Talent Dying Young R.I.P. Dan Gallagher

It was the fall of 2016 when I last saw Dan Gallagher. It was my tenth recording session where he was going to be adding his guitar magic, and as usual I had bounced preliminary scratch recordings to the producer who knew which of his chosen studio players wanted to hear them beforehand and which ones prefer to come in cold and improvise. Over several years and nearly 4 dozen original songs of mine that Dan played on I had already learned I could trust him.

I mention the scratch recordings being available for collaborators to have if needed, and Dan was one of those players who DEFINITELY studied them beforehand. Most times my songs can have a reliable structure through about 90% of the way through them, but somewhere there usually lurks a chord stretch, or a rhythm change, or something inside most of them that mucks up the reliability and predictability. It can drive drummers crazy, and I’m sure my producer wanted to pelt me a time or two. But Dan would have studied them and always arrived on record day having sheeted them out, with copious notes on what he wanted to play. There would be layers in his approach such that he was almost like an orchestra conductor who had heard it all before and he knew ahead of time which layer he wanted to play first, second, third, and on down the line. And no matter how much there was in his head to get done, once completed any song he worked with would lose weight and gain mass (sounds like an ultimate rudeness to Newton, but that’s how I would describe it).

I myself am a passable acoustic guitar player, but I don’t generally try to play the electric guitar much, and after collaborating with Gallagher why would I? It’s not that he would in any way make me uncomfortable if I tried; no he was always a humble and gentle soul when giving of his sound. He never made me feel anything but glad that he was gonna have something to add to a song of mine. And though his sounds would often cement a song, they practically never stole it or took it over, or swept anything aside. And a few times after hearing what I had written he would humbly say he didn’t want to do much on it. But if he did want to add himself I learned to count on being happy that he did.

On our penultimate recording session together I did something I’ve not done before or since. I wanted to have a drummer, Dan on his guitar, and myself on keys late one evening after a few brews or a scotch and just record whatever we could spit out. I wanted an improv session with my intent being to record and compose something around whatever we conjured. And Dan would not have his preferred ability to analyze and sheet the tune. Sure he could jam with a rock and roll band, but this was different. I wanted to folk/singersongwriter noodle. We were all miserably uncomfortable for a while – and sounded pretty pitiful (smile), and yet after a few long hours of mucking around something did eventually come of it. And one session later a binary song (really trinary if you listen hard enough) “My Frozen Heart” became one of the last songs that Dan played on for me. It was the fruit of that late night improv time we had. When I brought it back to the studio to put it down Dan did his thing on it. He has some great work through it, but I especially like it after the 3:20 mark when the song drops back for a bassa nova rhythm easy grove that slowly boils up and up into finally a long rock and roll fade away – and it was my pleasure to tell Dan for the coda, “play whatever you want… the song is yours til the end. Run me off the road.”

I received the sad news yesterday that Dan died suddenly. I’ve collaborated with more than a few professional studio musicians. Some I hardly know and who never had time for me anyway except a bare minimum and always with the clock and cash register running; cold pros akin to a brain surgeon you might want for an operation but not for dinner with your family. Some may have even died and I would not know, nor be sad to think I would play with them no more. But the sensation that hit me when I heard Dan Gallagher died was one of loss; loss of his future notes played if I sought him out again to work together; loss of what he might play for others I would likely not even hear but I would feel confident saying it would be humble, good, and worth the soundwaves. I don’t know if I will record anymore, but I’m certain that if I do Mr. Gallagher will be sorely missed.

R.I.P.

Not to hijack a moment, but if you want to hear his last long solo fade away he did for me a few years back, listen for free to “My Frozen Heart” at:

Click Here

Or a video snippet of some of his licks and riffs is below

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Excerpt From Misadventures of a Rich Kid Essays

Rejection and Reconsideration from College

About a year before it would be application time, my parents took me on a road trip to investigate potential college destinations. We drove through Georgia, whisking past Auburn and discussing Emory briefly. And we eventually toured Davidson, Wake Forest, University of North Carolina, and Furman, but really, we were mainly speeding towards Duke to where all expectations and hopes were aimed. I could see advantages and/or preferences in comparing my potential college experience choices, but there did seem to be a genuine and divine funnel guiding me to Duke and I wanted to go there as much as my folks wanted it for me.

Once home and getting into my senior year of high school, my mother spent lot’s of time with me assisting in my college application process. With her connections and friend network she knew at least one or two excellent friends of the family or colleagues of my father at the clinic who would provide glowing recommendations of my boyhood thus far to each of the colleges where we sent applications. With Duke being the stretch for me to achieve, thankfully my application would have the added booster fuel in how both of my parents were alums and the specter of their past and ongoing donations both to the undergraduate endowment, and to the Duke Medical School as well where once my father had been the Chief Resident 30+ years prior.

Looking at my resume, and my GPA and student ranking at a moderately ordinary public high school in rural central Florida, my parents and I both knew Duke was likely to deliver a quick rejection, and they did. Meanwhile, I received a status of “Wait List” from Wake Forest, and we awaited hearing from a few others at least one of which was a fall back. There was some disappointment, but all was not yet lost for my mother said how I should write an official letter requesting reconsideration of my application to Duke.

Mom explained to me how the admissions process is a giant undertaking with many ebbs and flows in the current and how the most important thing to making the waiting list would be to keep my application somehow near the top of someone’s stack. She described how there were likely a few dozen people with desks piled high with applications in process; nearly 10,000 or more would be whittled down to less than 1,300 or so and she gave me a glimmer of hope if only I could find a way to make my rejected application still stand out and hover nearby. To her credit my mother would never do my work for me, but she would offer strong suggestions as to theme, content, and form, and so it was natural that she discussed with me what the 1st paragraph of my letter should say, and the 2nd, etc.

“Keep it short and to the point, but give them a reason to reconsider you,” she said.

I went back to my room and contemplated my future. Wake Forest was a beautiful campus and I really liked the solitude of Davidson. There was no way I would get into Duke if having both parents and one sibling attend there with distinction hadn’t already pushed me over the hurdle then no letter of reconsideration from me begging and pleading would do it either. Compared to somebody who scored a perfect SAT and was learning his 4th language after rebuilding a hydro-electric dam for Green Peace over this last summer, who was I kidding.

I sat down at the typewriter and put in a piece of my Ed M. Verner stationary that my parents had given me the previous year and wrote out a letter akin to the wonderful suggestions from my mother and showed it to her. Then I went back and spat out a different more truthful version; my short letter of reconsideration. I signed it, sealed it, and mailed it without showing my mother. It went something like this:

Dear Sirs,

I received your rejection of my application and I wish to give you a chance to correct your mistake. You should hurry as I’ve been wait listed at Wake Forest. Though I’m sure I will make an excellent student anywhere, Duke is my first choice. I’ve enclosed my picture– take a look at that face and know how I won’t be requiring financial aid and I will be a successful graduate one day.

Sincerely,

(I placed a snapshot of myself just being me, I think it was a shot of me playing tennis.)

Less than two weeks later a letter arrived from the Duke Admissions Office welcoming me to the graduating class of 1986. Somehow my application had made a miraculous leap from total rejection, past the wait list, and unto acceptance without any explanation. I ran to tell my parents and their utter amazement was genuine. I naturally assumed that either of them had called again on any cohorts or fellow graduates who might know anybody still at Duke to put in a good word, and/or they might have called the alumni donation office to politely bully them with threats of reduced future donations if I were not accepted. I can’t be sure, but it was telling how their reaction to the news was one of profound shock as was mine. Over the next week I had a few private breakfasts with my dad and interrogated him about who did he call or what did he do to get me in, but neither of them have ever laid claim to the change in my application status.

As the years went by and I’ve thought about my smartassed letter of reconsideration I’ve conjured up a romantic notion that I would love to believe possible. I picture some schlepp sitting up there reviewing the dozen or so letters each day coming in from perfectly groomed nerds, politely submissive youngsters all abjectly begging and pleading for any way to be noticed or reconsidered. I imagine the boredom combined with the seriousness of how all week long he must politely write back to each of them with a heartbreaking “no, but thanks for trying” message. I picture this man opening my letter and it jolting him for a moment… a laugh… slight at first with only a chuckle to himself. But in my version he puts his coffee down and has to show the letter to another midlevel coworker. ‘Can you believe the balls on this kid?”

He walks my letter over to the chair of the admissions department and uses one of his rare chits that perhaps each may have a few of up there, and says “Let this kid in.” Then he laughs to himself and mutters under his breath, ‘Good luck kid,’ and destroys the letter.

I know it can’t work that way, and I feel sure it didn’t work that way, but I’ve always wondered what happened to that letter. I doubt it is in any file.

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I Miss My Friend – Save Me A Spot If Ya Can

One year ago today my best friend, Ken, died suddenly at age 53. He was a genuine good and Godly soul of whom my wife once said, “He has a halo.” Our friendship took a few weeks to solidify after our first meeting, due in part to my somewhat distant nature in a small town and also due to a healthy measure of prudence and caution on his part. But our business endeavors were perfectly suited for a friendship to be mutually beneficial and we came to know enough about each other over the ensuing few months such that a lifelong bond formed. I had no idea that the term ‘lifelong’ could wind up so short for that friendship with his dying so young.

During this past year since his death I’ve come to appreciate anew cameo snapshots of people being themselves. I know people take family portraits and they can be treasured over time, and also business portraits or snapshots of ‘breaking ground’ ceremonies, or ‘grand openings’ etc. can be wonderful reminders to those who care to recall. But with my general distaste for interrupting good conversation with taking a picture, I’m left now with practically no photos of me and my friend Ken being ourselves. I have no trouble recollecting his mannerisms and even his tone of voice in my head; and I’m doubly assisted in this by how his father and I work together often still and the apple did not fall very far from that tree such that the father’s eyes and voice quickly call my friend to mind afresh. I appreciate Ken’s father’s friendship mightily.

One activity that Ken and I enjoyed nearly every time we had a lunch out together was to play several games of chess while awaiting our food. We played briskly, sometimes allowing each other a quick take back of any “game killer” move the other made in the rush. Over the years we each improved the other’s game by learning to adapt to newly attempted tactics or schemes. By a slight margin I suspect I won a few more than he over the hundreds and hundreds of games we shared. Although he was sneaky and able to conjure topics of conversation that would distract my mind in the perfect way to pave the road for a new tactic of his to succeed. For years we played chess probably 5-10 games per week over countless lunches. And either of us also played games online sometimes in an effort to develop a new attack against each other.

I’ve not played a game of chess since he died. At first, I just couldn’t pull the board out. It had been in use only between the two of us for several years. And I refused to play online anymore; making myself instead spend the time on other things like my work, or my music, or my writing projects. People who knew us as friends were sad with me, and the few who still play chess anymore respected his and my games as something the memory of which they did not want to intrude upon.

Yesterday was the first time I’ve retrieved the board from its drawer in my office. For years when either of us called the other to drum up a quick lunch I would open that drawer and grab the board for our games that day. It has stayed in the drawer one day shy of a year until I set it up yesterday and made my customary first move.

I miss my friend.

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Comparing my picks versus Digital Fans’ Top 10

It is interesting to me to compare what of my music I gravitate towards and replay versus my cyber audience out there. No matter how pitifully small such an audience may be in comparison to Steely Dan, or The Doobie Brothers, or Garth Brooks, or even non musicians like most of radio these days, the information sometimes still provides me with an interesting split between which of my songs I react to positively over time and which ones they surprise me with choosing. At the bottom of this blog I will put the list and links to a place you can listen to the songs for free if you desire. Meanwhile I offer a few retrospective observations evoked by my reviewing them.

The top seller is VERY recent and yet outstripped many others that have been ‘out there’ for years. Additionally, it is one I performed, recorded, and produced entirely myself, though as a stripped down piano and string ballad that is not terribly difficult.

The 2nd place finisher is also a stripped down piano ballad instrumental version which I crafted and used in a documentary film a long time ago with professional engineering assistance. It was one of my first recording activities in the modern age. Though there is a song and lyrics as a separate release for that tune the cyber audience prefers my vocal silence. #s 1, 2, and 6 all feature only my performing though I enjoyed engineering and mastering assistance from fine professionals and former collaborators on 2 and 6.

All of the others have studio players in collaboration with me on the music and there are selections in them from 3 different producers and recording studios. And all but one of the others include drums (with one of them getting its rhythm solely from an acoustic guitar). The flavors of them range widely from easy listening to soft rock adult contemporary to genuine country. Phew, at least I’m not stuck in one hole.

01 Say Goodbye

Free Listen Here

 

02 It’s Enough (end credits)

Free Listen Here

 

03 My Frozen Heart

Free Listen Here

 

04 Your August (2019 version)

Free Listen Here

 

05 Song Never Ends

Free Listen Here

 

06 Give To Me Tonight

Free Listen Here

 

07 Lonely Island

Free Listen Here

 

08 I Wish

Free Listen Here

 

09 Vic

Free Listen Here

 

10 And I Love You

Free Listen Here

 

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Storyteller Compared Against Writer

I’ve noticed how often it is that excellent authors may be pretty rotten live storytellers. To be a storyteller who is an orator, one must have the floor and also possess the talent of keeping it. More than just having a good story, they must become masters of gaining control of a room, avoiding hecklers, beating back those who rudely hog the oxygen of conversation in a relentless yearning for the spotlight. Like a great comedian, they must have a bit of a bully in them to claim control of their audience. Whereas an excellent writer may be the complete opposite. They may indeed be shy, reclusive, and hold bullies (even the slightest of them) as beneath their time.

After reading an excellent book of the modern era (not completely impossible) I’ve learned to take great care in stumbling upon video clips of the author being interviewed. Reading their book I have likely created a voice and cadence for them which in reality is utterly different from their true persona. Watching a great writer mutter and stumble through an impromptu question and answer session can destroy their written word for me if I’m not careful.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy comedians and storytellers, but I’m more and more convinced that the kinship between the writer and a storyteller may be very much like the relationship between a songwriter and a vocalist performer. Sure, there are times when a creative can be adequate at both skill sets; there can indeed be singer/songwriters or storyteller/authors, but I often wonder if those abilities for one side of the coin aren’t perhaps antithetical to the other. I wonder if the truly outlandishly gifted creatives in the end must decide which rabbit hole they will descend into and in so doing turn their back on the other.

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Jazzturbation and the Black Hole of Ego

Jazzturbation is a neologism that has seen use a time or two, usually to describe ego trips gone wild amongst small jazz groups or improvisations that wander too far off the reservation of what even erudite ears can digest. Generally, I use the word to describe when a player either spews an improvisational solo that exhausts even a PHD in music theory’s patience, or when he befuddles fellow players to the point where a song ceases to function and he becomes essentially self-indulgent prick whacking off on his instrument until he has descended into the black hole of ego run amok.

More than a few of my favorite recording artists from the tail end of the era where such were produced by major record labels (though mentored and tutored at first) they wound up falling away from their devoted fan base after their first 2 or 3 major albums. And sadly, some were called away by runaway jazzturbation.

Sometimes they would be gobbled up by the lure of doing live performances and the thrill of audience energy exchange. So instead of recording new material, they simply kept doing live shows to rack up the millions for future alimony and child support while pretending to stay younger than they were. Sometimes they would be seduced by the medusa of becoming TV or Movie character actors and forget to “dance with them that brung ya”.

But to me the most annoying culprit of the recording artist death and disappearing act was the lure of jazzturbation. Sure, there is a glorious outcome if a songwriter wants to improve his craft on his instrument – sure even becoming a virtuoso can add dimension and depth to future melody and/or time spent drilling down into new words and syntax can improve lyrics, etc. But if you take your instrumental prowess beyond a point of no return, or take syntax to a point where no one can understand your meaning, then what is the point?

If you become so gifted on the piano that you develop genuine “independence” of the hands such that you can play “Happy Birthday” on the left hand in Db while playing “Amazing Grace” backwards in E major in the right, and then you waste time during a concert showing your audience the vomitous sound of that pairing while neglecting to play your former Platinum Record best selling audience favorite you wrote when you were 20 and not even sure of what time signature it was in until you thought about it… what good comes of it? Nothing….. you my friend are jazzturbating.

Now like its cousin, perhaps jazzturbation may indeed have its place in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps it can relieve stress or release tension. Perhaps it can lead to better command of personal control and/or discipline. But like rehearsal time, jazzturbation (and its cousin), out of respect for other people’s time, should be done in privacy.

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Coffeehouse Klatch Playing Solo Guitar

 

Coffeehouse or Coffee Klatch small coffeehouse acoustic guitar performances at Duke when I was an undergrad were fun a time or two, but during those years my guitar playing was still less than 3 years in the making. The available piano at the coffee house was a pitifully un-maintained upright and thus my play sets were mostly guitar.

Two years later, during my year off from college I did 3 important things: 1) learned to drive a semi-truck/trailer rig, 2) chased girls mostly in vain (with one or two exceptions), and 3) I spent nearly every evening practicing my guitar songs in performance mode (no stops, playing through any mistakes). I pretended how one day I might perform them again to more than my faithful housecat, Scotty.

After graduation, and a short marriage with a long divorce, I wound up for a time as a recluse in a small duplex apartment. I again dove into mock solo guitar show rehearsals now to my Alaskan Malamute who gratefully never howled. Once the lawyers were finished and paid off (hers and mine), I eventually moved back into a house and brought with me a recently restored 1875 Steinway grand piano. Now I began practicing piano songwriter performances and guitar sets together.

Sometime later that year in 1990, using a Sony WM-D6C Pro Walkman (which was surprisingly good at capturing small rehearsal performances) I recorded 31 of my piano songs and made a compilation of them for myself to save them in hopes on one day recording them “for real”. While I was intent on doing my best to capture the songs for the future, I was also trying to improve my ability to play and sing simultaneously. In addition, I was trying to get back some piano skills that had atrophied during my divorce proceedings.

Once I had the piano songs recorded to my amateur satisfaction, I used the same Sony Pro to record 46 of my guitar songs during 1991. The Coffee House Guitar – Solo Acoustic selections are from those. Some of them have been subsequently studio recorded, but a few of them have not been played except as solo performances on rare occasions.

Listen at: CLICK HERE

 

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The Show Tune Style Collection

With over 52 minutes of music, these 14 original studio recorded songs have been chosen in part because I felt they carry a vibe that easily could have been put on stage. Each one has a personal narrative feel to it, and despite how each is other directed, the word ‘I’ is in all but three of them.  And the way their melodies sometimes hang around in my head remind me of how a show tune behaves.

Often when songwriting I am seeing a scene in my head as it comes together. That juxtaposition between the emotion of a melody and the story I want to tell in lyrics, the memory I want to bring into the future with me, or a scene I witnessed that inspired me to capture it in music, that balance between the story as it was and what it could or should have been makes a show tune to me every bit as much as whether or not Broadway has or ever will hear it.

To enjoy the play list in a new window for free CLICK HERE

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The Artist Dance and The Inner Circle

Ed Verner in studio session

The very act of creating a song, or works of prose or poetry can drive a wedge between an artist and those inside their inner circle of love and social contacts. There are several possible causes for the rift that may arise.  Some are: Jealousy – Projection of Betrayal – Selfishness – and more.

Jealousy – The desire from others for one’s time who want it above all else can be found here. In this arena someone close to the artist may very well know an artwork is about them and is full of love, compliments, and joyful leaping from the heart of the artist, and yet the time to create it is seen as competing with time that could be spent in mutual activities instead. Imagine Miss Mona Lisa badgering Leonardo da Vinci for choosing to spend many days in creating a timeless portrait that would outlive them both for centuries when he could instead have taken her out for a picnic. Or the artist who jealously over-protects his time but denies his children who need him, searching instead for peace and quiet to write a novel.

Projection of Betrayal – If you’ve written something artistic about anyone else, or any inspiration not found from within your inner circle then those in that circle feel they are somehow uninspiring or worse yet that they are losing their value to an artist for not being a sufficient muse. If a poet conjured a romantic thought, even if from a vacuous void of being in a sensory deprivation tank, a dear loved one may project a story of betrayal upon the work anyway. Consoling such a fear is impossible and frustrating to both artist and nearby loved ones and then both may grow bitter and avoid sharing any art created from within that bubble; the artist becomes reclusive and the inner circle of loved ones learn to keep a distance out of self-preservation. Conversely another form of betrayal can occur if someone well distant from the artist misinterprets a work as being about them when in fact it may have been inspired by a dear close loved one of the artist instead. Such a devoted fan may impregnate the art with their own story, but in so doing they hijack what should have been the joy belonging to another.

Selfishness – In a sad way sometimes creatives can be like the popular kids in high school in that they want to isolate themselves from effective competition for the role of popularity and instead wish to have only devotee’s as friends. Here artists can become selfish in how they attempt to choose their loved ones and even exclude a few who belong simply out of a desire to avoid even healthy criticism. Fragile egos of artists have strewn many a drama upon the fabric of history with attempting to wield the art inside them for gain, or power, or personal glory.

If art becomes more important than the people around you, for shame.  And I’ve learned to write or record, get it out there, and then put it on the shelf and go back to the people and places I love.

 

 

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Temporary Becomes Permanent Via Art

Sometimes people can latch unto a song lyric or the image of a photograph in very powerful ways, and completely alien to the state of mind of the composer or photographer. Of course such connections are quite a compliment on the one hand, but may carry a heavy price in misunderstanding if the artist and fan ever attempt to discuss it. Yet all of that is part and parcel of the bond between a creative and an audience. Yet there is another aspect to consider as an artist, and that is whether or not you can stand perhaps lending additional permanence to something meant to remain only temporary and fleeting.

Yes indeed, sometimes a tiny moment in time, or an incredibly poignant convergence between nature and a temporary man-made space flows across my perspective and inspires a melody, or an entire cascade of lyrical ideas for poetry or song and then I’m faced with that quandary: Do I want to disturb a breath of the moment, otherwise lost in a flash and only available to me thereafter as a memory with all of frailty and fiction in the hereafter recall of it? Do I really want to steal time away from enjoying it by taking a picture? Do I really want to give that moment a fixity and longevity it otherwise can never have?

A 9 second video here below captures a tiny moment of what I’m talking about.  It hit me and could have inspired much more.

9 Seconds Underway

Countless times I force myself to simply breath in and out and not to move towards my camera or my keys. I steel myself to simply be with the temporary smallness of a moment, to let it go unmolested by and through me.

Temporary things gain mass via art

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