Saturday, March 12, 2011

Happy Birthday CJ!

This is my oldest son, CJ Watson. He is one of the most musically and intellectually talented people I know. I am blessed to know several but his status as my oldest son is critical to this conversation.

CJ just had a birthday. I wish he'd been home to celebrate it. Instead he's in Nashville TN where he's working as a songwriter and producer.

When I talked to him yesterday, March 11, on his birthday we talked a little about what we're doing here with Acoustic Indiana and I asked him to check in with us. He was less than enthusiastic.

"Dad" he said "I can get gigs in Texas or in Florida. They support their own people and outsiders they like. But I can't seem to get gigs in Indiana. I don't know that it's worth my time other than to help you."

He's right. But I want to change that. He's right because there aren't many places to play in Indiana. The music scene here is better than it's ever been but it's not good. I know that from way back.

The people who can change that are the people who read this post and decide to commit to doing the work of change. Indiana has bad habits. Bad habits don't change easily.

That doesn't scare me because what I have found in life is that I can change my own habits if I can decide what needs to change, make a commitment to change it, and then dig in and do the hard work that has to be done.

There are a lot of reasons I have spent the time I have on creating Indy Folk News and now Acoustic Indiana. The former required me to learn to do Yahoo Groups. Now I'm learning how to do Blogger blogs. It's hard and frustrating for an old fart like me to do some of these things but I am and I will.

I want to play some music, make some money, get CJ home to visit and maybe bring my youngest son in from North Dakota for a family jam, and when I die I want to leave the world a better place for music and the people who play it.

I have to say that this all started with CJ's great grandfather Charles Henry Howard.

When I was just a little kid I was at Granpa Howard's house visiting and he got out a guitar and strummed it. I was astounded. Even as a 4 or 5 year old I knew beauty. The chord he struck on the guitar struck a chord in my heart that is still ringing and I suppose that I will hear it through eternity!

I love music. God gave me the gift of love and music was one of the things I'm here to love and I don't mind a bit if that means hard work.

We all have to do something while we're here. Loving music and helping make it a better world to play it and hear it is worth my time whether I ever see a dime! I've spent some money over the years, a lot at Arthur's and Guitar Island and other music stores. I've given away more instruments than I've ever made playing the few little gigs I've played. And the money I've spent was well spent.

I have to go to work now. This post could be better if I had more time, but you know what? We don't need a sermon here. We need a conversation.

Can we talk?


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Let's help musicians, venues, fans, students, and stores connect!

Back in the olden days I used to do a lot of free gigs. I worked but usually it was for the common good and not a pay check. This picture was taken at a rally to save a school. I didn't have any money to contribute but I had a guitar and a few songs and a willingness to come out and play.

I've known a lot of musicians like that over the years. Playing music is something we do. (In my case not so well, but fairly enthusiastically!) How we get paid depends in part on how commercial we are (not very in my case!), the need, and for the markets and marketing to exist to bring the music to the people who want to hear it.

In the way I see the world music is important and so are musicians. And so are markets. And marketing...

Therein lies a story. A story of how a boy who began life on a twenty acre farm that his uncle farmed with two mules while his dad fought in WWII in the Philippines to an old guy in a fairly big city who drives the equivalent of about 400 horses at work every morning to take work release inmates to work. And who in his spare time writes blogs on computers which were not even invented when he began his life on the farm!

Now I am old, it's true, but I still can keep up with the young guys in conversation most of the time. I've learned some things over the years, including how to listen fairly well. Some of the people I listen to a lot are musicians. I love music after all and they are the ones who make the music happen.

One musician I listened to is a fellow named BJ Rogers. BJ spends more of his time running his music store, (Guitar Island, 4108 Madison Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46227-1529, (317) 780-0534).

As founder and editor of the Yahoo Group "Indy Folk News" I asked BJ "What can be done to help musicians?"

BJ answered "Frank! Find them places to play!"

I have talked about this many times with my son, CJ Watson. (Seems like there are a lot of initials in my life!) CJ is a music professional, author of "The everything Songwriting Book" and a Nashville, TN songwriter. The Everything Songwriting Book: All You Need to Create and Market Hit Songs (Everything Series)

CJ could write another book on getting jobs playing music because he is one of the few people I know who was able to make a living doing that while playing the honky-tonk bars of Indianapolis!

I know. As his dad I went to a lot of them and one thing I learned in the process is that honky-tonk bar owners are usually not very good employers! Dealing with them would be another book!

As a songwriter and music professional though CJ has often talked to me about the sorry state of the music business. Right now ASCAP is cracking down on anybody that plays cover tunes in an attempt to find revenue. I'm not sure that's the best thing to do but neither am I sure that it's not.

It seems to me that the music business needs a new look. I think it needs to change. And I don't think I know everything that needs to happen in order to change it the way it needs to.

Some things about the music business I find offensive. CJ might see them as a needed paycheck! I think there is a need for some honest and open discussion here. Not ranting, but not backing off from hard questions either.

In the Bible, in the story of Ruth, widows are allowed to go behind harvesters in the fields and get what grain is left. Boaz even instructed his workers to be generous in what was left!

Our society needs to start getting serious about paying it's bills. And larger bars and venues need to pay for what they are getting from the music professionals who sell their music to them. But what about the "little guys?" What about the "widows" or the tip singer on the sidewalk?

It seems to me that all these folks should be working together to "grow" the business so that there is enough for all. I could be wrong, I know, as it has happened in the past.

It is a changing world. Can we talk about the changes and see if we can't help make them work for everyone? To do that we need to help musicians, venues, fans, students, and stores connect. There are no real solutions when these folks are left out of the conversations. I believe there is business that is not being done because these folks are not connected properly.


PS Most of my songs are traditional or original so if I could just get good enough I might be able to work a little in retirement!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Love in Times of War

My life is made immeasurably better by being married to Barbara. Our marriage was a second marriage for both of us and in the early years we saw some pretty stormy times.

I was thirty-two, a father of two and just starting to play music and write songs and she was thirty-nine, had seven kids, and was going back to college, which was where we met. We were married when we met the first time, both separated from spouses when we met again. At the second meeting it took us a one floor elevator ride in the CA building at IUPUI to 1) discover we were both available and 2) make a date for coffee after class.

Barbara says today she wonders if it was the amount of coffee that we drank that was the cause for the intensity of the relationship that developed and the speed of it's development.

Now it is 36 years later. We have a long history of bad and good times and have come to love, trust, and depend on each other. We enjoy each other enough to start a new adventure together. We are creating a living history portrayal of Dr. Ben Franklin and a fictional servant "Goodye Watson."

I still spend money on musical instruments I don't have time to play and she has too many cats and dogs, often in the bed with her. And we are more in love and having more fun together than we ever have.

I've been playing more lately. Old Ben was a songwriter and musician and I plan to work that into the performance. I may not be a great stand up musician but I'm good enough to do a few songs that Ben wrote or would have sung, and it keeps Barbara from taking my credit card away before letting me visit the music stores!

I'm working full time but thinking that I need to cut back. I like my job OK but Ben Franklin and Goodye Watson need to do some traveling. I need to learn those songs I want to play and maybe on the side write a few more of my own.

But mostly I want for us to make the most of every day.

We are getting older.

We are in good health but have both had our health challenges. We both have faced surgery and chemotherapy. We know that one of these days our grand times will end. There's nothing we can do about that.

We are both Christians. We pray together and hope for a next life that will allow us to take joy in the presence of a loving god and of each other.

But in the meantime we are savoring the sweetness of each day. At my age my parents both had 4 more years to live. I eat better than they did and I've been working out at Ransburg YMCA, and I hope that I can have more years, and good years, than they did. But every day I give thanks that I'm here.

Barbara says that love in the retirement years is like a war-time romance. There is uncertainty in every day, every moment, and we cherish each moment.

We don't talk about the war though. We are doing all we can do. We talk about Goodye's dress and Ben's new suit and whether we should get a smaller tent that is easier to put up.

And sometimes I get out a guitar or mandolin and we sing our camp songs. Neither of us has a great voice but I do believe that sweeter music was never made.


Friday, March 4, 2011

First Post for Acoustic Indiana

In case you're wondering I'm the one in the center, dressed in a kilt. Flanked by Mike Locker on Gut Bucket and Caleb Hawkins on guitar we were having a great time at the Primitive Rendezvous at Friendship, Indiana at the NMLRA Spring Shoot!

Never heard of the NMLRA or the Spring Shoot? Well, that's one of the reasons for Acoustic Indiana to come into being. So that we can provide news of acoustic music where ever it's played! And we will talk about the musicians, music stores, venues, jam sessions, and any and all events or news of interest to those who love and play acoustic music or otherwise perform in acoustic settings.

We will be learning as we go! While we have published Indy Folk News for several years we hope to take Acoustic Indiana further down the road in service to the music we love and the people who make it. And don't worry! We'll be sure to include the people that make the instruments that the music is played on!

Frank Watson
Acoustic Indiana