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Those Moments

Updated: Feb 29

When I was thirteen, I got a cheap acoustic guitar at a garage sale, and started playing cover tunes for tips within the first week. I had already been singing tenor with older musicians for a couple of years by that time, but I wanted to get competent enough on a guitar to accompany myself at will. And so I did.

There was a little restaurant in my hometown of New London, Ohio, and they were cool enough to let a kid with six chords and a capo walk around from table to table, taking requests, and probably only knowing 2% of those requests. I got my chops up pretty quick that year. And with every new batch of covers I learned, I was picking up more songwriting devices. Hooks, chord progressions, literary patterns; I could see those things within the songs. And it didn't take long for me to start writing songs of my own.

I was able to perform some of those early originals at school events and campfire gatherings. My closest childhood friend, Dan Whitaker, and I had already "invented" multi-track recording (with two boom boxes). I'd even tracked a couple of demos with the engineer of my local church when pastor wasn't looking. But I had only seen real studios in Waylon documentaries and a book about Hank. Still, those moments were enough to get me hooked.

The year I turned fourteen, the Bluebird Cafe was launching artists' careers like they were fireworks. Garth Brooks had signed his deal there, and the venue was building a real reputation outside of the Nashville music machine. It was around that time that my mom caught a 60 Minutes special on the Bluebird, and decided that we needed to go to Nashville. So she booked us two hours in a recording studio about 40 minutes south of where we lived, and I took a $10 acoustic and my first dozen songs in there like I was Luke the Drifter. They were still using reel-to-reel and the entire control room was a honey-colored wood. Those are the moments that fully explain why I do what I do. Why I've spent the following 34 years writing songs, recording them, and sharing them with anyone who'll listen. The sound of that acoustic with all that room reverb; the feel of good headphones, locking you into a space that no one else can even touch. Those moments decided my fate long before I did.

So I hand-wrote a formal letter, and we mailed a cassette of those twelve songs to a guy named Neil Fagan at the Bluebird Cafe. This was decades before the internet, and mom definitely did her homework and made some phone calls from the neighbor's party-line to get the info we needed. Neil responded with a lengthy, hand-written letter on Bluebird letterhead. We thought that was fancy. And Neil never said I was good, but he did go to great lengths to try and make us understand my potential, and the real opportunities awaiting us in Nash Vegas. That man played a pivotal role in my life without ever realizing it. He booked me on a writer's round, and we drove eight hours to play in the city that Hank built.

I would soon sign a single-song deal on a couple of those tunes, with publishers that I had met at that first songwriters' round. The next day, we headed to Demonbreun so that I could busk on a corner by the Hank museum. And some lady tipped me a twenty. Those damned moments...

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