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A Musical History

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  • Both of my parents are musicians and singers. My mother is a singer and piano player and an organist. My father is a singer and a drummer who can also plink around on the piano and the guitar. One of my uncles is a singer. Another uncle, now deceased, sang and played piano. In short, there was a lot of music in my life as a kid, and there was never any question about whether I would play an instrument, it seemed to me. It was just a matter of which ones.
  • I played some trumpet, which I didn’t like. I played some piano, which I found frustrating, since I couldn’t play the bass bits. Then I picked up the guitar.
  • I don’t remember when or why or how. I think I was about 14 when my father figured that I would need to play left-handed, instead of laying the guitar flat on my lap and playing in open tunings.
  • I wanted to play the music I liked back then: James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, the Police. While the cool kids in high school were listening to Guns ‘n Roses, I was driving around on Friday nights listening to James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.
  • In those early days, I remember two guitars: first, there was my father’s mid-1970s Sigma (a Japanese off-brand of Martin guitars), which was the acoustic guitar that I played until my fingers bled and which was the guitar I really think I learned to play on; later, my father gave me an Epiphone stratocaster knockoff and a Crate wooden amplifier (I don’t want to believe that it was the now legendary CR-1, but it might well have been). It seems like I did nothing through high school but play guitar. I took it everywhere. I played it constantly.
  • A girlfriend gave me a copy of a fake book called “20 Easy Songs for Guitar by the Police.” The joke there, which I didn’t know at the time, was that there were no easy songs for guitar by the police, so my first chords beyond the most basic ones were these unimaginably complex 13th or augmented or diminished chords.
  • I had a little band back then, too. We never really did anything other than practice, but we played every weekend and made music and learned how to play with other people and how to read signals from other players and how to keep time and we fantasized about what it would be like if we had nicer gear. The funny thing now is that some of that crappy gear I had back then is now vintage, and I’d kill to have it back.
  • I don’t remember the first time I played live, but I’m pretty sure I was about 16 or 17, playing with my father at a festival downtown.
  • My memory is a little fuzzy, but I believe that when I left for college I had three guitars: the Sigma, a mid-1960s Kay archtop that sounded terrible and played awfully but which looked just awesome, and a Washburn RS-10 that I would absolutely kill to have now in a left-handed version.
  • I fell into a group of musicians in college almost on the first day. My roommate (whom I knew already) was a bassist and guitar player. I had met a drummer during orientation who knew a singer. His roommate turned out to be a bassist.
  • We all hit it off, staying up late and writing songs and making music. We played the fabulous open mic nights at the Pub Down Under, where a hundred people would show up and sit, quietly, on the floor, listening to musicians who were just amazing—Pat Sansone, Steve Deaton, Tara VanDevender, Emily Graham.
  • The group of us rehearsed. We bought slightly better equipment. I bought, first, a decent Washburn acoustic guitar that I played for a year or so until I heard Steve Deaton’s Seagull guitar one night at the Pub Down Under. Then I saved my money and bought one of those.
  • The band formed officially and started gigging regularly in town. Then we started gigging out of town (sometimes to empty rooms; sometimes to a room full of skinheads).
  • Somehow, and I honestly don’t remember how, I started playing solo gigs around Hattiesburg. I played a handful of university gigs. I played a single night at Robbie’s (a frat bar that I hated). I played regular weekly gigs at the Wild Magnolia. I occasionally got asked to play at a bar opening for someone. I played fraternities’ pre-parties during the day, where the guys would drag a couch out on to the patio and sit with their girlfriends and listen—and then not recognize me on campus the next week.
  • When I went home, I sat in with my father’s band, playing while they took a break.
  • I traded my Washburn electric for a very rare Takamine GX-200 electric guitar that would never stay in tune. My collection of equipment got increasingly complex, going from a couple of effects pedals and a terrible Fender amplifier to a Digitech effects processor, power amp, and a huge 3×12″ speaker cabinet to a complex foot-controlled effects processor with guitars switching through an A/B switch into separate effects and EQs and even speakers. It was ridiculous.
  • One night, after it took me something like four trips to get my gear out of the trailer in Vicksburg, I said I’d had enough. When we got back, I traded it all in for a Crate tube amplifier and a delay pedal. I have never looked back.
  • I took a job in a music store, and while working there, I fell in love with this weird Canadian guitar: a Godin ST-1. It was a sort of pinkish color and we were selling it for about $1400. At that point, I was getting ready to buy a nice electric, and this was in my price range. I worked out a deal with my boss to let me use it while I paid it off. When I graduated from college, he told me just to forget about whatever else I owed on it. This was incredibly kind.
  • Around this same time, we began seriously recording in a little studio in Meridian. Pat Sansone was the engineer, and I spent a fair amount of time in the studio with him working. I learned a great deal watching and talking with Pat and really fell in love with recording.
  • And then, suddenly, I had graduated from college, done a semester of MA work at USM, and was preparing to transfer to Oklahoma State University. We played one last show at Tal’s, and I left the next morning for home, and then Oklahoma.
  • When I got to Oklahoma, I only knew one person, so I spent a lot of time alone. I was also young enough that I had plenty of time to spend hanging around the local music store, Daddy O’s. Stillwater had a neat music scene—a lot different than Hattiesburg’s—but after I recorded a demo I didn’t have any trouble finding regular gigs. I put together a nice little PA system. I played, often, a couple of nights a week, doing the human jukebox thing at The Stonewall and Willie’s on a regular basis. I played alone at first, and then, later, with my friend Todd Petersen.
  • And then, around the tail end of my doctoral work, I stopped playing live. I did it largely because I was either studying or writing and I just needed the time—often from the early evening until about 3 AM.
  • When we moved to Utah, a few things happened. First, I didn’t know anyone. Second, I was too old to hang around music stores all day and meet other musicians and network. Third, I had a job and I needed to focus on it. So I didn’t play at all. For years and years.
  • I bought Apple’s Logic and a USB interface and recorded lots and lots of things.
  • When I got tenure, I decided that my reward was going to be a nice guitar. I ordered a hand-made Breedlove C25. It took them four months to build it. It’s the finest guitar I have ever owned, and one of the most amazing ones that I have ever played. I put a miniflex mic system in it, just in case I decided to play again.
  • Walking across the parking lot one day, I bumped into a colleague I knew was an Irish piper. I said “I have a kind of weird question for you, but do you know anyone who needs a guitarist?” He invited me to one of his monthly Irish sessions, which was well-attended and a lot of fun, even though I know nothing about Irish music.
  • At that session, I met up with a fiddler. We rehearsed once and played a gig at an art gallery that I was uncomfortable with and didn’t feel prepared for. It paid $75. I told her to keep the $37. This was the first real indication I had that places around here don’t pay very well.
  • Later that year, I went home to be with my sister, who was having her first child. She and her husband are musicians, and we had a blast making music into the wee hours of the morning. Somewhere in all of this, my father pointed out that I may have to suck it up and play some poorly-paying gigs in order to land some better paying ones. In other words, he shamed me into playing live again.
  • When I got back home, I contacted a colleague who runs a music lab to see if he had a room quiet enough for recording. It turns out it did. He also had a very nice Neumann microphone for recording vocals and a equally nice matched pair of Rode mics for recording the guitar. I took a few hours and recorded a few songs for a demo. I mixed them over the next week and then I asked my friend Todd to make me a CD insert.
  • Right before Christmas 2012, I dropped off a CD at the only place in town where I hear about people doing anything like what I do. I told them I’d call them in a couple of weeks.
  • I called from the road, but the manager said that she hadn’t listened to it yet and for some reason couldn’t find it. I called again, when I got back, and she said she still couldn’t find it.
  • I decided just to bring her another one, so I went down there for lunch one day. I told the server what was going on and asked him to drop one off for her. She’s super busy, so I didn’t want to bother her. He took the CD and went off. A few minutes later, he came back. He said “Dude, you’re going to think I’m a huge idiot for this, but she didn’t lose it. I took it off her desk and I’ve been listening to it.” He then proceeded to ask me very specific questions about lyrics in the songs. He also explained that he’s the guy who gives the owner the thumbs up or thumbs down on booking gigs. I called back a few days later, and he booked me for a Thursday night.
  • I realized that I need some equipment. I bought new speakers. The ones I’d had in Oklahoma were huge, 15″ things, and cost $600. My new ones are smaller, 12″ ones, and cost half that and sounds just as good. I bought a new 31-band EQ. I bought a few new cables. I bought a rack-mountable power strip with pull-out lights. I’d always wanted one of these, but thought they were an extravagance and usually opted just for a cheap, normal power strip, instead.
  • I joined Facebook—almost entirely so that I could use it for announcing gigs and connect with local musicians.
  • In the middle of all this, I bought a DIY telecaster kit. Many of my friends had no idea I played guitar.

And now I’m prepping for a gig, something that I haven’t done in ages (either gigging or preparing for one!), and I’m consistently amazed at how much of this is just muscle memory. I’m also amazed at how I’ve lost a couple of notes off the high end of my falsetto. I assume they’ll come back once I get back in the habit of singing.

But I’m also struck by how this thing that has been so much a part of my life for so long simply hasn’t been here, for a decade. And so things that were common knowledge about me—that I play, that I sing, that I write—haven’t been in place.

I’m hoping I can get things back to normal.


Written by srogers

March 29, 2013 at 12:40 am

Posted in Around Here, Music

Telecaster Build

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So I’ve been playing guitar for a long, long time, but I’ve never owned a left=handed electric guitar.  All of my electrics have been right-handed ones that I’ve flipped over.  This is generally OK, but there are things that are annoying (the controls are up top, the cable comes out of the top, the pickups tilt in the wrong direction, the tuners are wrong).

I picked up a little left-handed telecaster DIY kit on Ebay.  I’ve always had stratocaster copies—never had a telecaster—so I thought this would be an interesting experiment.

The kit arrived in the middle of last week, and once I got free from my obligations, I sanded it with 100 grit sandpaper, then 220 grit, and finally steel wool.  This is what it looked like once I was done sanding:
Telecaster Body Sanded

I wasn’t sure how it would take stain, so I drove down to SLC with a woodworker friend to MacBeath’s lumber, where I picked up a couple of feet of the basswood that this guitar body is made from.  I sanded those down and tested stains last night, finally settling on a red chestnut finish.

Today, I set about staining.

Here it is with the wood conditioner applied:
Telecaster Body with Stain Conditioner

And then the first coat of stain:

Telecaster Body: First Coat of Stain

And the second coat:

Telecaster Body: Second Coat of Stain

And the fourth coat:
Telecaster Body: Fourth Coat

And the sixth coat:
Telecaster body: Sixth Coat

And then dry fit together to check the placement of a couple of parts:
Dry Fitting

Once the stain is dry, I’ll smooth it out with some steel wool, and then I’ll hit it with a light coat of a satin varnish, which should darken it up and bring out the grain even more than the stain does.

Then the hard part: installing the bridge and the neck and doing the wiring.

Written by srogers

March 10, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Around Here


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Written by srogers

January 13, 2013 at 12:19 am

Posted in Around Here


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  • I ran ~942 miles this year, or ~90 miles a week month.
  • I mountain biked ~100 miles. All of it while recovering from some injury or other.
  • I read at least the following non-work-related books:
    • Steven Johnson, Future Perfect
    • MT Anderson, Feed
    • Colm Toibin, The Testament of Mary
    • Amir, Zahra’s Paradise
    • Alison Moore, The Lighthouse
    • Brian K Vaughan, Ex Machina volumes 1-3
    • —, Y: The Last Man volumes 1-4
    • —, Saga volume 1
    • BIll Willingham, Fables volume 16-17
    • Michael Lewis, The Big Short
    • China Mieville, Railsea
    • Graham Swift, Out of this World
    • Steven Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You
    • Graham Swift, The Light of Day
    • Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus
    • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
    • Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
    • Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go
    • Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
    • Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead volume 13
    • Jessica Fink, Chester 5000 XYV
    • Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs
    • Alan Martin, Tank Girl volume 1
    • William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry
    • Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody
    • Nicholas Carr, The Shallows
    • Joss Whedon, The Astonishing X-Men volumes 1-4
    • Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay
    • —, Catching Fire
    • —, The Hunger Games
    • Graham Swift, Tomorrow
    • Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist

Written by srogers

January 4, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Around Here

In Which I Am A Good Neighbor

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You need to know two things:

First, one of my neighbors has a revolving cast of dogs that live in her house. At one point, she had something like 5 dogs—until the city informed her she was breaking the law and made her get rid of some of them. For while, it seemed like she had gone down to just one dog, a white boxer mix named Elvis (she had a black lab mix named Presley, but I don’t think she has him anymore).

Second, she’s pretty cavalier about keeping her dogs off-leash. She runs with them off-leash. She brazenly exercises them in the park near our neighborhood off-leash (the same park where I got a $150 ticket for having Molly off-leash). She runs from the dog catcher and cusses at him. She gives him false names and addresses. She’s a scofflaw. She’s also perfectly fine with just opening her door a little and letting the dogs roam around in her small yard whenever they need to, and even though her house is on the corner of two pretty busy streets, her dogs are well-behaved and street-smart, so it’s never been a problem.

Tuesday, while walking in front of her house on the way to where I start my 5K runs, I saw a maybe 6 month-old border collie puppy in her yard. When the puppy saw Molly, it completely went bonkers with excitement. It started trying to get Molly to play with it, making these big circles around the yard and, more importantly, out into the street. Which, as it was just before 8:00, was very busy with people driving to work.

I looked up and noticed that the sliding door to her garage/salon was open about a dog’s width, so I thought I’d put the dog back in the house. I took a couple of steps toward the garage and the dog ran the remaining distance and went right through the open door. Easy.

I went on my run, promising that I’d apologize to my neighbor the next time I saw her. Which was today.

I was running down the long street between our houses and saw her coming up on the other side of the road. I slowed down and crossed over.

“Hey,” I said, breathing heavily. “I hope it was OK, but Tuesday, your puppy was freaking out over Molly and was running in the street and there were a lot of cars and I was worried he would get hit so I shut him up in your salon.”

This was her response:

“So that’s how he got there! Yeah. That’s not my dog.”


Written by srogers

September 28, 2012 at 5:42 pm

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I am back from Mississippi. They let me leave. Or ran me off, I suppose.

I am an uncle!

I ran a 20 minute 5K in MS. That is minutes faster than my best 5Ks here.  I like air and flat.

I have been mildly injured for a few weeks now. I developed a mild strain in my left thigh and a touch of tendonitis in my right foot, so I took this last week off from any exercise. I ran an easy, easy 5K yesterday and everything seems OK.

I’m learning that, normally, when I get injured, it’s time for new shoes. My beloved Merrell Trail Gloves have developed holes in the soles. I hate my fancy-schmancy Brooks. I got them for winter/snow running, but I never liked them. I call them my clown shoes because it feels like I’m running in clown shoes. I have a pristine pair of Vibram fivefingers, but I don’t like wearing them on our trails because a) rocks get caught between the toes and b) it is super-easy to stub a toe in them.

Today, while out running some errands, I remembered that Sports Authority had New Balance 730s on sale for $50, so I grabbed a pair.

I’ve only worn them around the house today and already I’m in love with them.

We start back to work tomorrow. I’m experimenting with teaching all my classes completely paperlessly. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll write more about that process later.

I made good headway on my book project this summer. A chapter on Hogarth is done. A chapter on the Lock Hospital is done. The chapter on the Magdalen Hospital keeps getting longer and longer (40+ pages now). More on that later, too.

Written by srogers

August 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm

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I’ve been incredibly busy lately. All last week, I was training high school concurrent enrollment instructors (in UT, high school students can take college courses in the high schools) on a new curriculum from 9:00 – 4:00 each day. Then, at 4:30, I interviewed people for a 2-year contract position we have available.

A bunch of 12-hour days doing nothing but brain work will wear you out, so when Friday rolled around, I just wanted to get away. We took off to our friend Cory’s cabin in the mountains. We watched the temperatures drop 15 degrees on the way up, and by the time we got up there (8300′ up) it was about 85 degrees with a nice, cool breeze. We drank some beer. We cooked some steaks. We build a fire and watched the sun set. We gave up on seeing any moose and went inside to fall asleep watching Lord of the Rings on DVD.

Sunday was a lazy morning. We slept in as long as the dog would allow us to. We read. I cooked breakfast burritos. We read some more. We finally decided to get off the mountain at about 11:30 and then stop at this neat little burgers and beer joint for lunch.

And now, for the first time in a month, I’m back in the office trying to get some writing done.

Shower glass will be installed on the 9th. I have a little piece of door trim to paint and we need to get a new vanity top, but other than that, the bathroom is done.

Pictures will follow once the glass is installed.

Written by srogers

July 2, 2012 at 11:46 am

Posted in Around Here