Demos and Diversions

One of the shows that I really missed getting to do this past spring was a Saturday night house concert in Kansas City for the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio. It was going to celebrate Benton’s birthday and the Saturday night music gatherings he had at his home. Benton played the harmonica.

I was introduced to Benton’s life and work through my study of Jackson Pollock. On my latest record, The Craig Demos, there are two songs from a song cycle about Jackson Pollock that I co-wrote with long-time collaborator, Geoffrey Himes, in the early to mid-nineties, “Janesville” and “Springs.”

Craig Eastman, Sue Griffiths and Billy Kemp.

When thinking about what to write for my latest blog, I wanted to connect it to something about the new record. In the title, The Craig Demos, is the word demos. When working on songs, many songwriters want to hear what the song sounds like, and they record what are sometimes called, a ruff or rough demo. It is a simple recording, these days sometimes on a smart phone, that may feature just one instrument and a vocal. Only two of the ten recordings on The Craig Demos remained just one instrument and vocal because I invited Craig Eastman to add some of his fiddle and lap steel accompaniment to five of the songs. Sue Griffiths sang and played banjo on several others.

Billy’s favorite demo app.

Thomas Hart Benton had a process of creating murals that he used throughout his long career of making art. He would do some pre-production, as it is called with music and record making, to develop ideas. His was a series of preparations. (1) Rhythmic Design, dynamic patterns on paper with pencil. (2) Rough pencil drawing and plan, (3) Clay model to see the overall effect and (4) a small color painting, small scale panel. The color painting was his demo that he would present to his client for approval. To do a mural five feet by twenty feet would take Benton eight months to complete.

Hopefully next year.

With songwriting, there can be several steps to reach the demo, not unlike Benton’s process. The obvious first step is either writing some text or music. The text may be just a title. It may be a line or an idea. The music may be a riff, a motive, a rhythm, some chord changes and sometimes even just picking a sound or a key.

This intervallic break from touring has been a mixed bag for me; reading new stories and articles, rediscovering older recordings and writing new music and song. I am grateful for the opportunity.

I read I Am The Blues by Willie Dixon. My sister gave it to me about ten years ago. It was inspiring. I have been a fan of his music since the early ‘70s. I met him in Houston in November, 1984 while on tour with Terri Gibbs. His book reminded me of how important blues music and culture was to my development and path in music. I Am The Blues inspired some ideas and produced several demos that are in process, hopefully coming to a streaming service, concert space or compact disc near you soon.

A great artist, Willie Dixon at Rockefellers in Houston, 1984.

If you haven’t already, please go to my website and listen to The Craig Demos, and let me know what songs you like. And if you have the gumption, buy five copies of the CD and give them to family, friends or folks that help you at the grocery or post office, a gesture in friendship. Go for it.

In 1972, the year I graduated from high school, my friend Jan Sweet from Paradise, Maryland gave me an album by Jerry Jeff Walker, Jerry Jeff Walker. It was a trip to Texas without having to fly.

A great record.

The Craig Demos could be a trip to Liberty, Tennessee and Cold Water Canyon, California for those who listen to the entire record from start to finish. Thank you…

Wishing everyone all good things in health, happiness and love.

Billy

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