What influenced you to get into music?
When I was a kid about 11 or 12, I started listening to folk music. Pop music really sucked at that time and I have an older brother and he and his friends listened to folk music, so I started to get into what they were tuning in to. There was a great folk music radio show called Midnight Special and they played stuff by Bob Dylan who was very new at the time. And others like Cisco Houston and Josh White, and Pete Seeger. We had an acoustic guitar in the house and I learned a few chords, and then tried to teach myself how to play songs by Dave Van Ronk. He was a fingerstyle blues player, and we had classical guitar recordings in the house and that sounded like how the guitar should be played.
What was it like growing up in Chicago?
Growing up in Chicago “burbs” was great. There was always so much to do. It seemed like the whole world revolved around Chicago. There was great music everywhere and sports to get involved with. It seemed like my whole childhood revolved around baseball, swimming and music. When I got to high school, the Beatles hit and that changed everything. I went to high school with John Prine. We sort of knew each other by name. It was a huge school and John was a gymnast back then, and I was a swimmer. I didn’t know that he was doing any kind of music. Nobody knew that. After high school he started hanging out at the Earl of Oldtown, which was a folk club, and that’s where he got discovered. I went on to play in rock bands and then off the first college ( Southern Illinois University) that I dropped out of.
Did you take lessons for guitar, or are you self taught?
I was self taught from the time I was 11 until I was about 19. By then I’d moved to Virginia and began to take lessons from a great jazz player in Washington DC at the Guitar Shop. I did that for a few years and then studied classical guitar for a couple of years. I learned to sight read for the guitar which helped me get into Berklee later on. Prior to Berklee I studied with Danny Gatton for about 6 months. He was the greatest player I’ve ever seen or heard. Danny could do anything on the instrument. He could play anything with strings. He could play in any style as if he’d invented it. After that and before Berklee I traveled around the country. I moved to California. Hitched across the country from CA to VA twice. The second time I hitched to Canada and then hopped an eastbound freight that took me into Banff where I got off and hitched down to Chicago and on to Virginia to see my folks. All of that was a learning experience that became the framework for my writing. I wrote two books, and a lot of music that sprang from those experiences. After that, I went to Berklee. I was 29 years old at the time. By then I was so committed that when I got there I was focused on what I wanted and went straight through without taking any breaks between semesters. I got great grades making Deans List every semester. I was paying for it so I was damn sure that I was going to get my money’s worth.
Do you play any other instruments?
Not really. I know the piano keyboard and that helps when I’m trying to get an idea across to my students. The piano is so easy to visualize because it’s all black and white and you can see every octave easily.
At what point did you get serious in composing and writing songs?
Once I learned theory and Harmony, I found that writing and arranging was what lit my fire. The guitar was my thing for so long, but after Berklee I found composition was driving me more than just playing the instrument.
Now that you live in Vermont, what is the music scene like there?
The music scene here is pretty spread out. I live in southern Vermont right where Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Vermont all meet. So a lot of my gigs are in those three states. New England is loaded with folk music venues. The towns in Vermont are really small so there aren’t many places to play but you can find gigs all over Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I teach at the Brattleboro Music Center, which is an incredible facility with soundproofed studios, and a great recital hall, and an even greater concert hall. A lot of BMC’s focus is on classical music and I’m the folk guitar guy so I get a lot of students.
Do you compose or write lyrics for other artists?
I just sent some songs to Bettye LeVette, who’s a great Soul Singer. We’ll see what happens
Do you perform live often?
Fairly often. I have an active teaching schedule so I’m pretty selective in the gigs I play. I either work solo or with a bass player. It depends on the kind of venue and how much money they’re paying.
Tell us about your latest project.
The most recent project is the CD “Covered Bridges." I had some great session players on that project. Part of it was recorded at Will Ackerman’s studio here in Vermont. Two of the songs instrumental tracks were produced by Will. I recorded the rest of the project and all the vocals at Squam Sound in New Hampshire with Randy Roos engineering. Bob McCarthy produced that project and played some really sweet slide guitar and mandolin on it. It also featured Eugene Friesen on cello and Bill Martin on acoustic bass. The instrumental tracks at Will’s studio included Tony Levin on bass, Eugene Friesen on cello, Jill Haley on English Horn, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Tom Eaton engineered and played Hammond Organ. Jeff Haynes played percussion. So the Acoustic Earth Orchestra is my back up group and includes a lot of different players.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m hoping to record volume 2 of Covered Bridges. All the songs are written and demo'ed. I’m looking at doing a concert with cello, guitar/mando, bass and violin at the BMC concert hall next fall, to perform all the songs from Covered Bridges and the songs from volume 2. So… more of the same. More teaching, more gigs, more recordings. That’s what I do. I’m too old to change anything now. So…full steam ahead.
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