Greetings from Liberty, Tennessee, on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, where the flatlander meets the ridge runner.
This Saturday, February 5, I’ll be performing at Grinder House in Crossville, Tennessee. It will be for the 4th annual Tennessee Songwriters Week, a celebration of song, one of Tennessee’s greatest exports to the world. The performances of songwriters across the state will be judged with winners from six showcase events heading to The Bluebird Cafe on March 20. Here is where you can watch the performance at 6pm central time:
Grinder House YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZUoxHgo_KSQ8KHlJgiMoPA
Grinder House Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/grinderhousecoffee
Grinder House Vimeo Channel https://vimeo.com/user95328979
It hasn’t been an easy decision to decide on what single song to do, having written hundreds of songs since 1970. Many songwriters are quoted saying their favorite song they’ve written is the last one that they wrote. I will say, performing new songs in front of an audience can give a writer an idea of how a song is working. I performed at Grinder House in early December, 2021, and did quite a few new songs written during the last two years and some from back even further that have never been recorded. I have been working on a new record and have ten songs recorded. I’m hoping to release a new record later this year.
Here is what my desk has looked like during the recording of this new record.
Having thought about what song to do for about a month, I have landed on a song that I co-wrote with Geoffrey Himes back in 1992, a song called, “Janesville.” I have been singing this song for thirty-one years now, and I don’t think I will ever tire performing it. One of the reasons is that it is about a farmer, a struggling farmer. Imagine that.
In 1990 I began music composition studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, UMBC, with Stuart Saunders Smith, a celebrated composer/percussionist from Maine. Stuart was a very good teacher who only used two books during the eight semesters I spent with him; a collection he co-edited called, Twentieth Century Music Scores and a book by Henry Miller called, On Writing. Stuart’s classes were never more than ten but usually around six students. His space was small with a large harvest table where thought provoking conversation was the main vegetable. Stuart is a vegetarian. Each week he nudged us along in our creative work. At the end of my third semester, on the final day of classes before the holiday break in 1991, Stuart stood at the entrance to his room and bid us adieu. He looked at me on the way out, without any mention of the holidays and just said to me, “Billy……Jackson Pollock…….look him up.”
In 1991 I also began working as a guitarist/back-up vocalist for Philadelphia roots rockers, Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers. The band was just signed to MCA records when labels still had money to spend on large scale budgets. In the fall of 1992, the band went to Los Angeles to record a new record with producer, Ed Stasium. That will be a blog at another time. The band stayed in a condo in North Hollywood, and there was a used bookstore across the street. I walked over to the bookstore and at the front table display found a book called, Jackson Pollock, An American Saga. I remembered what Stuart had suggested about Jackson Pollock, picked the book up and had some reading material during the making of Tommy’s record. In the biography, during Jackson Pollock’s early years, his father, Roy Pollock, covers many pages about the Pollock family and how he was a farmer that had to move many times because of one thing or another. He always reassured his family that the next place they found would be the promised land. The book won the Pulitzer in 1991.
“Janesville” was the first song of three that had place names where Jackson Pollock lived. The other two were “Cody” and “Springs.” The titles were for a song cycle that I co-composed with Geoffrey Himes that became my senior project for my studies with Stuart at UMBC. “Janesville” and “Springs” can be heard on my last record, The Craig Demos.
If you don’t have plans for your evening on Saturday, February 5th, please come and join me at the Grinder House in Crossville, Tennessee or on Facebook, YouTube or Vimeo at 6 pm central. I’ll be doing my 2022 version of “Janesville,” on my parlor guitar, LoMo, a 1930 Martin 2-17.
Hope to see you there.
Thanks for supporting recorded and live music…