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A “Joe’s Greatest Hits” album would include the prizewinners:

Page from the Activity Book.

I’m Giving Mom a Dead Dog for Christmas (2001)

Oil in the Cornfield (2007)

Prehistoric Roadkill (2008)

No Good Songs About the War (2009)

One Gas Station (2013)

Playing in the Ruins (2014)

Bluebird on My Windshield (2017)

I Really Don’t Belong Here (2018)

–plus a handful of songs that never won any prizes but keep getting requested by audiences (which I suppose makes them “greatest hits”):

Perverts, Fornicators, and Loud Mouthed Women

Pole Dancing for Jesus

The Frog Next Door

Of those, I have good professional recordings of “Bluebird” (from the Santa’s Fallen CD), “One Gas Station” (from the Pole Dancing for Jesus CD—and also from the Naked Album), and I’ll have good recordings of the Gospel Trio performing “Oil,” “War,” and “I Really Don’t Belong Here” from the upcoming “serious songs” album.

I want to re-record “Ruins” (for Clint’s “arco” bass lead) and “Frog” (which has both an “arco” lead by Clint and a banjo lead by Barb), and record “Dead Dog” with the Trio, too, because the recording on the Santa’s Fallen CD has a glitch in it (I really want the Trio’s harmonies, too).  There is a decent recording of “Pole Dancing” on the album of the same name, but again, I’d like to have the Trio’s harmonies if I can.

“Perverts” the Trio has performed before (at the “Inauguration Blues” concert in Nehalem in 2017) but never recorded.  And “Prehistoric Roadkill” has never been professionally recorded.  If I had to leave one song off the album, that’d be the one I’d pick.  It is a little obscure, despite having been a prizewinner.

So, five (or maybe six) songs where I can use existing recordings (provided Scott can master them), and six (or five) that need to be recorded fresh.  Three albums this year?  I might as well.

Slowly but surely, I’m performing again…  The Gospel Trio played the monthly open mike at the Grange, doing “Green River” (sung by Clint), “No Good Songs About the War” (me), and “Sin City” (Barb).  I’ve arranged to host the monthly open mike at Yo Time, two weeks from now, and there I’ll play solo my Groundhog Day song, “Punxatawney Phil’s Blues,” Skip Johnson’s “Young Donohue” (for storyteller Dan, who was looking for Oregon Trail material), and maybe “The Dog’s Song.”  The Arts Center is having an open mike the next day (Sunday, January 20) and I should probably go to that one, too.  That’s Martin Luther King’s birthday; I should play social-justice songs if I can (I only have a couple of those).

I did sit in with Midnight Gumbo—just one set—when they played Wednesday night at the Eagles, and that was okay.  The crowd got “Perverts, Fornicators, and Loud Mouthed Women” (of course), “Cuddle in the Darkness” (had a couple out on the dance floor for that one), and “Naked Space Hamsters in Love” (requested)—and I was told afterwards my singing was pretty good.  I will do that again.  I am determined to return to normal as quickly as possible (whatever “normal” is, these days).






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Well, some good news, in the last hours of 2018…  I was advised by the Songwriters Association of Washington (D.C.) that my Alzheimer’s two-step, “I Really Don’t Belong here,” got Honorable Mention in their Mid-Atlantic Song Contest.  I e-mailed SAW’s president, thanked him, and advised him of my desire to donate the song to some Alzheimer’s charity, and asked him for any ideas.

One of three of my CDs now “in rotation” on the Bay City Arts Center’s radio station, KAYN 92.9-FM.

One more I can add to my short list of songs that have won prizes.  It now looks like this:

I’m Giving Mom a Dead Dog for Christmas—3rd prize, Tillamook County Fair Talent Show, 2001

Duct Tape—2nd prize, Oregon State Fair Talent Show, 2005 (it had previously won 1st prize in the Union County Fair Talent Show)

Oil in the Cornfield—honorable mention, Woody Guthrie Song Contest, 2007

Prehistoric Roadkill—1st prize, Wheeler County (Oregon) Bluegrass Festival, 2008

No Good Songs About the War—1st prize in a “Can You Write like Dylan?” contest in England, 2009

One Gas Station—Grand Prize, Oregon State Grange Talent Show, 2013

Playing in the Ruins—1st prize (Country), UK Songwriting Contest, 2014

Bluebird on My Windshield—1st prize (Variety), National Grange, 2017

I Really Don’t Belong Here—honorable mention, Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, 2018

Almost enough for a “Greatest Hits” album, there.  Maybe I shouldn’t call the serious songs CD “The Last Album,” after all.

And I have professionally-done recordings of all but one of those songs—some from the Santa’s Fallen CD, one each from the Pole Dancing for Jesus and Deathgrass albums, and some from the Playing in the Ruins album.  There are a couple from the “serious songs” album, too.  “Prehistoric Roadkill” is the only one that’s never been recorded in a studio.  Producing the “Greatest Hits” CD may be just a matter of mastering all those disparate tracks

Slowly but surely getting things done…  The Play has been sent off to the Riverbend Players, who were soliciting plays for their 2019 season; the 2018 Songbook has gotten its final corrections, and been sent off for (maybe) printing; cover, label, and liner notes are done for the all-Gospel album (poster’s done for the Songwriting Contest, too); and I’ve practiced “Ballad of the Dodson Drifters,” and will see how it comes across with the band.

I didn’t play New Year’s Eve with Midnight Gumbo—my guitar playing still isn’t good enough for that—but I did go to the New Year’s Eve party at the Arts Center, where they said they’d be loading new music onto the radio station’s playlist.  So now KAYN-FM (92.9) has three of my CDs “in rotation,” and we’ll see what (if anything) people think.  Rob Russell has decorated the station’s “studio” with a bunch of posters of mine, which was nice.

I have figured out, I think, how to handle the Activity Book project.  Like a lot of what I do, it needs structure.  How about I finish at least one drawing a day?  (I’ve done four thus far as this is written, but am happy with only two of them.)  I am not a very good artist—I was just an editorial cartoonist, after all—but I expect drawing is another thing that will improve with practice.  Some of the activity pages can be done on the computer, too—and I’m much better on the computer than I am drawing by hand.



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Tentative order for the “serious songs” album:

Velvet Joe, the dada painting by Tami the barber. The eyes follow you…

Always Pet the Dogs—slow two-step (with Barb on autoharp)

Oil in the Cornfield—mod. tempo folk (Barb on mandolin)

Cuddle in the Darkness—slow two-step (arco lead by Clint on the bass)

Dead Fishes—fast bluegrass (Barb on mandolin)

The Guy Who Went Away—slow two-step

Everybody’s Gonna Be Poor—fast bluegrass (Barb on banjo)

Crosses by the Roadside—slow kaddish (Barb on guitar)

Hank’s Song—mod. tempo two-step

I Really Don’t Belong Here—slow two-step

Last Song of the Highwayman—medieval two-step

No Good Songs About the War—slow march

11 songs, there, with (mostly) the usual alternation between fast and slow (a little more difficult this time, since my serious songs have tended to be slow).

The above means I don’t have to include “Ballad of the Dodson Drifters” if I don’t want to—11 songs really is enough for an album, and we really haven’t practiced the “Drifters” song much (and I hadn’t managed to sing and play it acceptably).  However, I may have figured out how to do that, and we’ll give it one more shot—at our next practice—and see how it goes.  There is room on the album for it if I want to include it.

The “Drifters” song is very long, well over six minutes.  (I hadn’t yet imposed my “3-1/2 to 5 minutes” rule back in 1978 when I wrote this song.)  When lead guitarist Jeff Tanzer (now the late Jeff Tanzer) recorded the song, he left out the second chorus, which did help the length a bit—but I think it made the music more difficult for other musicians to follow.  If I put the second chorus back in—giving the song three verses and three choruses—it all makes more sense.  (I’ve tried that at home, and think it’s better.)  It might make even more sense if I take the extra eight lines at the end of the third verse and call them a “bridge.”  I also want to change the key—to A instead of G—to make it easier to sing.

Results are in for the UK Songwriting Contest—and once again, I didn’t win anything.  My Alzheimer’s two-step “I Really Don’t Belong Here” got a grade of 6.5 (on a scale of 1-9) and a print-it-yourself “Special Mention” certificate; my other entry, “Not Playing the St. James Infirmary Blues,” got a 5 (and a print-it-yourself “Commended Entry” certificate).  I see no point in entering again.

I’d sent the same two songs to the Songwriters Association of Washington (D.C.) for their Mid-Atlantic Song Contest; winners for that one won’t be announced until at least December 31.  They have an “Awards Gala” thing in January; I don’t know if one has to go back there if one wins—but I’m not expecting to win, either.  I never have.

I was a member of the Songwriters Association of Washington for a couple of years, but not any more—with daughter no longer living and working in D.C., there didn’t seem to be any point.  The primary value I’ve gotten out of “SAW” is their list of criteria they say their judges use in deciding what’s a good song.  I’ve passed those on (for what it’s worth) to our judges in the Oregon Coast Songwriting Contest—and have used them myself in deciding what to send off to contests.





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One of those “tips from experts” articles recently emphasized the desirability of “taking baby steps.”  As long as you’re clear about your goals, they said, the size of the steps don’t matter.  Considering my lack of progress, the “baby steps” idea is a little comforting.  Herewith are some “baby steps” for 2019.

Cover photo for the all-Gospel album. The Bay City (OR) Methodist Church.

COPYRIGHT AND MARKET THE PLAY.  It’s ready; just need to do it.  It would be fun to see it performed (though I don’t know if that will happen).

FINISH THE ALL-GOSPEL ALBUM.  I still need to do the cover and label, and get the thing replicated.  Then we’ll see what kind of market there is for the thing.

DO THE “SERIOUS SONGS” ALBUM.  Currently in practice mode with the band.  We may not make it into the studio until sometime in January.  (Boy, are they good, though.)

WORK ON THE VIDEO ALBUM.  There are still some videography techniques I’d like to try.

PRINT THE 2018 SONGBOOK.  Big job—it’s over 200 pages—but that is the next step.  Everything else is done.

SONGWRITING CONTEST.  The only “side job” I’ve committed to for 2019.  I’ve given away my judging responsibilities; all I have to do this year is publicity and emceeing (and streaming).  And I think this time around I’ll have help.

JETTISON COMMITMENTS.  Sounds harsh, but it’s time to give up my vice-presidency of the Arts Center, my chaplaincy at the Grange, and my chairmanship of the Planning Commission.  I’ve done all those things for a few years now, and it’s time for someone else to take over.

And a FUN NEW PROJECT.  Suggested by my wife (and I really like the idea).  A “Coloring and Activity Book” to accompany the 2018 Songbook, patterned roughly after one I’d seen from Planned Parenthood.  Mine will be lots better; I’ve already got a bunch of ideas for inclusions.

And PLAY MUSIC A LOT.  My guitar playing went way downhill during my two “out of action” months, and the only way to recover (and improve) is to play every chance I get.  Practice at home, too.  I’m still not happy with my singing—and again, only practice is going to help.

I won’t (for a change) worry about WRITING.  I haven’t written much in the last few years.  Maybe, like the song says (one of mine), I’ve just run out of things to say.  I figure what happens, happens, and I will live with it.  I don’t plan on any TRAVEL, either.

At this point, SQUARE DANCE CALLING isn’t in the cards—my voice still hasn’t recovered enough.  I have basically turned the square dance club loose—and it looks like they’ll be okay.  They have found a new caller, and he appears to be pretty good (way more experience than I had).  I had been warning the club for the past couple of years that I wasn’t going to last forever, and they were going to have to figure out something else.  I’m not sure there’s any point in renewing my CALLERLAB license for 2019.

And CONTESTS in 2019?  I don’t think I’ll be entering any at this point; I have historically concentrated on contests where “finalisting” means going somewhere to perform, since I seem to do best that way—but after the travails of 2018’s trip back East, I am really not interested in traveling on a plane again.  I would still like to go to the “Songwriter Serenade” in Moravia, Texas, and experience that transplanted 19th-century Czech culture—but am I prepared to drive there if I become a finalist?  I don’t know.

Happy almost 2019, everybody.  Whatever happens, I do not think I will lack for being busy.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.



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How well did I do in 2018?  Well, in the 10 months I had available, I did manage to accomplish a few things:

Face mask at the Native American Museum in Washington, D.C. Yes, sometimes I feel like that.

I did finish THE PLAY.  It’s got its sheet music, and the whole thing, sheet music and all, is now a *.pdf file.  It still needs to be copyrighted.  I have approached a couple of local directors, but don’t know what they’d like to do.

WRITING was pretty poor.  My only 2018 song was the “dead man’s suit” one, inspired by daughter’s wedding.  It’s cute, but that’s about all one can say about it.  No collabs or musications, either—mostly because I didn’t put any effort into it.

On the INFRASTRUCTURE front, I did acquire a replacement for “Frank,” the venerable desktop computer (ten bucks at a yard sale), but haven’t configured it.  I did get the Arts Center a mini-soundboard for the radio station, and I got me a wireless mike for square dance calling (which I’ve used precisely once).

The ALBUMS?  The all-Gospel album is almost finished as this is written; the ”serious songs” album will follow.  I might have copies of the all-Gospel album in time to give some away as Christmas presents; the other album probably won’t be available until sometime in January.  I haven’t done anything on the Video Album.

Best I can say about CONTESTS is I haven’t won anything.  I did concentrate this year on contests that (1) I hadn’t entered before, and (2) that had no entry fee.  I can’t say as it helped.

In SQUARE DANCE CALLING, I had to belay my last dance of the year—and also the remainder of my lessons—after my voice gave out in October.  Rest of the year was pretty good; I even got to call three out-of-town dances for the Hayshakers.  I got given a huge collection of square dance records, too, which I’ve done nothing with to date.

Almost all my (and the Gospel Trio’s) GIGS in 2018 were repeats from last year.  The only new ones were a 2-hour solo performance for Neal Lemery’s book signing at Art, Accelerated, and a 2-hour show on Opening Day of the first-ever Lafayette (OR) Farmers Market (a favor for my good friend Angela, who was one of the organizers).  Both those were freebies.  I also did a 2-hour solo set for the Garibaldi Farmers Market—for which I never got paid.  (They’ve since gone out of business.)

Only SIDE JOB in 2018 turned out to be the Songwriting Contest, at which we had roughly twice as many entries as last year (none from England this time, though).  I didn’t do a Dylan Night, or Marie’s Birthday.

And my only TRAVEL was to New York for my 50th high school reunion in September.  Hard trip (the plane rides were the worst), but I think it was worth it.  First high school reunion I’d been to.  And I did get to play music while I was back there.

And 2019?  Coming up, it is.  I’ll get to it.



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Like Frodo said, “I’m back.”  Out of action for basically two months; it was not fun, and I don’t plan to talk about it.  I hope it’s over, and if it is, I’m glad.

The cover of the 2018 Songbook.

It is time to do that annual year-end review, preparatory to developing next year’s Worklist, and I’ll get to that (and that).  A few things have been happening, however, that ought to be talked about first.

The Gospel Trio has been in the studio; basic tracks for the all-Gospel album are done—just need to do some final tweaking, and the product will be ready to go to Disk Factory for replicating.  (I still have the cover and label to design, too.)

And it is a nice mix of stuff.  Timewise, the songs run the gamut from the 6th century A.D. (the Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision”) to Rev. Skip Johnson’s bluegrassy “Tune the Stings of My Soul” (2008).  All the songs are public domain except for Skip’s and mine.  (Mine is “Bungee Jumpin’ Jesus,” my only Gospel song with a serious religious message.  First time I recorded it, one uber-Christian person called me “a fundamentalist John Prine.”  I decided that was a compliment.)

Once the all-Gospel album is done, we’ll start work on my “serious songs” album.  About half the songs I want to do are ones the Trio hasn’t played before, so some practice is entailed.  I want us to be note-perfect when we go into the studio—the big savings in studio costs comes from being able to do everything “Patsy Cline style,” live and in one take.

And the 2019 Oregon Coast Songwriting Contest is a go—the Arts Center’s board approved it Monday night.  There will be (at my suggestion) a few changes from last year.  (1) I’ll get to bow out as a judge.  Following our one-year-old “tradition,” Hope Montgomery, last year’s Grand Prize winner, will be one of the judges, joining (if they agree) Eric Sappington and Neal Lemery.  Those other guys are much better judges than I am.  Myself, I’ll just handle publicity and plan on emceeing the event (as well as being Streaming Guru).

And (2) we’ll have two prizes this year.  The Pioneer Museum is putting up $500 for the best song about Highway 6, the historic Wilson River Highway (as part of their “Celebrate Highway 6” campaign); that’s in addition to our “standard” $500 Grand Prize for the best writing, which the Arts Center will put up from its own revenues.  We won’t charge extra for people to submit a Highway 6 song, either as part of their standard three songs or as an extra submission.

This year, (3) we’ll require submissions to be sent in electronically (no more mailed-in CDs), and to be either *.mp3 or *wav files.  Last year, we got entries in eight different file formats, some of which were hard to convert to readable and copyable form.

We’ll have (4) outside promotional money this year, too, in the form of a grant from county lodging tax revenues.  Those monies have to be spent on advertising outside the area—and this will be the first time we’ve ever been able to afford to advertise outside the area.  I hope we can get the Contest a lot more attention.

UPCOMING:  Not much.  The square dance club’s Christmas party is December 15, and I’ll go; I don’t know if my voice can handle calling any “tips,“ but I’ll bring the laptop and PA just in case.  That’s in the afternoon.  That same evening is the monthly Art, Accelerated open mike at Yo Time, and I’d like to go to that, too—it’ll be about my only chance to play my Christmas songs.



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The question was asked again, “Why would you play for free?”  For me, three reasons—and a caveat:

The stage at Kellish Hill Farm in Manlius (NY), where I played–yes, for free–on my trip back East. It was fun

First, I’ll play for free for a charity I really want to support.  There aren’t many of those.  I’ll happily donate my time, voice, and if necessary PA to the Bay City Arts Center (I’m on their Board), the Fairview Grange (ditto—I’m their Chaplain), Relay for Life (being a cancer survivor thus far), and the Paying It Forward Store in Portland (my favorite out-of-town charity).

Second, I’ll do it for free if I think it’ll turn into paying business down the road.  I will happily play a venue for the first time for free—I recognize that I’m an unknown quantity, and I would be expecting me to play for free as a trial run if I were in the venue owner’s shoes.  If they want me back, we will be discussing money.  In the same vein, I happily play open mikes; I can trace most paying gigs I’ve gotten back to somebody hearing me at an open mike.

And third, I’ll play for free if it’s fun.  Some of those are one-time events, like Rockaway’s Carnival in the Park; others are regular, like playing rock ‘n’ roll with Midnight Gumbo nearly every Wednesday night at the Eagles.

And the caveat.  I do have—still—a Concert Season; this year, it started in mid-March, and will run until mid-October or maybe early November.  I am usually pretty busy, and a majority of the performances in Concert Season are paying gigs.  My ability to do freebies accordingly gets a bit limited; yes, I’ll still do them, for the reasons noted above, but nothing is going to get in the way of a paying gig.

All that said, as Concert Season winds down, I do actively look for gigs of any kind, even freebies.  I want to keep my hand in (both hands, actually)—and just like with square dancing, the more you do it, the better you get.  And I insist on getting better.  So I’ll be playing this Saturday at a fundraiser for county commissioner candidate Mary Faith Bell at the Grange, and October 6 at an open mike at the Grange (with the Gospel Trio), and October 20 at the monthly open mike at Yo Time.

I’ve got the two albums to work on, too—the album of serious songs, and the all-Gospel (and mostly public domain) one, both with the Gospel Trio.  Before we go into Scott’s studio, I want us note-perfect on everything, so we’ll have some practicing to do.

The old ragtime tune I heard played at Kellsh Hill Farm in Manlius on my trip back East turns out not to be very old at all.  “Ophelia,” as it’s called, was written in 1975 by Robbie Robertson of The Band—but their recording (just like the solo performance I heard) sounds just like it came out of the 1920s.  I do want to learn that one.  It’s got some great lines in it.

And one more new thing to work on.  A former (and now very elderly) member of our square dance club gave me a whole milk crate (and then some) of old square dance records—some 33s, some 45s, and some (really old) 78s.  I need to listen to them all, convert to *.mp3 files the ones I want, and find somebody to donate the original records to.  I ‘spect it will take a while.


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