Sunday, June 23, 2013

BSG Origin Story: Part 1

I learned to play guitar around about 1998. By 2000 I was playing at open-mic nights and doing shows with friends, friends who were very supportive in that I wasn't particularly good. We mostly did covers, mostly alt-country tunes like Wilco and Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash, Son Volt, Ryan Adams and Uncle Tupelo but occasionally more rocky stuff...Neil Young, Big Head Todd, Radiohead. I started writing my own songs around then. I did my first album in 2001, recorded and produced by my good friend Mike in his basement. The fruits of that labor can be found here!

I had a songbook of about 15 songs of varying degree. The shows I would do, usually just me and my guitar opening for my friends' bands, focused on covers but I began to work the originals in. I played in a sort of band with my friends James and Clay but nothing ever came of it. Part of it was that it just didn't quite click, but mainly I wasn't as in to being in a band as I was doing my own schtick. Then around 2004 I stopped. The writing dried up; I felt I didn't have anything to say anymore. I got married and all the angst that fed the creativity seemed to be sated. And I had always had a kind of disdain for cover bands. Well maybe disdain is too strong a word; doing other people's songs just didn't interest me. I loved the creation part of the music experience. Without that I lost interest. So I put my guitars away; even sold my electric Rickenbacker 330 (something to this day I regret immensely).

Original lyrics to "Fall"
including notes on the
demo I created on my
little Tascam 4-track
But music always stayed important to me. My wife will attest to this as she noted my regular CD buying, which in time became digital downloading (legally, I care to add). But there was no juice to playing out, to writing songs. I felt that had become a short interest, a strange little detour.

Then about two or three years ago (time has really become an odd concept to me...I really have no sense of it anymore) I finally accepted the suggestion from my friend Tom, whom I had played softball with for many years and who I knew was a guitar player, that we jam sometime. I had put it off for years, mainly because I hadn't played my guitar in years but mainly I was intimidated by playing with anybody of real talent. Finally he wore me down. I dusted off the songbook, got myself familiar with some of the old tunes, and drove over to his place in Centerville to play.

The thing I remember most about that first jam was how well Tom took to the songs. He seemed to generally like them. That was a kick; I was flattered more than anything else that someone would think well of my little stories. By then those songs were almost 10 years old in spots. The ones later in the book had been written with a band in mind but I had just not progressed that far. And then Tom finally badgered me enough where we jammed and it just clicked. So I started going over once a week to go through these songs with him. It didn't take long before the bug bit me again and songs started pouring out. So joining the ranks with older songs like "A Lot To Ask" and "Fall" and "Zero Confidence Level" and "My Waterloo" and "Take Control" came new ones like "Confederate Gold" and "Roadside Crosses" and "Maria With Child" and "California Specific" and "Any Day Any Way" and "Into Your Arms" and "Another Teenage Dream" and "Girl Gotta Gun" (with music by Tom!).

I knew it really clicked when Tom played me a snippet of "Take Control" on his portable recorder. He was working on the solo so he put together a basic rhythm track and programmed a drum beat behind it. He played me the track he had so I could get an idea of the solo. Now, "Take Control" was a song I was ready to jettison because I was still playing on my acoustic and felt it really wasn't working. Until I heard what Tom had done with it, which was to turn it into a noisy rocker. My jaw dropped. I will be the first to admit it wasn't like Jimmy Page hearing "Stairway To Heaven" I am not that delusional, but I was shocked that a song I wrote one way could be re-interpreted another, and that it would sound so great. I said to Tom over and over "That's my song! That's really my song!" It sounds dorky but it was really the moment Braddock Station Garrison was born; that I knew we were on to something pretty good. If not good, well at least something we would enjoy.

I am reminded of this because on my trip to the Record & Tape Exchange in Fairfax I bought, amongst other things, a copy of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water for $3. And on that record is a song called "The Only Living Boy In New York" which to me is one of the best written and best produced songs ever. Let's give it a quick listen:

If I could write a song that is 1/16 as good as this song I'd be ecstatic. I love everything about this song. Paul Simon's (completely and criminally) under-appreciated guitar playing, the amazing lyrics, the perfect production, and that singing. Christ, that singing...those harmonies. Listen to the bridge where the voices sound like angels coming down. This song pretty much convinced me I was a hack and I should just stop trying to write songs because nothing I write will come remotely close to being as beautiful and perfect as this.

Happily I got over that. I won't even say too late because I think if I hadn't of stopped for a while I might not have started playing with Tom and I wouldn't have met Michael and Patrick. Braddock Station Garrison is a band. While it might be my name in the song-writing credits (something that will be changing) it takes all four of us to breathe the life into the songs. Each member brings his own touch and personality and interpretation to the song. And for me, I have grown enough to not be put out by that, to not be intimidated by that. Sure, there are sometimes things I hear in my head that I think are essential for us to capture, but for the vast majority I want my bandmates to take the songs in the directions they think best.

Bandmates is an accurate term but it's not the right one. These fellows are my friends, and I am damn glad to have finally found them. I will save the story for when we met those two guys for another time.

By the way, if you want to hear and see what we are up to, we'll be doing a free show at The Black Squirrel in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC on Sunday July 21. We shall be back with the electric instruments so we'll be making a wonderful ruckus.

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