Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Listen To This Now: Dogs, Okies, etc, or Download.

okieMy name is Kelly and I’m an Oklahoman. In many ways, Oklahoma has never really progressed beyond the depression. With the excitement of the land runs, the fortunes made in the early oil business, and the entertainers who sold the country on the Oklahoma ideal like Will Rogers, Tom Mix, Pawnee Bill, and others, Oklahoma began statehood as a colorful and exciting place in the national mind.

Then the depression came and public opinion changed almost over night.

The economic and technological forces that pushed the folks west in attempt not to starve,  affected every agricultural part of the country but for reasons unknown they all came to be known by the pejorative Okie.

I wrote this song after the birth of my first three children and the realities of providing for them gave me a few moments of abject terror. I wondered how desperate one would have to be to sell everything, pack up the kids, and make a hazardous trek half a continent away with little more than false hope and desperation as a guide. I’ve read accounts of Jim Crow like prohibitions posted on signs throughout the Southwest intended to separate “Okies” and other undesirables from the rest of society. I’ve enough time being a vagabond to understand that the world doesn’t really greet the poor traveler with open arms.

The original lyric contained some words which, while historically accurate, were hard to hear. These handful of words are hard enough to hear that I was concerned they’d render the rest of the song invisible. History and truth often aren’t pleasant or palatable. Because of these few words and their implications, I let the song alone for 12 years because I couldn’t come up with alternative lyrics which didn’t seem dishonest or lame.

Recently, I was listening to “Snow Day” by the woefully under-appreciated Trip Shakespeare and the term “vagabond” jumped out. That was the key for how to alter the lyrics slightly without losing anything and making it possible for me to perform in public without trouble. I came upon an idea for how to change the 3 or 4 difficult words in a way which didn’t seem stupid.

I’m happy with the result. Then, I’m my biggest fan so don’t listen to me.

Junior Barnard’s Blues

Junior Barnard’s Blues for download–get it now!

Junior Barnard was a guitar player Bob Wills nicknamed “Fat Boy.” What does this have to do with me? Nothing, but he inspired me to name this very limited release, mid-nineties, record after him.|

Junior Barnard- guitar player, ladies' man, Fat Boy. He lived fast, died young, and left a trail of broken hearts and broken strings behind him.
Junior Barnard- guitar player, ladies’ man, Fat Boy. He lived fast, died young, and left a trail of broken hearts and broken guitar strings behind him.

I’m putting this up here because my pal Rick Foster will not stop pestering me until I do.

I kept a traveling bag packed and in use from about 1984 until 1996. I was traveling when I wrote these songs and a lot of them have that high, hard and lonesome feel I think reflects that sort of life. I finished my M.A. in 1995 and immediately suffered that big “what now” feeling lots of people have upon reaching a difficult milestone. This record was what came out of that crisis but I didn’t really get the chance to promote it much. Too much stuff got in the way I neither want to revisit nor bore others with the details.

I sent it around to the record labels where I knew people who would play it and didn’t do much else. I got a few calls back including a delightful surprise from my friend Hanna Bolte who I didn’t know was working for a major label and somehow noticed my tape in somebody else’s inbox. Life is strange.

Since I first started soliciting interest in my music back in the stone age where guitars were powered by small dinosaurs on treadmills inside the amp cabs and music was distributed by mail and sold in places like TG&Y, I noticed how music projects took on a life of their own once released into the wild. Even though I never got anybody to drop a container ship full of advance money on me to record for them–at best all I got was a very small dingy partially filled with pocket change–my tapes and cds ended up in places I never could have expected.

I’ve kept all the rejection letters I’ve ever gotten because they represent and acknowledgement that somebody listened and said no which is better than nobody listening at all. If the choice is being ignored or being rejected, I’ll take rejection. I suppose I’m a bit odd that way.

Better To Reign in Hell Than Serve in Heaven

Store front church, N.E. Oklahoma County, Spring, 2015

The title comes from something that guy Milton wrote in Paradise Lost. I think this is oddly alluring statement if you think about it and I have. To me it seems like Milton is talking about living by ones’ own rules rather than accepting societies’ rule without question. Maybe not, but that’s how I’m interpreting it and it is also the way I try to live.

The world demands conformity and I am far more conformist than I think a lot of people give me credit for but neither conformity or what people think of me matters very much.

I just don’t care too much about too many people’s opinions about how my behavior measures up to very many people’s expectations. I am what I am and that’s all I can be. That’s a problem in a world that demands conformity. Everybody has their own cross to bear and perhaps this is mine.

What’s that have to do with this music? Here’s how:

Ed Cotton and I recorded these songs April 2013 in preparation for the Southern Gospel act we devised for the Jax Beach Blues Festival. We had less than two hours of actual rehearsal for the show since he’s in Jacksonville and I’m in Oklahoma City. We overcame this limitation with sheer reckless disregard for our dignity and a few doses of brown liquor to keep our feet held down to the stage.

I like how it worked out. It wasn’t slick but we rocked it natural, walked on water, fed the multitudes, and achieved total transcendental consciousness. I think the audience went along with us and if they didn’t, I’m the only one in the audience I really care about pleasing and I came away spirit filled and sanctified.

What I’m trying to say is I had a really good time

I grew up going to a medium sized Southern Baptist church and loved the gospel quartets that the church hosted during revivals and other events.The music has a mark on me that’s as deep and permanent as the six scars I carry on my face from childhood. Regardless, I love Southern Gospel, Spirituals, and the traditional blues and folk music that came from the same cultural and ethnic traditions.

This sort of music speaks to my soul in the deepest way possible and that is as close to God as I’ll likely ever feel. Considering that my use of the word “God” in this context is amorphous and mercurial causes me to land on people’s prayer lists more often that they’d ever be willing to admit. If I were a diciple, I’d be Thomas because nothing seems fixed in this world. When I was a child, I saw things as a child and now that I’m a man-child, I see things differently. However, religion seeks certitude and that’s a quality in mighty short supply to me most of the time. If folks need to see me as a blasphemer or heretic, that’s perfectly OK with me. I see myself as a person who loves what is more than what could be, should be, or might be a pie in the sky when you die.

If folks find my true love for Southern and Folk Gospel ironic or somehow not entirely sincere,  I don’t know how to counter that perception. I’ve included gospel and spirituals in shows for a long time because when the spirit calls, I answer. The spirit might call for AC/DC or it might call for Mahalia Jackson. Its the same to me. Gospel and Folk is a dominant sound in my head no matter what I’m playing.

What I most definitely am not is an evangelist. I can’t explain anything further than to say “nothing sits like this rock sits” and,  “I am as God made me” like a wiser man than me once said.

Even though other people’s opinions aren’t on my list of priorities in many situations, I have to admit that I take it personally if I am cast as Satan in anybody’s conversion testimony. For the record, I am Satan in one quasi-evangelist’s testimony and I didn’t take it personally. However, I researve the right to take offense in the future if I decide to.

If I’m a bad influence, it’s mostly only to myself and I’m not so bad most of the time.

Impedimenta, Etcetera

Impedimenta: im·ped·i·men·ta  pl.Ringos_of_Soul_Impedimenta_EtCetera-Cover-300x229n. Objects, such as provisions or baggage, that impede or encumber.

I had an analog studio until about 1998. My tape machine, a Teac 80-8, had about 25 years and tens of thousands of hours on it and was becoming dangerously unstable.

Providence smiled on me and at the moment I began to despair at the lack of money I had to replace the tape machine, Digital workstations were becoming affordable to those who could figure out how to make the way out on the edge gear work. I was and did convert to digital and continued writing and recording. The Teac didn’t come out of storage for ten years after I went digital. I decided to sell the Teac before it became of no more use than a boat anchor with VU meters. Before selling it–a distinct point of no return– I decided to digitize whatever seemed worth keeping.  The Ringos’ Under The Double Eagle sessions were all I decided worthy from the dozens of reels of tape I had stored.

There were problems with the transfers but digital editing allowed me to fix all the damage to the tapes and problems with the transfers. Once that was done, I had an interesting project ahead of me I figured would take a few months to finish. After I had the edits made to patch all the tape fubars, I started hearing things I’d always hated and decided to fix those. Then I had to come up with a basic sound design I could live with. At this point, I’m six months into the project and can’t see the end. I found this project to be consuming all my creative energy despite there being no particular reason to do it in the first place. It isn’t as though The Ringos have a nation of fans waiting for this or anything else. But like any worthy adversary, this project demanded I see it through.

By the time the project began to take shape, I realized there was something quite different than a mere remix coming out of the sessions. One song was missing completely and three others–unfinished from the original sessions–were now complete. Eventually, I discovered I had used alternate takes of songs instead of the originals. I figured out that the project had become  something different if not all together new from the original 1991 release. I was ok with this idea. It was my project and I had to please nobody but me.

More iterations followed. Hundreds of mixes were completed only to be scrapped. At the 18 month mark, I began to feel this twenty year old project hang on me like God’s own millstone. New projects were going unrecorded. Older ones were left fallow. The question of  why do it at all nagged at me? I suppose it seemed unfinished despite the release from 1991.

Almost as soon as we finished it, I stopped being happy with the original release. Despite being satisfied with the performances, the energy, and the production, the mixes were weird. It was what we wanted at the time but they sounded dated and stupid as soon as we finished them. I made mistakes in both the sound design and execution of it on the original mixes. We got what we were after–a huge overblown ’80s ROCK SOUND with some nasty digital and analog noise thrown in for good measure

Why did everybody think all those digital effects boxes made every guitar player sound like the second coming of Hendrix, Hank, and Jesus rolled into one? Why did we all think that replacing real drums with grainy samples saturated with white noise reverb patches made every drummer sound like John Bonham. I don’t know. Why do so many recordings from the ’70s sound so great to me now and so boring to me then?

Regardless of the shortcomings, we finished. We not only finished it, we packaged, distributed, promoted, toured on it, and actually sold about 1000 copies.

I don’t know that this turned out “better” than the first go around but it is finished again and that’s it.

That is the whole of my explanation. This is the stuff one must carry around in order to do whatever one has to do. It is also everything else besides that.

Impedimenta, Etcetera.

It is finished. Onward.

Bad Sides

Here’s the last recording of the first version of The Ringos of Soul. Listen to it now or download and listen later.

BKR-88The Ringos of Soul was one of those bands that never really “broke up” but instead goes on periodic hiatus for extended periods of time. The first version of the Ringos lasted about 16 months between the springs of ’88 to the fall of ’89. It was a band born in a fever which was, in all honesty, hotter than a pepper sprout.

I had been working with some music business management folks in Minnesota when that scene was really hot and acts of all kinds were getting major label deals. Not me or my compatriots, mind you, but just about everybody else who had a guitar or was associated with Prince.

My business partners generated a wee bit of interest in my demos from labels, publishers and others who might make us some money. They booked a bunch of showcases to “get us to the next level.” The one tiny hitch in that plan–I didn’t actually have a band right then.

Since the business wouldn’t come to Oklahoma, my managers booked a tour for me throughout the Midwest so I could play some showcases in the Twin Cities where they could get the industry folks to get on a plane for. This sounded like a great idea despite my having no band and no money to stage a tour.

With this feat ahead, I came home from some demo sessions in Minneapolis with about three weeks to put together a band, a showcase set and figure out how to get us up I-35 to make the dates that would pay our way to Minneapolis in attempt to impress the industry nabobs. No. Big. Thing.

It’s amazing what’s possible when one has no options. I was a much younger man at the time which might explain how we were able not only make all the dates, but play pretty well and come home with just enough money for everybody to pay most of their rent. There were some miracles involved to be sure. However, where the angels fell short, we were plenty foolish to step in.

The gaping maw of the road somehow missed eating us alive that year and it wasn’t as though we didn’t give the old maw plenty of chances.The pace we set on that first tour didn’t slack much for at least the next year. Though the pay never got much better, our fearlessness and audacity took us all over the country. We played places so primitive the dressing rooms had dirt floors then followed the next night doing an opening slot in an arena with catering and stage hands and the whole BIG SHOW schtick.  It was a Huck Finn sort of time with danger, adventure, broken hearts, and flat tires.

For that first tour, there was virtually no time to really conceptualize who we were as a band beyond my notion that we were inventing what a kick-ass rock band from Oklahoma was. Since there were no templates, I believed we had the freedom to do anything as long as it was loud and rocked LAMF. That premise wasn’t far from wrong. We spent that year pretty well repeating that first month’s experience in a loop that left us broke in as many ways as one can break.

The Ringos came close to being the band we all wanted that year. Ultimately that illusive “getting to the next level” wasn’t a deal we could close. Que sera, and so on.

By Spring ’89, we were starting to figure out who we were and what we sounded like. I had started as the house engineer/producer at Rayl Studio in Norman, OK and was pretty happy with the sound I was getting on my first few sessions. I took the Ringos in to cut some of our recent compositions and “Bad Side of Me” is the only tune that survives from that session.

I still like this song for as much as what it represented for the band as what it is. This was the first song we wrote together instead of starting from one of my crappy demos. It hints at the potential I don’t think we got close to before this version of the band disintegrated a few months later and we began what became the version that made “Under the Double Eagle.”

Bad Side of Me was never properly mixed. This was a rough that I didn’t go back to finish because that version of the Ringos was busy falling apart. It had been a rough few years.

What survives isn’t so bad.