“The Sullivan County Songwriters Circle has done such a great job of introducing songwriters to each other and to our area, they’re now gigging with each other. This afternoon,” I lamented to Donnie as we headed towards The Catskill Distillery. “Today the Little Sparrow Band has Brewster Smith playing with them at the Basekill Winery. No Brewster. No Carol. A Smith-less afternoon.” I wondered who, if anyone, might appear. “No matter. It still feels great to stay with the purpose of the whole SC ^2′d idea: hole up in The Distillery from 3-5pm and see who shows up. ” I made a long list of my own songs to keep myself occupied, should the place be empty.
When we arrived, a very tall man with a guitar walked in. “Hey – that must be my brother,” he said, pointing at Donnie. “My name is Tom Byrne.”
“I’m so happy. Hey – we have a new songwriter!” And yes, there is a doppleganger vibe. They both sport grey moustaches. Just then, another fellow walked in with a guitar.
“And you are….”
“Jimi.” This is great! Two new songwriters. I’m so excited.
“I’ve been meaning to come here for weeks,” Jimi said.
“I’m a friend of Stacy’s,” Tom said when I asked him how he found us. Stacy, the proprietress-singer-songwriter, had not yet entered the building.
“I’ve been planning to make it here every week,” said Barbara. Didn’t Jimi Nackley just say this. “I really want you to meet Barbara Gogen.” She introduced me to her friend, carrying a lovely Ovation acoustic guitar.
“Songwriter?” I asked Barbara G.
“Yes.” Wow! Three first timers.
Donnie continued setting up the audio. A technically brilliant live sound guy (if I say so myself), every week he takes care of setting up the room so the words and music take the sonic spotlight they deserve. Unsung hero. Happy to remain in the background, but enormously important to the entire afternoon, big props to himself.
“Let’s go. I can’t wait to hear these new songwriters. ” I welcomed the throngs:) and started with my tribute to to the American songbook by performing a swing version of “Up A Lazy River” with music by Hoagie Carmichael and lyrics by Sidney Arodin. (Can anybody find a picture of Sidney? I can’t.) That’s Hoagy:)
I followed with my original song, “Movies” about 3 BFFs who are reduced to 2 when one of them hooks up with a dude. They are relegated to going to the movies to enjoy vicarious steamy moments. With three new songwriters in the room, I ditched my long list and invited Tom Byrne to the stage. He kicked off his set with “A Thousand Ways Top Go,” kind of a talking blues. Very witty. Very glib. Love the lyrics and pickin’. Urging him on, Tom performed two more songs. The first, “Bite Your Tongue” was full of puns like “Napoleon pulled his bone apart.” OK. Cute. Then he sang “Thumbtacks” with the repeating line, “I miss you when I hear trains.” Tom’s got his own style, complete with innuendo. I fear using that last word given what he might do with it.
The lovely Barbara Gogan followed. She began with “Perfect Bride”, singing beautifully crafted words with her quiet passion. “Heavenly Horses” followed, an ethereal and gorgeous tune on which she allowed me to play some background guitar. Barbara is what I’d call a “song novelist.” The entire story is contained in the verses and chorus.
Jimi followed Barbara with a couple of tunes we played as a duo: “Chasing the Buck” – simoleons, that is…not stags… and “Don’t Tread On Me.” His choruses are instantly singable and his lyrics come from an interior displacement that must be aired. Songwriting is a kind of therapy, after all. We don’t write songs because we want to. We write songs because we have to.
By this time, the back table had filled with a group of people, some of whom looked familiar.
“Any more songwriters in the house?” I asked. I felt some energy from the back table. “I get the feeling there’s a songwriter or two back at that table. Would you like to come up and perform? This is a safe place. It’s all right to fall on your face here. We keep the room safe for experimenting.” Another stir of activity , a little noodging from friends and/or family, and the young lady of the group rose up.
“Do you mind if I play your guitar?” she asked me.
“Be my guest.” I handed her my Baby Martin and before I had a chance to introduce her, she began playing and singing with a voice and style that had not yet been heard in this section of the planet. Rapid fire lyrics. Driving. Post-punk energy. Fiery. Powerful. Completely out of the box. Dramatic. Confident. Most of us just watched this unexpected fireball, transfixed by her unexpected performance. She finished to enthusiastic applause and was about to start another original when I quickly plunked myself next to her.
“Whoa! What’s your name, please?”
“Anna. Wow! You’re amazing! What’s the title of that song you just blew the electricity with?”
“Appendicitis,” she said.
“Really?” I paused, thinking about the metaphorical possibilities of the title and ensuing barrage of heated verbiage. “What’s it about?”
“Oh…” she began. I paused again, expecting her to weave a rough fabric between rampant infection, the ills of society and an explosive love affair. “I had my appendix out and it was just a song I wrote about it.” My literary balloon deflated but I was delighted that she wrote this one “on the nose.”
“You have another, I hope?”
Anna nodded and belted out “Three Cups,” another hard hitting anthem. Her influences: well..the Seattle crowd, starting with Nirvana. I’m not going to tell you more about Anna right now. She is one of a kind on every level: voice, lyrics, songcraft…. Having just moved here from Walla Walla Washington, I am merely going to mention that you heard her here, first.
If you build it, they will come and rock your socks off.
After a break, Barbara Gogan performed a beautiful song, “Lines.” She composed the music using words from the French poet, Artur Rimbaud (pronounced “Rambo”). FYI, although you might not be familiar with his name, you probably have heard of a chap named Bob Dylan whom, according to legend, was turned on to Rimbaud’s provocative writing by folksinger Dave Van Ronk. Anyhoo, Barbara’s song is rich and beautiful and she delivered it with a soupcon of the spirit of Edith Piaf. She closed with “This Country”, a reggae style tune she composed the music for with Robbie Levin, lyricist.
Morgan McCarthy, our polymath behind the bar, took a break from serving handmade spirits to sing “Walking After Midnight,” the Patsy Cline tune penned by Alan Block and Donn Hecht. With no more songwriters clamoring to play, I performed my ditty about a pesky nanogenarian “Leave Me Alone” and the poppy ragtime picker, “Friends In High Places.”
Songwriters and pals….keep coming out of the hills! See you next week:)