One autumn night, in my hometown of Effingham IL, back in 1988, at the Green Lantern bar and grill, my cousin Troy asked me if I had heard of the band Guns-N-Roses. I wanted to seem cool to him, so I lied and said yes. Up to this point, my musical tastes had been straight retro. I grew up on Willie, Waylon, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Jerry Lee, Gram Parsons, Emmy Lou Harris, Johnny Cash, Linda Rondstadt, The Eagles, etc. It was stuff my Dad played in his band, Mishawaka. In fact, one year, for Christmas I got the album Urban Chipmunk, if that tells you anything. Then, in 1985, the movie Back To The Future came out. In 1986 it was Stand By Me, and in 1987, Dirty Dancing. I was on fire with the music of the 50’s and 60’s. Obsessed really. It was Buddy Holly, Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bill Haley, Eddie Cochran, and all the do-wop groups. Motown, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks and The Stones. It helped that Mellencamp, Billy Joel, Springsteen, and Elton John were all reliving the 60’s in the 80’s. I was the dorky kid who wore red Chuck Taylors, a plain white t-shirt, rolled up jeans and my Uncle Don’s 60’s letterman jacket to grade school. I looked like a midget extra from the movie, Grease. I was dressed like this when I went into the Disc Jockey Record Store the day after my conversation with Troy and bought a cassette tape of GNR Appetite for Destruction. I remember walking home from the mall, cracking open the plastic and the smell hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know what that new cassette smell is, but nothing else smells like that. I opened up the liner notes with the crazy album art cartoon. It certainly caught my attention, but I was also certain that I’d wasted my money. The promo pic of the band made them look like homeless drunks. I got home, ran upstairs, shut the door, put the tape in my “ghetto blaster” and pressed play. I came out of my room four hours later transformed. That very night, I washed the grease out of my hair, took my knife and cut holes in all my jeans, and lifted a couple of t-shirts from my older brother’s concert tee stash. More importantly, I made it my priority to get into a real band.
My musical tastes had been updated overnight and a whole new sound and world of bands opened up to me. In short order I discovered The Black Crowes, early Aerosmith, Motorhead, Social Distortion, The Clash, Metallica, Johnny Thunders, Iggy Pop, Soul Asylum, Living Color, The Cult, Drivin’ N Cryin’, Tommy Conwell and The Young Rumblers, and Howling Wolf. Bottom line, I was a rocker. No soft “shit”. James Taylor was the epitome of hell to my 13 year old ears. It didn’t necessarily have to be electric and loud, but it had to have guts, balls, and had to be real. No 80’s Chicago, No late 80’s REO Speedwagon, and certainly no Air Supply. The only country music I listened to was Marty Stuart, Alan Jackson, John Anderson, Travis Tritt, and Johnny Cash.
It was the winter of 1990, when my friends and I were driving east on route 32/33 on our way out to a party, when my friend Leon popped in a tape of Steve Earle’s Guitar Town. I vividly remember looking at the red flour mill light, towering over the empty corn and bean fields and thinking, “What is this?” It was another transformative moment. Overnight I became obsessed with Steve Earle. It helped that I could sing and play all of his songs almost from the get, but it was the stories that I fell in love with. Steve was like a redneck version of Bruce Springsteen. He was one of us.
As the 90’s rolled in and Nirvana showed up on the scene with Pearl Jam and the swarm of grunge acts, I lost interest in a lot of “rock”. Grunge bands missed one important thing, as far as I was concerned, they forgot to have fun. Keef Richards said it best, “they still rock, but they forgot how to roll.” Thankfully, in the fall of 1993, my brother Bill gave me a copy of Uncle Tupelo’s album Anodyne and Steve Earle’s record, Exit 0. I loved Exit 0, but Anodyne really got my attention. Not for nothing, this was a record made by a band who lived less than two hours from me in St. Louis, MO. Anodyne was made almost entirely with acoustic instruments, and it was really, really good. Once again, my mind was blown. In 1994, Johnny Cash made a comeback with his American Recordings and that truly saved me. That album was my generation’s Red Headed Stranger. And thank the gods Steve Earle got out of prison in 1994, right in time to release Train A Comin’ in 1995, I Feel Alright in 1996, El Corozon in 1997 and The Mountain in 1999. Steve got me through the rest of the decade and locked me into the Alt-Country groove I’m still in today. It was Steve who taught me that it’s all right to like more than one genre of music. It’s all right to write in more than one genre of music. A writer goes where the muse takes him or her. Through Steve, I discovered Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Joe Ely, Steve Goodman, Steve Young, The Supersuckers and Chris Knight. I discovered Iris Dement, Tift Merritt, Allison Moorer, Lucinda Williams, Lori McKenna, Mary Gauthier, and Neko Case. I discovered No Depression magazine and I joined the Americana Music Association for a few years. I was founding member #177. Steve opened up a whole new world to me. It’s kinda where I’ve been ever since.
I went back through my Dad’s Bob Dylan records and my brother Bill moved to Austin and introduced me to Todd Snider, Robert Earl Keen, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Fred Eaglesmith. My education was nearly complete. And I even made up with James Taylor...kinda.
Back up to the fall of 1993, one other important influential thing happened to me. A friend of mine passed on a copy of Jimmy Buffet’s book, “Where Is Joe Merchant?” It was cheesy and predictable, but I was entertained. I had previously read Tales From Margaritaville and I appreciated the imagery and characters if nothing else. More importantly, the book inspired me to go back and take a look at Jimmy’s music. I already knew Margaritaville, Cheeseburger In Paradise, and Volcano on guitar, but when I heard Son Of A Sailor I was seriously impressed. He Went To Paris, A Pirate Looks At Forty, and Come Monday all showed off some serious writing chops. I no longer scoffed at goofy Parrotheads. Jimmy is a serious songwriter who made a fortune off of having fun. Not a bad gig, if you can get it. In fact, Jimmy paved the way forward, in a business sense, for the modern musician. Dave Mathews, Zac Brown Band, Kenny Chesney, Blackberry Smoke, and now virtually all serious acts owe their business models to Jimmy Buffet. I too am a student of Jimmy’s career and writing, and I’m also a fan. Strumming guitar on a beach, around a campfire, at a ski lodge, or even on a stool at some dive bar is still one of my favorite things to do.
So, when you listen and get tipsy to this album, you might tend to think that it’s just an acoustic experimental side “cruise” into the boat drink genre. And it kinda is. However, if you connect the dots and draw the lines all the way back, it will take you to a random evening in the fall of 1988, at the Green Lantern bar and grill, when my cousin Troy simply asked me if I had ever heard of the band, Guns N Roses.
And now you know...the rest of the story. Good Day!