Blue Lights (a demo)

This one is special.

When I was in high school in College Park and beginning to date, there were two main places where couples would go parking. (Remember parking? Making out?)  

One was down Virginia Ave. toward the Atlanta Airport. You took a road that ran beside the Holiday Inn, and at the end of that road was a precipice overlooking a runway. At night, the runway was lit with blue lights. Very romantic. And the destination told everyone everything. To go to Blue Lights meant you went making out.

I found the melody to this song playing with a loop machine, which plays a chord progression you started over and over, while you play a lead or scales or whatever along with it.

And sometime after that I had the first verse.

But then I was stuck.

I knew this could be special and would mean something to a lot of folks from College Park, so I wanted it to be right. So I didn’t rush it when frustration set in.

Finally after several months, I was watching a John Denver documentary. Early on when he was still with the Chad Mitchell Trio, Denver produced a Christmas album of his originals for his friends and family. His new manager Jerry Weintraub, who would go on to produce many hit movies, told him he had a hit on that album but the title was all wrong. The title was Oh Babe I Hate to Go, in the tradition of naming the song after the last line in the chorus. Weingtraub said, no, the title is “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” And as they say, the rest is history.

What I had forgotten was that that song spoke subtly of the angst surrounding the Vietnam War and the young men who were leaving to fight it.

Bells and whistles didn’t necessarily go off, not consciously at least.

But a few days later when a friend from my high school days posted a query on Facebook reminiscing about Blue Lights, I went back to the song and the “radio blared: I’m leaving on a jet plane….” and that fostered the bridge, which made the song something more than just a up-tempo nostalgic pop song.

Again, I love being part of this magical mystery tour of songwriting.

The response to this song has overwhelmed me. Far more than just hearing from old classmates, the response also has been local, particularly at a weekly jam I go to. They say you don’t have to be from College Park to appreciate it.  

Hope you enjoy it as well.

The above is just me and my guitar.

Blue Lights

We knew a place we could go
after the picture show
Park the car, make out
watch the planes land and take off

Blue lights on the runway
Sparkle like the stars in the sky
In our eyes we could see
All we needed to know that night
at blue lights.

First touch. first love,
The one you are so sure of
and we went as far as we dared
As the radio blared:
      “I’m leaving on a jet plane
      Don’t know when I’ll be back again”
     And it seemed so real 
       But it was only a dream.
(bridge):
then those friendly skies turned dark and gray
there was a war it was calling our names
some fought and some fought to stay away
and those blue lights were fading.

The years flew by and we all                                          
went our separate ways
far from home just like
everyone did in those days

but blue lights on the runway
sparkle again in my memory
just like it was
when we were young and free

when blue lights on the runway
sparkled like the stars in the sky
In our eyes on those nights at blues lights
..at blue lights….at blue lights
ah those nights at blue lights

 

 

I have since re-written Blue Lights and had it produced in studio.  To read about the re-write, click here.

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She Works Hard for Our Money (a demo)

This is what I refer to as a ditty. A cute little song thrown off for a laugh. A novelty type song.

It must be fairly simple to do because now there is a Ditty app that turns your text into a ditty.

This song came out of my joking with friends that yes, I am retired, while my wife works, and works hard. Melissa has had two different jobs here on the island, and at both of them she’s worked the equivalent of two jobs. So, as I began contrasting our daily schedules, it just naturally turned into a comedy routine.

The first time I played this out, our neighbors David and Judy were in the audience. They are very aware of the differences in our schedules, and when I sang the opening lines, they started laughing so hard I wasn’t sure I could continue without breaking up myself.

Anyway. Lest someone suggest that all my songs are serious, here’s one that is definitely not.

 

The above is just me and my guitar.

She Works Hard for Our Money

 

when i get up in the morning
it’s almost time for lunch
my wife doesn’t fix it for me
cause she’s already gone on to work

me, i plan a busy day
singing and playing guitar
it may sound good but it doesn’t pay much
and without her job we’d starve
      

she’s working hard for our money
 she’s got a day job down at the mall
 she’s working hard for our money
 and me, i’m hardly working at all

 

when she comes home in the evening
you’d never know she’s worn out
she’s getting ready for late night shift
down at the waffle house

me, i plan a busy night
singing and playing guitar
it may sound good but it doesn’t pay much
and without her second job we’d starve

she’s working hard for our money
working two jobs is awfully hard
she’s working hard for our money
and me, i’m hardly working at all

she’s working hard for our money
hey who says you can’t have it all?

 

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Thicker than Water

Thicker Than Water: Thomas Oliver and Craig Tanner

When: Thursday, January 28, 7 p.m.

Where: The Wormhole

Cost: $5 (includesWhen You Kissed MeCD)

Craig Tanner and Thomas Oliver at the Wormhole

For Savannah musicians Craig Tanner and Thomas Oliver, their upcoming duo gig is a family affair.

Though it’s a relatively recent development, a musical collaboration between the first cousins has been a long time coming.

“I’m a little bit older, so we didn’t really grow up together,” Oliver explains. “Our families lived in Atlanta, but we never played music before he got to Savannah.”

Though Oliver had a closer connection with Tanner’s older brothers, his work as an author and journalist was quite influential on Tanner.

“I’m kind of a political junkie, and I love to read, so I had more of a connection to him from a distance, because I followed what he did at the paper,” says Tanner.

music1-1-93c7e8e0e913a89a.jpg

Thomas Oliver and Craig Tanner

Tanner is a nonstop feature in the Lowcountry’s music scene, performing by himself, alongside Adam Nye in their duo Harbor Pilots, and in American Hologram.

Oliver often performs near his home on Tybee Island and in Savannah. From toe-tapping, catchy country tunes to haunting, wistful story-songs, the prolific writer is refreshingly versatile in both style and narrative.

While both Tanner and Oliver are known around town for their guitar and vocal skills, they also both act as quiet forces behind the scenes, nurturing up-and-coming and established performers in the area. Tanner hosts popular open mic nights at Abe’s on Lincoln and Molly MacPherson’s Scottish Pub; Oliver books the Savannah Songwriters Series, providing an all-ages, listening room environment to hear songwriters in the round. He also acts as host for the monthly event, introducing the players and singing a few tunes of his own.

On top of his own shows, open mic hosting, photography gigs, and being a new dad, Tanner has become a sought-after producer; he’s currently working on releases for songwriters like Phillip Wise and Britt Scott, Savannah band My Maiden Name, and several more local acts.

When Tanner moved to Savannah around four or five years ago, Oliver was running an open mic night on Tybee Island. Tanner, a budding musician, and his eventual Abe’s open mic co-host Mr. Williams, trekked over the bridge to give it a go.

After reconnecting, the cousins and multidisciplinary artists began collaborating in a variety of ways: Tanner shot photos for Oliver’s album Edge of America, and soon, the two began jamming.

Oliver invited Tanner to play the Savannah Songwriters Series.

“It sort of freaked him out, but it sparked his interest in getting serious about songwriting,” remembers Oliver.

“That was a big deal for me at the time,” Tanner affirms. “I wrote [American Hologram song] ‘Same Blue Sky’ in a rush to have one last song to play my four songs for the Savannah Songwriters Series. That got me really going on the songwriting thing, so I have Thomas to thank for pushing me.”

On Thursday, the cousins team up to present Oliver’s newest EP, When You Kissed Me, produced by Tanner.

Last year, Oliver got the idea for a “song blog,” wherein the dedicated writer would post a demo of new song, along with lyrics and context for the listener, as frequently as possible. At the time, Tanner was first trying his hand at recording and production, laying down tracks for American Hologram’s Same Blue Sky.

“I’m a major introvert, and from my photography days, I kind of realized that I love the timed process as much as I love shooting,” says Tanner. “It’s a long time tinkering by yourself. I had ProTools and an interface, and I said, ‘Instead of spending $5,000, give me a chance to buy some plugins and take our time and learn as we go.’”

He fell in love with the process.

“Besides writing, recording is my favorite thing connected to music,” he shares.

After Same Blue Sky was complete, Tanner was hungry to keep learning and recording and began recording Oliver’s song blog tracks as simple, straightforward live demos.

“He’s a prolific writer,” Tanner praises of his cousin. “He writes all the time.”

Fascinated by the project, Tanner saw an opportunity for Oliver to grow.

“I said, ‘I’d love to produce an EP for you and take four of these songs, go ahead and flesh out arrangements and record them.’”

Oliver agreed, suggesting that he surrendered creative control and let Tanner pick the tracks.

“He came back with the four he picked, which was really interesting to me—it’s not the four I would pick!” says Oliver.

“It was just intuition,” Tanner says. “It was sort of like how I run my life: there were just songs that jumped out at me. They’re fairly different songs, they really run the gamut. ‘When You Kissed Me’ is very dark—it was recorded that way. I imagine someone sitting drunk at a piano…and it’s almost silly, it was just that those four songs really, from the first time I heard them, struck a chord.”

“The grouping he did made it more interesting; he was clearly bringing his own artistic vision to the project,” says Oliver. “That made it very different from most EPs and CDs where you take your music to the studio. It was quite different from anything I’ve ever been involved in, and made it more interesting for the both of us.”

“We laid down rhythm guitar, and he never really heard anything else until I had recorded everything!” Tanner says.

Oliver’s past work has a distinct roots country feel to it, laced with pedal steel and standard country arrangements. With Tanner at the helm, his songs take on a new kind of atmospheric country sound.

Tanner opens Thursday night’s show with an original set and will join Oliver on guitar for a few songs, including cuts from When You Kissed Me. For music lovers throughout Savannah, this is a family reunion worth crashing.

Walk Around Blind (a demo)

It’s been said that everything is memory. Without memories, there is no real life.

But sometimes our memories, even the most important, are partly truth and partly fiction. Retelling them doesn’t necessarily clarify the thin line between reality and fantasy, rather it often blurs it. So that after years of repeating them, they are what they are, historical facts!

I’ll admit this song is somewhat strange. It is based on real experiences from my early years. I have pieced together parts that are true, as I recall, and parts that I have made up and/or concluded probably happened. 

And then there is the notion that some memories are purposefully distorted to hide the truth.

We are all blind to some truths from our past.

 

One of the things I have consciously been trying to craft into all my songs are what could be described as little nuggets in each verse, surprises maybe. Something that makes you think the song was written, not just thrown together. 

Lines like: “There was a yellow dog some said part wolf.”

And the next line: “Scared me to Jesus every time it barked.”

Later: “Others say the things they always say

like they know the outcome come Judgment day.”

The coda might not survive a professional production. If nothing else, it lengthens an already long song. It is unrelated to the story in a strict sense, but it does recapitulate the theme of what is and isn’t the truth in our memories.

The above is just me and my guitar.

Walk Around Blind

(chorus):
I can’t tell you the truth
Not sure I know it if I ran into it
I taught myself how to walk around blind
I wouldn’t know the truth now to save my life.

There was a yellow dog some said part wolf
Scared me to Jesus every time it barked
Lived with a woman down the street
She said things look a little better when she’d had a little to drink

(chorus)

Behind her house was a fishing pond
Some say the men went there to be alone
Others say the things they always say
like they know the outcome come Judgment day

(chorus)

Her child died from drinking gasoline
From a gas can used by a friend in need
And what he needed was beer and cigarettes
And what she got was a fate worse than death

(chorus)
(instrumental bridge)
(coda):

I once dated a homecoming queen
Her daddy pointed a shotgun at me
he said son you don’t have a prayer
he was right last time I checked

(chorus)

 

 

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House Concerts (hosting one)

If you’ve ever been to a house concert, you know they offer an intimacy unavailable at regular venues, bars or restaurants where you might go to hear music.

House concerts are up close and personal. And festive, as the guests are usually asked to bring a covered dish and beverage.

The hosts invite their friends and neighbors and provide accouterments and the space (for around 20). This can be in a living room/dining room with some furniture moved around. Whichever room(s) you decide, furniture will be moved most likely, unless you have your show outside: in the backyard and/or on the deck. It could also be in a clubhouse you have access to, eliminating the question of room and seating.

You invite family, friends (who dig music, because this is a show, not just a party), neighbors, colleagues, Sunday School class. Whoever.

Twenty is optimum for most house concerts. And as few as 10 can work.  But less than that and the dynamics disappear and it becomes a jam.

The songwriter should offer to provide you with whatever promotional materials (usually all electronic) is provided the standard venues.

You issue invitations.  Depending on the season, you might want to issue the invitations as far out as 6-8 weeks, as people’s summer schedules get jammed up pretty quickly.  Winter, not so much.

The invitation should make clear a few things:

— arrival time (don’t specify when the music starts, but usually an hour after the stated arrival time.)

— what to bring: your beverage of choice and a covered dish.

— we’ll eat and drink as you arrive.  Then we will put aside the food and drinks and move to the performance area.

(Before the first set, the host(s) will make it known that we won’t  be eating and drinking during the show as the seating doesn’t provide for that.  This eliminates having to even think about providing tables for food and drink.  Plus, to be honest, the attention is then on the songwriter and not plates and glasses and food and, oops, spills!)

— there will be a food/drink break and then another set.

— it all should last around 3 hours.

— the songwriter is not being paid but he will have CDs for you to purchase.

— If you are holding it outside, you might ask folks to bring a lawn chair.