Music through my life
Beginnings: I got my first guitar, an Oahu flattop steel-string acoustic, at age 16, after being introduced to the Kingston Trio's music by my math teacher. Three years and two more cheap acoustics later, I got my first serious guitar-- my 1935 Martin O-18. During my 20s, when I wasn't working as a radio news reporter, I spent a lot of time strumming folk and folk-rock songs in living rooms.
Turning "Pro:" In 1978, burnt out on the radio news business (covering twenty capital murder trials in two and a half years was a big factor), I formed a country band, and began playing in Houston, Texas area ice houses. For the next five years, I continued playing steel guitar in bands, playing literally from coast to coast, and nearly from border to border. I also intermittently taught guitar, steel guitar, and mountain dulcimer lessons.
The duo years: In 1982, I married Judy Ann, who had been my steel guitar student. In 1983, we formed a duo called JJ Balance. We both sang, and each of us played amplified acoustic rhythm guitar and pedal steel; we repeated the progression from local ice houses to road act. Following Judy Ann's sudden death from cancer in 1986, I briefly returned to playing in bands, but quickly realized it was time to go solo.
Going solo: I started with just guitar and drum machine, but realized during my first gig that I needed something more. I had briefly experimented with simultaneous guitar and harmonica in the living room days, ten years earlier. Hastily, I learned how to tune harmonicas; desperately, I practiced playing them along with the guitar.
Sonic expansion: Hungry for a fuller sound, I acquired a synthesizer and pedal keyboard, and began working on bass parts with my left foot. It was nine months before I had the nerve to try the combination in public, but the rewards were well worth the effort.
For several years, I was reasonably satisfied-- the highly compressed sound from the drum machine and the synthesizer bass was great for country dance music. Increasingly, though, I was playing more often for listening audiences, especially at the Hog's Breath Saloon near Houston, where I appeared for nearly six years. I grew hungry for a greater dynamic range, and a broader timbral palette.
More sonic expansion: I was ready when Casio's MIDI guitars were discontinued and dumped on the market at irresistably low prices. I acquired two, along with their companion synthesizers, and worked out my own method of combining synthesizer sounds with my rhythm guitar to supply some of the dynamic and sonic variety I craved.
Songwriting: I began writing songs in the mid-70s living room days, and persisted off and on after I started playing out. Initially, my motives were largely mercenary: I wanted to write hit songs and grow rich from the royalties. But in 1990, beginning with Windows Into My Soul, I started writing songs just because I wanted to sing, play, and hear them. In just over two years, I came up with Christ on a Harley, Hologram, The Likes of Me, One - Nine Hundred, and several others that aren't yet on the Web. To my astonishment and delight, these songs were received with great enthusiasm by my small audience.
Burnout: But I was getting tired of playing for pittances; tired of having to be a human jukebox, playing requests for other people's songs when I wanted to play my own; tired of battling with the voice change that occurs when a singer nears 50. (Joni Mitchell quit performing for several years because of this.) In 1992, I started tending bar at the Hog's Breath, and played music only one night a week. In 1993, I quit playing in public, except for the occasional song behind the bar, with acoustic guitar and harmonica.
I vowed not to play out again until I had a CD or two of my songs to sell, to supplement my income from performing; until I had coped with the voice change (when one plays four instruments simultaneously, key transposition is not trivial); and until I could play in venues where patrons expect and appreciate original music.
Recidivist!: I haven't yet met my terms. I've been recording my songs myself since 1982, but, as producer, I'm seldom satisfied with my music, and especially my singing. Marriage, parenthood (again!), and divorce have also curtailed my music-making.
Still, I've made some progress. MP3.com has made it easy for me to make a CD, so I've done so, with some of my strongest songs. For the last several years, my primary musical outlet has been acoustic guitar. I've composed several purely instrumental pieces, in an effort to become the finger-style guitarist I've always wanted to be. I'm working on recording them now, perhaps to become another CD.
I'm actually beginning to visualize myself playing in public again.John (email@example.com)
My Web sites
Symmetries by Syrynx
Diary of a Mad Househusband