“Times are changing. We have to start thinking past our guns.”
So said the mythical outlaw of the American West as the 19th century turned into the 20th.
“We’ve got to start thinking past our guitars.”
With the rise of synth rock in the early 1980’s, the days of the stand up rock band were closing fast. By the turn of the next century, synthetic applications had enabled even non-musicians to make music that sounded as good as what had been on the radio for the preceding 40 years. I was playin guitar in a band at thaty time and,when we were oneparticular song, the enginer suggested that a Clapton sound would work well,and asked if iI would like to try it. I hesitanttly agreed and he plugged my guitar into something he called a pod and presto, I sounded exactly like Eric Clapton.
I remembered back to 1986, when I was writing songs with a guitarist named Julius Borges. One afternoon while rehearsing, he showedme how he figured out how Clapton got his sound. He turned some knobs on his amp and some more on his guitar and presto, he sounded exactly like clapton. But this had been no easy feat. He found that sound the same way Clapton had found it. Not by plugging into a pod, but by searching and experimenting until he got it just right.
Now here we are in 2018. It is very easy to make recordings that sound exactly like the hit records of any past era. Get the apps and dial them in, whether or not you know a single note of music. Start by choosing a random chord progression in the style of your choice. Then have the computer deliver a lyric, and then a melody to fit the lyric.. Now go to band in a box and get your arrangement. You han have the hottest guitars, the wildest saxophones, catchy bas lines and dynamic drums. but now you have to sing it. No problem. Even if you cant sing a note, there is an app that will make you sound like you have perfect pitch.
And so, like the gunfighters and cowboys of the old west, the days are closing fast for the guitar slinging songwriters of the 20th Century. There arent that many of us left. But there are plenty of people writing and recording songs. Tens of thousands of them all around the world. When I started writing songs in Seattle WAs in the early 70’s,there were only a couple dozen of us. Today the membership in the meetup group Songwriters in Seattle exceeds 3500. Many of these people are rod and reel songwwriters, while others can make an album that sounds as good as Jethro Tull or Fleetwood Mac without ever touching an instrument.
So we have to start thinking beyond their guitars.
But not me.
My new album, The New West, is just me with a guitar and harmonica singing anf playing into a one track recorder, no overdubs, no retakes, Everything is just as it was when it came out of me. The songs are loosely based around the concept of bringing the cowboy song into the 21st Century. And a few of the songs are cowboy songs, but not all of them. All share, however, the elegaic tone of the end of the Western era, the end, even of the West. and they look to a New West. Obviously this idea carries political subtexts and it is true that I am writing more about the world of today than the world of 1865, but it is in many ways the same world, the same stories in different costumes.
The recordings on this albums are flawed, and I didnt want to correct the flaws. I wanted to keep it real. If I mispronounced a word, mixed up the verses, hit a wrong cord, coughed, or hiccuped, I kept it. People might call the recording lo fi, and if you compare it to the highly processed sounds of today, it is. But it sounds, to my ear, as good as the folk records I grew up on, and that is the sound I wanted. These are the songs of a real person who has been writing songs and performing them for the last 50 years. But they are songs for now, for today. They are not nostalgic, You will hear traces of all sorts of popular music in them, but the dominant sound is country folk and blues. It is not a record for every body. Its not something to play at parties. But if you are alone at night, you might want to slip on some headphones as listen to these intimate sounds. From me to you. Personal, real , and true.