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My Music Career (Part 7) Scupanon and Dorian

(This is the 12th chapter in this semi-autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on July 19, 2020. It has been edited for this blog. All the previous chapters in this series can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning.)

Scupanon

Soon after releasing The Other Side of Nowhere in December, 2012, I met Sam Caston at my neighborhood bar.  I immediately detected the southern accent, and found out he was from my home state of Mississippi.  We talked music, and he said he was a percussionist and played congas in a salsa band.  I had hired studio musician Daren Hahn to play hand drums on The Other Side of Nowhere and liked how it fit with my songs, so I invited Sam to join my band.  He did, turning the duo of violinist Paul Ermisch and I into a trio.

Photo by Debi Kennedy

We played several gigs on the Colorado Front Range in 2013 under my name, but I wanted to adopt a bandname to give Sam and Paul credit for their contributions.  I also thought a band might be more appealing to the people who book venues than an individual name.  We each proposed ideas, but settled on Sam’s idea of Scupanon, a wild grape that he used to pick as a young boy in Mississippi.  We continued to play as a trio, now Scupanon, in 2014.  Then Sam decided to move to Fort Collins where his salsa bandmates were based, so he had to leave the band.  In the last couple of years, however, Sam has rejoined us a few times, especially when we play gigs in northern Colorado.  I have uploaded several live recordings of Scupanon during these years to The Misfit Club site, and will continue to sort through all the ones I have and upload more. 

Scupanon at the Park House, Denver, 2014. Photo by Debi Kennedy.

After Sam left, Paul and I decided to keep the name Scupanon, and we went throught a couple of percussionists and upright bass players, but mainly played as a duo the next couple of years.  Meanwhile….

Dorian

… I was itching to play rock music.  My folk personality was being satisfied but my rock personality was not.  What to do?  I could have tried to form a rock band, but I was doing all the work for Scupanon– bookings, promotion, etc.– and knew that I didn’t have time to lead another band.  I thought if I joined another band as just a role player– a guitar player– then I could get my rock thang on without too much extra work. 

In the Spring of 2013, I replied to a Craigslist ad for a guitarist for a band in the style of The Smiths and The Cure, two bands whose guitar styles I like.  The ad was placed by singer and lyricist Adrian Ritchey and bassist and songwriter Dave Bakulski.  They had written one song together, Dave had written some songs for a previous band, and Adrian had some lyrics that I put music to.  I also handed off music ideas to Adrian and he wrote lyrics for them.  In other cases, songs came from the band jamming.  I finished a song I had started back in 2005, “You Dug Your Grave,” and contributed that.  We then found a drummer, Jon Cox.  Adrian named the band “Dorian,” after Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey.

Dorian at the Larimer Lounge, Denver, 2014.
Dorian at the Larimer Lounge, Denver, 2014.

We would need demo recordings and a website to get gigs, so I recommended engineer Brian Hunter, who had recorded Me and The Other Side of Nowhere for me.  We worked out of his Mousetrap Studio in Denver.  I set up a Reverbnation site for us.  That site is still up, and you can hear the 6 demos that we did there.  We continued writing more songs together after the demo was made, but never recorded them.  I have a few live recordings of them, which I will put on the Misfit Club website, as well as the 6 demos. 

Recording for Dorian at the Mouse Trap, Denver, 2014.
Being silly at the Mouse Trap during the mix of Dorian’s demo CD.

I said that I just wanted to be a role player in this band, but the work wasn’t getting done, so I did it, because I wanted to play!  We played several gigs in the Denver area between July, 2014 and June, 2015, mostly as a result of my efforts.  Meanwhile I was handling all the administrative work for Scupanon as well.  That couldn’t go on.  I couldn’t continue doing all the work for two bands, plus…

… I had decided to take on two more projects:  I wanted make a record of the new rock songs I was writing, that were heavier than Dorian’s style.  And I had decided to go back to school at Metro St. University in Denver to study music theory.  (These two things will be the subject of the next email.)  I had to cut something.  So I met with the guys of Dorian in August, 2015 and told them I had to quit the band. 

What I Learned from Dorian

Dorian was a good learning experience for me in many ways.  It got me booking, and playing gigs at rock venues in Denver, as opposed to the acoustic venues I had been playing solo and with Scupanon.  My songwriting improved.  I learned how to write music for another person’s lyrics, or in some cases, lyrics with a melody.  I had to improve my guitar skills to play in this band, and I’m quite proud of my work on these songs.

Next: Going music full-time, and Total Flower Chaos.

My Music Career (Part 6) The Other Side of Nowhere

(This is the 12th chapter in my autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on July 14, 2020. It has been edited for this blog. All the previous chapters in this series can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning.)

When Misfit was released in May, 2011, I wanted to play gigs and promote the album.  But there were problems getting the band back together, so I decided to just play acoustic gigs as a duo with violinist Paul Ermisch.  Paul came from a a classical violin background, as opposed to a country or bluegrass fiddle background, and I liked what he added to my songs.  So I wanted to make a new recording that reflected how we sounded as a duo, both for getting gigs, and for the fans who liked our music.

Paul and I at Michelangelo’s Coffee House in Denver, 2011.

The other motivation for the new album was that I wanted to record some of the songs that I had been playing live, but had been left off of Misfit.  These songs were “Sea of Hope,” “Let’s go to the Mountains,” “The Man in the Movies” and “The Other Side of Nowhere.”  I also decided to record two songs on Misfit that I was playing very differently as an acoustic duo, “Misfit” and “Falling into Heaven.”  I also decided to include a rework of “Let it Go,” a song from my first album, Some Songs I Wrote.  Finally, I included a cover song I had been playing, “Trouble on the Way,” written by Tim Riordan, a friend I had made at my first Song School in Lyons in 2004.

Recording The Other Side of Nowhere

Work on the new record began in 2012, about a year after the release of Misfit.  I chose Sawtelle Studio at Swallow Hill, where I had recorded Me in 2009.  I had been happy by the work of the engineer, Brian Hunter.  This time, I engaged Brian as a co-producer along with me.  Unlike Misfit, I didn’t turn over complete control over the arrangements to someone else.  This time, I worked as a team with Brian, kicking around ideas, we me getting the final vote. 

My initial plan was for it to just be Paul on violin and me on acoustic guitar and voice, to reflect how we sounded live.  This was also motivated by cost– after spending $34,000 on Misfit and getting almost no return, I couldn’t afford another financial disaster.  But Brian gently coaxed me into bringing in other instruments.  The end result was a bigger sound than just Paul and me, but minimal enough that we could still honestly say it sounded like our live gigs. 

Artwork and Release

I decided to name the album after one of the songs, The Other Side of Nowhere.  I hired Scott McCormick for the photography and artwork, and asked him to come up with something that reflected the title.  Scott photographed Paul and me, and came up with the idea of a prison with a ladder on the wall, showing that someone had escaped to “the other side.”  I wanted to give Paul more than the usual credit in the list of musicians, so I put his name on the cover.

The Other Side of Nowhere was released in December, 2012.  Unlike Misfit, I did not spend money on promotion.  Still, it cost me $8,000, of which I never made more than a couple hundred dollars in revenue.  Like Misfit, it was paid for by working a massive amount of overtime on my day job.  While everyone else would be spending their Friday and Saturday nights having a good time, I would be stuck in a loud, ugly datacenter somewhere, replacing parts on a server.  Not fun at all.  The only thing that kept me from total depression during those times was knowing that the time-and-a-half pay was paying for my music.

You walk through this world
but you can’t find your song
Doing what you should, not what you want
And the last time I saw you,
You were drunk on despair
I’ll be waiting on the Other Side of Nowhere

What I Learned

I took a couple of guitar lessons prior to recording this album, and so my guitar playing improved.  I continued working on my singing, and I think it’s better on this record than on Misfit.  After recording my guitar parts first, I settled into the role of producer, learning how to direct the other studio musicians.  Watching how John McVey handled the studio musicians on Misfit no doubt helped me in this regard.  Finally, I learned how to co-produce with Brian;  when to go with his judgement, and when to trust my own. 

Reviews of The Other Side of Nowhere

Like Misfit, the new album got good reviews, both from professional reviewers as well as fans.  Here’s a couple:

from Tim Wenger of the Colorado Music Buzz magazine:

“Rob Roper brings occasional violin and drum instrumentation out alongside his eloquent guitar work on his new record The Other Side of Nowhere. The title track is the most definitive of Roper’s sound: a bit slow, yet melodic; ambient, yet strangely catchy. It is acoustic rock with Roper’s own unique touch on it, and it echoes with Colorado flavor… His music sounds like what you would hear in a small high-country café, there are touches of country as well as some faster paced rock riffs that stand out at just the right times.”

from Misfit Club member Millie Phillips:

“Rob Roper tells the stories of those of us who will never be be rich or famous; stories of failure, struggle, dreams, and modest victories, often with wry humor and an unsentimental, hard-earned hopefulness. The acoustic arrangements are quite different from the electric band-based ones on his previous CD Misfit. Both styles are just as good, and this CD has the added treat of featuring some amazing violin playing by Paul Ermisch.”

You can read all the reviews on The Other Side of Nowhere page on my website.

How to Get The Other Side of Nowhere

You can buy The Other Side of Nowhere CDs at my Bandcamp site, or at any of my live shows.  You can also download the album or individual songs at my Bandcamp site.  Bandcamp allows you to play more than the listed price, if you want to give the artist a little extra help.  CD and download purchases help me raise money to record new music.

The Other Side of Nowhere songs are also available on all the streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc., and I encourage you to do so.  I have created a Spotify playlist of all my songs, just search for it.  But keep in mind that the revenue from those services is insignificant, and won’t help me raise money for new music.  A $1 download pays 1000 times more than a stream.  So please consider downloading your favorite songs on my Bandcamp site.

Next: Two bands, Scupanon and Dorian

My Music Career (Part 5) Misfit

(This is the 11th chapter in my autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on July 5, 2020. It has been edited and expanded for this blog. All the previous chapters in this series can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning.)

My First Full-Length Album: Misfit

Continuing with my music career, we now come to my third album as a songwriter, Misfit.  2020 marks the the ten-year anniversary of the recording of Misfit.  Next year will mark the ten-year anniversary of its release.  In the previous emails in this series, I described Some Songs I Wrote and Me as demos, because the song arrangements were minimal– just acoustic guitar and voice, and occasionally other instruments.  They were motivated by the need to get gigs. 

But now I wanted to record my songs with a full arrangement– drums, bass, keyboards, electric guitars, etc.  And I wanted to hire a producer– someone who could make these songs the best they could be.  I thought I had written some pretty good songs.  How good could they be in the hands of a good producer with good studio musicians?  What would be the reception by the music world? 

To understand what I mean, compare the simple version of “Me”  on the Me album, to the full band version of “Me”  on the Misfit album.  Notice any difference? 

The Rob Roper Band

After releasing Me in October, 2009, I formed a band to play the songs I had written and recorded on the first two CDs.  It consisted of Dan Heinrich on drums, Laurie Lamar on bass and backing vocals, and Paul Ermisch on violin.  I played some songs with electric guitar and others with acoustic.  We played a few gigs in the Denver area from January to June, 2010.  At that point I put the band on hiatus because the recording of Misfit was underway, and I didn’t have time for both;  I working a full-time day job with a lot of forced overtime on nights and weekends (although the time-and-a-half pay helped pay for Misfit).  It was playing my songs with a band that confirmed my desire to record them with a fuller treatment.  I always saw myself as a band leader more than a solo acoustic artist.

at the Rock and Soul Cafe in Boulder, CO March, 2010

Advances in Songwriting 2008-2009

Before getting to the recording of Misfit, I want to briefly mention the direction I had taken my songwriting during this time.  After recording Some Songs I Wrote in 2007, I consciously worked to take my songwriting to a higher level.  My early songs were very clear in their meaning and traditional in form.  With these new songs, I began writing lyrics with less clarity and more mystery, and disregarding traditional song forms when I thought it was best for the song.  The result was songs like “Like a Child” (which appeared on Me), “Falling into Heaven,” “Apollo’s Little Bastard” (which would appear on Misfit).  Others, such as “Sea of Hope,” “The Other Side of Nowhere” and “The Man in the Movies” would appear on my fourth album.  I wrote a few others during this time that have never been recorded.

The Producer: John McVey

In the early-mid 00’s, I was part of the Denver alt-country scene based around the band, The Railbenders. I went to their gigs, and also to the Acoustic Tuesdays that Jim Dalton, singer-songwriter-guitarist for The Railbenders, used to do at his brother’s bars. Denver singer-songwriter Angie Stevens was also part of that scene. I loved her. She wrote songs about her life, and sang with such power and emotion that it made me cry. I loved her second EP, “Stand Up Girl.” I loved it not only for the powerful songs, but also for the production. The arrangements were great.

I checked the CD credits and saw that the producer was John McVey. I looked him up on the internet and saw that he worked out of Coupe Studios in Boulder.  I contacted John and he agreed to produce and engineer my album. For a good part of 2010, I would be driving from my home in south Denver to Boulder after work, during rush hour traffic (ugh!), to make this record. 

Misfit:  The Songs

I gave a lot of thought to the song selection for the new album.  Initially I planned to just re-record the songs on the first two demo CDs with the full band treatment.  But, as I said, I had been writing a lot of new songs– songs I thought were better– and wanted to record them, too.  I ended up going primarily with the first idea, with 6 of the old songs, but included two of the newer songs, “Falling into Heaven” and “Apollo’s Little Bastard.”

I also included two cover songs.  I mentioned “Little White Boy” in the previous chapter of this blog series.  It was written by Lori Grebe Cook when she was my partner in a songwriting class, after I told her about growing up in Mississippi in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Being raised by non-racist white parents in Mississippi in those days definitely made me a misfit.  I also met Bill Kahler at the Rocky Mountain Song School and loved his songs.  I immediately related to “Chair on the Moon” and decided to cover it.

I had written the song “Misfit” as a joke, and made the demo a hidden track on Me, but it had become one of my most popular songs when I played it live.  My former bandmate in Faded Innocence, Kurt Loken, wrote a review and called me “the troubadour of the misfit.”  I decided to embrace that label.  I would make “Misfit” the title song– and the theme– of the new record. 

The Recording of Misfit

Work for the album began with “pre-production” sessions in May and June, 2010.  In these sessions, the songwriting was tweaked, keys and tempos chosen, and vocal and acoustic guitar scratch tracks were recorded for the other musicians to play to.  (I have made these scratch tracks available to my fan club website, The Misfit Club.)    

Then in July, 2010, the main recording began, with John bringing in studio musicians to record drums, bass and keyboards, as well as bit parts for some songs– mandolin, banjo and pedal steel guitar.  Bill Kahler, author of “Chair on the Moon,” recorded saxophone parts remotely for “Bipolar.”  John and I recorded all the guitar parts.  Then I recorded the lead vocals.  Finally, backing vocals were added.  Recording was completed by the end of October.  The record was then mixed and mastered, and by the end of the year I had a mastered album.

For details on this process, you can read the journal I wrote at the time at https://www.robroper.com/html/misfit_journal.php

What I Learned

Seeing how John worked as a producer was a great learning experience for me.  I saw how he began with a basic vision of each song, but also wanted them to develop in the studio throughout the process.  It was also interesting to see how he worked with the studio musicians, and how he communicated with them.  It made me realize my deficiency in music theory, something I would take steps to correct a few years later.

As a musician, the experience was sobering.  I always thought I had good time, but John showed me– on the computer screen– that I was consistently ahead of the beat.  And I it would take me multiple takes to get my guitar parts right.  By contrast, the professional musicians would bang out their parts without mistakes on the first take.  Watching them made me want to be like them;  I determined to improve my musicianship.

I had never really been a singer before;  I saw myself as a guitar player and a songwriter.  But I realized that I needed to improve my singing in order to present my songs to the public more effectively.  I had been taking singing lessons from Dr. Scott Martin in Denver during this time, and John helped me further during the vocal recording sessions.  If you compare my singing on Some Songs I Wrote and Misfit, you can hear the improvement.

Misfit Artwork

I said at the beginning of this email that I decided to go all out on this record, and that applied to the artwork as well.  By this time downloads had replaced physical records for a lot of people (streaming was just beginning).  But I always loved holding a record in my hand, looking at the artwork, and reading the album notes.  I wanted to give people a reason to buy the CD. 

I hired the team of  Greg Carr and Sally Ratts for the Misfit artwork.  The design was fantastic, as my fans who own the Deluxe version of the CD know.  It was a hard-cover CD, like a little book.  A booklet was included with a separate page for each song.  I wrote a little something about each song, and Greg created art for each song and page of the booklet.  For the front of the booklet, I also composed a poem for the album by taking a line from each of the 10 songs. 

In March, 2011, the audio master was then sent to a replication company, and the artwork to the printers.  In early April, I had 1000 Misfit CDs.  Copies were sent to a promoter to solicit reviews.  And on May 17, 2011, Misfit was announced to the world.

Misfit Reviews

When Misfit was released in May, 2011, it had been a year since I had started the project.  I had put my band on hiatus.  I had worked massive amounts of overtime on my “day” job, and wiped out my savings account.  I didn’t expect it to take this long, or cost this much.  Now that Misfit was released, would all the work, the time, and money be worth it?  Naturally I was nervous.

Wildy’s World said,
“Roper’s gentle blend of Americana and rock n roll is as memorable as the package it comes in …plinks at heart strings and funny bones… finding both the sorrow and the humor in some of the shadowed crevices of day-to-day life… a solid songwriter with a talent for telling stories from unusual perspectives… an entertaining effort.”

The Westword said,
“…what Roper is, as Misfit proves, is a guy with some sharp songwriting skills and a knack for penning witty lyrics.”

Rootstime called it
“…drenched with emotion, with truly beautiful songs…A modest masterpiece.” 

Vintage Guitar magazine said,
“Roper’s musical persona is part folkie, part nerd, part conceptual artist, and part cultural critic…Even the packaging here is special. Instead of the usual jewel case or eco-paperboard, Misfit has a book-like cover with thick paper pages and commissioned illustrations. The music more than delivers on the promise of the packaging.”

You can read all the reviews on the Misfit page of my website

The Response by Fans and the Music Community

While the professional reviews are nice, what was more important to me was the reception of Misfit to my fans (very few at the time!) and other musicians.  Fans and friends would come up to me at events and comment about how much they liked it, and how often they play it.  One friend wrote, “It will continue to occupy an honored place in my road trip collection – that is, CDs I play loudly in my car and harmonize with.” 

My friend Nancy Farmer wrote a review on CDBaby that said:

“Rob Roper’s album “Misfit” is feel good music, but not the shallow kind.  Like a really good book, it is a guided tour through the range of human emotion and experience, but filled with quirky twists like the title cut.  Each song is like a unique and thoughtful gift to be unwrapped or a fine wine to be savored… Do I have a favorite?  Every time I think I do, I find myself with a different song stuck in my head that fits my mood, and I can tell you there are 10 songs stuck in my head!”

Misfit was a major milestone in my music career.  It was a statement.  Music fans and other musicians began taking me more seriously now.  Jim Dalton of The Railbenders, told me that, after hearing Misfit, he said to himself, “Whoa, I better step up my game.”

How to Listen to Misfit:  CDs, Downloads, Streaming (and Vinyl?)

You can buy the Misfit CD at my Bandcamp site or at my live shows.  I have two editions:  the Deluxe version, with the hard cover and the booklet, and a less expensive Standard version, without the booklet and a soft cover.  There are very few Deluxe editions left, and it will be very difficult and costly to produce more, so if you want one, get it now.  I will autograph any CD if you request it. 

You can also download the Misfit album or individual songs at my  Bandcamp site.  Bandcamp allows you to pay more than the listed price, if you want to give the artist a little extra help.  CD and download purchases help me raise money to record new music.

The Misfit songs are also available on all the streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc., and I encourage you to do so.  (I have a Spotify playlist of most of my recorded songs if you want to search for it.)  But keep in mind that the revenue from those services is insignificant, and won’t help me raise money for new music.  A $1 download pays 1000 times more than a stream.  So please consider downloading the Misfit songs on my Bandcamp site.

I’ve thought about creating a vinyl version of Misfit for its ten-year anniversary, but I’m not sure there would be enough demand to cover the costs.  If enough of you demand a vinyl version, I will make one!

Misfit Tshirts!

Misfit tshirts are available on my Bandcamp site and at live shows.  These are very soft, high-quality, beautiful tshirts.  Here you see Lori Grebe Cook, author of “Little White Boy,” modeling the tshirt.  The front of the shirt is the album cover, and on the back is says, “Misfit and Proud of it.”  Wear it with pride! 

Misfit Finances and Funding New Recordings

Although Misfit was a big artistic success, it was a financial disaster.  I spent about $24,000 on its production, and another $10,000 on promotion.  I’ve received less than $1,000 in revenue.  I was naive and innocent at the time.  I thought I’d be able to sell enough CDs and downloads to at least cover my costs.  But, like most people at the time, I couldn’t see the streaming revolution coming.  I’ll never be able to do this again, because I no longer have a day job, and am living off my music income and retirement savings.  And frankly, even if I could afford it, I’m not sure that it’s right for recording artists should subsidize the listening public.

To record music in the future, given the current state of the music business, I will need to call upon my fans for funding.  My fan club is called The Misfit Club.  For a minimum of $5/month, members get access to demos, live recordings and other stuff not available to the general public.  All income from the The Misfit Club goes into a special fund for new recordings.  Partly because next year is the 10th year anniversary of the release of Misfit, I decided to record a new album! 

I’m very proud of Misfit, but, as important as it was, as my new songs says: it was just another stop along The Way. 

Next:  The Other Side of Nowhere.

My Music Career (Part 4) The Songwriter

(This is the 10th chapter in my autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on June 23, 2020. It has been edited and expanded for this blog. All the previous chapters in this series can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning.)

I Become a Songwriter

In the previous chapter in this series, I said that I had quit the band Charon Blue in order to focus on becoming a songwriter.  I had been attending the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado since 1999. At the 2002 festival, during one of the many impromptu “song circles” that pop up at these festivals, I was amazed at all the people playing their own original songs. I was embarassed that I could only play cover songs. A guy next to me told me that that there was a “Song School” that took place the week before the Folks Festival and encouraged me to attend.  I think I brushed it off, saying something like “it won’t do me any good, I can’t write songs.”

Then, at the 2003 festival the following year, the same thing happened– somebody at a song circle encouraged me to attend the Song School the following year. This time I didn’t brush it off. I thought hard about it. But I was scared I would be the dunce at the school; everybody else would be writing songs and I would fail. I would be the object of ridicule. I would be embarassed and ashamed. I called up the Song School and was able to talk to Steve Syzmanski, who the director of the School. I asked him questions about what it would be like, and he said he would have one of the teachers call me. A few days later, Paul Reisler, one of the staff teachers called. I remember asking him, “will I be forced to write a song?” He said that while students are encouraged to write a song, no one is forced to. I was still scared, but I really wanted to learn songwriting. So I summoned all my courage and signed up. I told myself, even if I fail at songwriting, I can at least play lead guitar for the other songwriters there.

That first Song School in August, 2004 was a breakthrough experience for me.  I learned some of the craft of songwriting from the classes, and, during Paul Reisler’s class, actually did write a song. My fears of being ridiculed and embarassed were completely unjustified. I received support and encouragement from the other students.  I saw that others had the same insecurities as me. And even the more experienced ones were supportive of the beginners. It was a community of songwriters, and I became part of it.  I made a lot of new friends, many of whom are still good friends to this day.

Paul Reisler at the 2004 Song School

At Paul Reisler class, he paired us up with someone at random, and told us to tell our partner a story about our lives. I was paired up with Lori Grebe Cook from Chicago. I wrote “Daddy’s Little Girl” based on her story about moving from her hometown of Indianapolis to Chicago. Lori wrote “Little White Boy” for me, based on the story I told her about growing up in Mississippi in the 1950’s and 1960’s– as I explained in the first chapter of this blog series. I was so moved by her telling of my story, that I began singing “Little White Boy” at my gigs. I still sing it at gigs.

Vince and Lori Cook with me at the 2004 Song School

Over the next few years, I worked hard at writing songs.  I was introduced to a couple other students from Denver, and encouraged to start a songwriter group. We did, and began meeting monthly. (The group would grow over the years, and still exists today.) Songwriting was now my number one priority.  I continued playing gigs at whatever gig I could get, and my songs gradually replaced the cover songs I had been playing.  By 2007, I decided I needed a demo CD with my own songs. 

By this time I had upgraded from my 4-track cassette recorder to a 16-track digital recorder.  I recorded several of the songs that I had written, and selected 6 of them for the demo CD.  Since I was doing the recording myself, and playing all the instruments, I figured I’d go all the way with the Do-It-Yourself thing and do the CD artwork as well.  I took a photo of myself in the backyard, using the 10-second delay feature of the camera.  I created the CD cover and CD label, and sent the artwork and master recording off to a duplication company.  I decided on a simple, humble title:  Some Songs I Wrote.

All the songs were written between 2004 and 2006.  Most of the songs are acoustic guitar-based, although I couldn’t resist the temptation to add a few other instruments to the songs. 

At the time, I felt like I had finally discovered my true singing voice when writing “When They Go.”  The song is based on a story a friend told me about his sister.  I never play it at live shows, because I assume people will think it too slow and depressing.  Maybe that’s a mistake.  “A Special Request” is one of my personal favorites, but most of you have never heard it because I wrote it on piano, and I’m not a good enough piano player to play it live.  “The Screwup Song,” “Bipolar,” and “Invisible Prison” would be re-recorded and appear on my first full-length album, Misfit.  “Let it Go” would be re-recorded and appear on The Other Side of Nowhere.

Hidden tracks on CDs were something of a fad in those days.  So I included the original demo version of my spoken word piece “Wave the Flag and Give ’em God” as a hidden track.  It seemed appropriate to make it a hidden track because it didn’t fit the musical or lyrical style of the other other songs.  It would later re-appear in a remixed version on Word.

Playing with Julie at the Meadowlark Bar in Denver

I continued getting and playing gigs wherever I could get them.  And I continued writing songs and incorporating the new songs into the set lists.  A violinist named Julie Oxenford O’Brian began accompanying me at gigs.  That leads to my second recording, Me.

I wanted to record the new songs I had written, and also include Julie’s violin, so in 2009 I recorded a new CD. This time, I decided to use a professional studio. I choose Sawtelle Studio at Swallow Hill in Denver, with Brian Hunter as the engineer. It was my first time to record in a professional studio with a professional engineer.


The CD consisted of three songs I had written since Some Songs– “Me,” “You Could Have Had Me” and “Like a Child.”  It also included two songs written in the 2004-2006 timeframe and left off Some Songs– “I Miss Me” and the song I wrote for Lori Grebe Cook at the 2004 Song School, “Daddy’s Little Girl.”  I wrote “I Miss Me” on piano, and hired a studio pianist for the recording.

The title, Me, came from one of the new songs I had written.  And it just felt right as the album title.  I was now writing my own songs, expressing who I am.   As the final chorus of the song says:

So here I am
in this little bar
playing my guitar
This is Me.

I continued the tradition of a hidden track on Me by including the original home demo version of “Misfit.”  I wrote that song as a joke, not expecting anyone to like it.  But, along with “The Screwup Song,” it turned out to be one of my most popular songs.  It would provide me with my mission, purpose and identity.  And it would be come the title song of my third album.

I’m proud of these two recordings.  I would later make better recordings from a technical standpoint.  I would sing better on later recordings.  And I would write better songs– although some of these songs have stood the test of time and I still play them at gigs.  But these records announced to the world that I was a songwriter.  And for that reason they have sentimental value for me.

I only have a few CDs of each of these left.  You can order them on my Bandcamp site, or buy them at my live shows.  You can also download the individual songs or the full albums for both Some Songs and Me on my Bandcamp site.  Members of The Misfit Club can download them for free.  (Because of the demo nature of these recordings, they are not available to the general public on the streaming services.) The Misfit Club is my Fan Club, or supporters club.  It is one of the main ways I raise money to record new music.  Click on The Misfit Club to read about the benefits and how to join.

Coming next:  Misfit, my first full-length album, made with a producer.

My Music Career (Part 3) Denver 2000-2004

(This is the 9th chapter in my autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on June 10, 2020. It has been edited and expanded for this blog. All the previous chapters in this series can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning.)

The Move to Denver and Charon Blue

In the Spring of 2000, I got a job offer in Denver and moved there. After settling in, I started looking for a band to join. I joined a band called Charon Blue in late 2001 or maybe early 2002 and played lead guitar. We made a demo CD (available exclusively for members of my fan club, The Misfit Club to download). We played three gigs, two at Herman’s Hideaway in Denver and one at a bar in Aurora, Colorado, whose name I can’t remember.

Charon Blue Demo CD
Charon Blue at a bar in Aurora, Colorado
Charon Blue at Herman’s Hideaway in Denver

I quit Charon Blue in late 2002 or early 2003 for a couple of reasons, one of which was that I had decided to take up songwriting. That will be the subject of the next chapter.

Folk Music and Pub Songs Demo CD

I discussed my interest in folk music in previous chapters– see The Missing Years, Part 1, and The Missing Years, Part 2. From the age of 18, I’ve always had a split musical personality– half electric, half acoustic; half rock, half folk. I never really fit in in either, but I fit in both.

Since the 1970’s, I would get out the acoustic guitar and play songs for friends who came over to hang out, or at parties. By the 1990’s, before, during, and after Faded Innocence, I began taking it more seriously, taking singing lessons, and developing a repertoire of folk songs I liked. During this time, I was invited to play a couple of “gigs” at friends’ parties. After Kurt left and Faded Innocence ended, I got myself a solo gig at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

My repertoire was a mix of the songs I had learned in the 1970s– Jimmy Buffett, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Jerry Jeff Walker, etc.– and Irish pub song bands that I had been turned on to in the 1980’s, especially The Dubliners. And in the 1990’s, my mandolin-playing boss, Dave Firestine, turned me on to some funny folk songs. My repertoire followed the Irish tradition: the songs were either political, funny or sad. I don’t like happy songs, or inspirational songs, or love songs. Still hate that shit. I like songs that are real; songs about real life; songs I can relate to. Love? Gimme a break. What does a guy like me know about that? “Everything’s gonna be alright”? Bullshit. That’s not the world I live in. I like songs that tell the truth, either with humor and sarcasm, or let the sadness come out in all its glory.

Even though I had decided to start writing my own songs, I knew that it would take awhile before I would have enough to play a whole set. So, while building up a supply of my own songs, I went searching for a bar in Denver that would let me play my acoustic cover songs. So I made a home demo CD and called it “Pub Songs.” (This album is available exclusively for members of my fan club, The Misfit Club to download.) I played these songs at a few bar gigs in 2005 and 2006. But as I wrote more of my own songs, these cover songs began dropping off the set lists. About the only ones that remain from those days is “Please Don’t Bury Me” by John Prine, and “The Beer Song.”

Album Cover for Pub Songs

By 2007 I was ready to make a home demo of my own songs, which would be called “Some Songs I Wrote.” That, and the followup CD, “Me,” will be the topic of the next chapter.