty quickly. It was all very exciting.

A few years later, Dublin became my new home. After the fast paced lifestyle of NYC, it was a complete shift. I quickly found myself among a good company of writers in Dublin via a few open mics. My first real gig was alongside Luka Bloom at the Ruby Sessions, which was amazing. My style of writing became more simplified and the goal was to tell a good story.

I brought my family back to B.C. more for personal reasons that musical ones, but it has been a very rewarding return. Not being centered in Vancouver, I thought I would bring the Vancouver scene to me at a writers round I hosted in White Rock. I met so many great writers every week and certainly feel apart of it now. Great support from writers like Ivan Boudreau and Jon Pippus have made me feel part of the writers scene and S.A.C. I am writing better now than ever.

3.  How have your travels affected the songs you write, as well as your record-making process?  My travels have always had to do with changes in my life so I think my writing has changed with each country or city. When I first started I was very jazz influenced and complex with a lot of turmoil. Life was fast paced and I rushed through my first album trying to cram in lots of texture and sound. Then, I wanted my life to be simpler and as a result so was my music. My recordings, nothing was pressed, became more acoustic which is where I was at for a long time. Now, I am pretty happy most of the time, so I am writing pretty happy songs, which I love. Luckily the producer of my album, Matt Rogers, sensed that because he made everything have a good feeling even if it was a slower song. We built everything up from the bottom and I had no idea where it was going, but Matt did and I trusted him completely. It was a long time between albums but definitely worth the wait.

4.  What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve encountered and how did you overcome it?  I have in the past liked to do things the hard way, but I think the biggest challenge for me was starting anew in a new country with only 2 friends in the same city. With no job, little money and few friends, I did what any writer would do….write…and get a job in a coffee shop. Getting out to those open mics made all the difference and bit by bit everything else came together. As it happened, I met the musical director for Riverdance in that coffee shop.

5.  You toured for two years as the lead vocalist with the Riverdance show.  How did those years grow you as a songwriter and how did they limit you?  The touring was great, fun, surreal and tiring and I wouldn’t have missed it. Singing Bill Whelan’s music every night was amazing and an honor, but while on tour I pretty much stopped writing. I dragged my guitar on every plane and to every city but when I went to write it just didn’t happen. Maybe it was the unfamiliar hotel rooms or changes in altitude, but I was blocked. As time went on, I wanted to be singing my own words and return to real life and get back to playing my own music. I became more committed as a writer than I had been before.

6.  What achievement in your musical journey has meant the most to you?  Riverdance was a pretty big deal, but, as a singer/songwriter, finishing this latest album has been the highlight so far. Working with Matt was amazing and having a finished product I am truly proud of was something I wasn’t sure would ever happen.

7.  What are your goals for the coming year with the release of your new album, “Occasional Rain”? One of my goals was to play Bluebird North hosted by Shari Ulrich. I have been to a few shows and always enjoyed them but felt I was capable of being up there, but not until I had something to hand out. I am happy to say Shari has invited me to play April 10, 2012, so that’s one less thing to do next year. Other than that, I want to get my music out to the world and write my next album. Hopefully, a couple of music videos will be showing up on Youtube and a few TV/movie/commercial placements will happen as well. If you know how I can get a song pitched to Michael Buble, let me know, I have a great one for him.

Visit Laine’s Songwriter Profile.

When a Song Grows Legs

It is the dream of many aspiring songwriters to write something that can inspire thousands.  Most people don’t expect this to happen with their first recording.  This is what happened to S.A.C. member Bob Reid.  Inspired by the final trek our fallen soldiers take upon returning to Canada, Bob’s song, “Highway of Heroes,” has gotten almost 32,000 hits on Youtube and has been featured at events across the country.  The story of his song and how it has changed his life is a reminder that when a song comes from a genuine source of inspiration it can cut through all the noise of an over-saturated digital space to find an audience that will not only embrace it but give it momentum to take the song, and its writer, the extra mile.

In Bob’s Words…

You know how we have all heard countless songwriters talk about how songs can actually take on a life of their own?  Well, add me to that list.

It was the summer of 2008 when the seeds for what would become my song, “Highway of Heroes,” took root.  The sight of thousands of ordinary people, turning out along Highway 401 to pay their respects when one of our fallen soldiers came home from Afghanistan was an incredible – and uncharacteristic – display of Canadian patriotism, pride, sorrow and gratitude all wrapped up into one.  That emotion came out of me in a song, and when it resonated so strongly with anyone I played it for, I knew for sure that it had to “get born.”

I had never made a “real” record before, but I took the plunge, with help from some ace-talent pals including Blair Packham and Rik Emmett (who graciously donated an absolutely soaring guitar solo), we recorded a single.  With a lot of luck, connections and perhaps just a touch of providence, damned if it didn’t make the physical singles sales charts, hitting No. 1 for one brief, shining week in December of 2009.  That would never have happened without some fortunate media coverage, which led to a call from music retailer HMV, saying they wanted to help (because I ear-mark a share of sale proceeds to www.woundedwarriors.ca).  That connection, in turn, paved the way to a pressing and distribution arrangement with Universal Music Canada, furthering the distribution reach of the physical product, and “Highway of Heroes” managed to hang on to a spot in the Top 40 CD singles sales chart for two, separate, 16-week runs

Bob Reid performs "Highway of Heroes" live at Kandahar Air Field, March 2010

A few months later, I was invited to travel to Afghanistan – to Kandahar Airfield – to play the song for our troops and their NATO allies.  Didn’t see that one coming!  Then, after living with these amazing men and women for a week, and being so inspired by the good and positive work they were doing, a second song started to tumble in me wee brain – a grateful look-ahead to their return home, titled “Soldier, Welcome Home.”  Released on Canada Day of this year, I got to perform it live on CTV’s CANADA AM and at several military-related events, and it has just been adopted by Sears Canada as the official theme song for this year’s Operation Wish initiative, which supports military families with loved ones who can’t be home for Christmas.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought, as someone who has always dabbled in songwriting and performing but never pursued it full-time, that something I wrote sitting at my same old piano would go out into the world and touch so many people, and provide me with such incredible experiences.  And I think it just goes to show that, as the SAC’s slogan says, It All Starts With A Song.  Keep writing.  Keep networking.  Keep chasing your dreams.  You never know when the stars will line up …

Visit Bob Reid’s Songwriter Profile.  Scroll down to see the video for both, “Highway of Heroes,” and “Soldier, Welcome Home.