Posts Tagged ‘guitar’

Christmas Surprise

December 25, 2015

imageMy biggest Christmas surprise was this gift from my brother. I’ve never owned a Fender Strat, and now look forward to getting used to one.  I’ve played acoustic throughout my life, and have always been clumsy on the electric.  Now, I’m more interested than ever before to see what I can do with one.

Thanks, Rick!

Still Tugging at the Strings

March 11, 2015
A DailyExercise

A Daily Exercise


How the devil do I know

if there are rocks in your field,

plow it and find out.

If the plow strikes something

harder than earth, the point

shatters at a sudden blow

and the tractor jerks sidewise

and dumps you off the seat–

because the spring hitch

isn’t set to trip quickly enough

and it never is–probably

you hit a rock. That means

the glacier emptied his pocket

in your field as well as mine,

but the connection with a thing

is the only truth that I know of,

so plow it.

“Truth” by James Hearst

My head is finally beginning to clear after a frenetic series of days. I was thrilled to make a sale of one of my watercolors to a friend I’ve known from high school, living in the St. Louis area. My parents and siblings still live there, so I packed my Jeep and departed Saturday night, driving the entire night, to get there, deliver it, and enjoy my family. But business has also called me back to Texas, so I rose early Tuesday and drove back (about 10.5 hours each way). During all that windsheld time, followed by quality conversations with my family whom I see so infrequently, there has been plenty of time to think about what drives me the most–the creative process. I strove to practice creative endeavors while away, and continued that today, despite a busy schedule.

While in the St. Louis area, I attempted a pair of plein air watercolor sketches of a cedar growing up beside my parents’ driveway.

Cedar One

Cedar One

Cedar Two

Cedar Two

No matter how crushed my schedule, I really enjoy drawing out the simple watercolor supplies and working on fast sketches such as these. I’ve never felt that I express this properly, but there is a connection I feel with the subject I’m trying to capture, a relationship so to speak. I know I cannot reproduce the object with photographic accuracy, but that’s not what this is about. I’m simply trying to capture its essence, to record some kind of recgonizable representation of what lies at the center of my visual focus. And that relationship, that feeling, is what I enjoy so much, even if the painting or drawing turns out crappy. I would be lying if I said I fished all day and had a wonderful day, soaking up the environment, even if I never got a strike. When I’m “skunked’ fishing, I don’t call it a good day. But I do have a good day–every time–when I’m painting or drawing, even if the piece of art doesn’t work out. The finished result never rises to the excellence of the experience, no matter how fine the finished piece may look. And I am so fascinated with drawing and painting that I stare at passing landscape and objects as I drive, figuring out compositions that would make the objects into decent art.

I posted James Hearst’s poem at the top, because that theme has been running through my consciousness throughout this harried day of packing and organizing for a watercolor workshop I’ll teach soon. Recently I have made myself a promise that a day would not go by without my practicing my guitar and my art. Too many times I’ve griped about not being better at what I do, knowing full well that I will not get better, without practice, without daily application, without study, without discipline. Talent alone will not cut it. I’ve always known that, though I have not always practiced it. I am always running into people who call themselves frustrated artsists or musicians. Yet these frustrated folks never practice their craft; they only complain about being frustrated. I know there is no royal road to improvement. In spite of a harried stretch of recent days, I took my guitar and art supplies with me and got them out daily, telling myself I have no excuse and need to stop griping. The “connection” with a thing is the only thing we can know, so we should “plow it.” So today, I have plowed, with guitar and watercolor brush, even though I had a million details to tend surrounding the business I’m trying to run.

Thanks for reading. I’ll keep plowing.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Inner Child Rejoices Over a School Cancellation

February 22, 2015
Grading. Grading. Grading.

Grading. Grading. Grading.

Beyond thy lectures learn’d professor,

Beyond thy telescope or spectroscope observer keen, beyond all mathematics,

Beyond the doctor’s surgery, anatomy, beyond the chemist with his chemistry,

The entities of entities, eidólons.

Walt Whitman, Eidólons

The word came around 8:30 this evening, an automated phone call–school is canceled tomorrow due to inclement weather. Outside, freezing rain and 30-degree temperatures reign, and the thermometer is not expected to rise above freezing before Tuesday. Facing a midnight deadline for the high school report cards tomorrow night gives me some breathing space, as I’ve posted the picture above of my remaining papers to grade. I can do that tonight and tomorrow with no classes to teach. The coffee has smelled good all day, and I’m delighted to see progress made on this end. I plan to continue grading well into the night so I can pursue some more creative interests tomorrow during the snow day.

Aside from grading all day, I’ve put in plenty of acoustic guitar work, having moved my amps and guitars into my study area. The new strings certainly gave the guitar a much fuller, grander sound. I have plenty of gratitude toward David Crosby, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and several Blues guitarists for giving me plenty of inspiration during this weekend drudgery of grading. And . . . I really plan to pick up the brush and pursue watercolor tommorrow! It’s been far too long. My occasional breaks today led me into reading Walt Whitman poetry, and I’m always frustrated when I want to explore the world, and instead have to grade papers. At least the Philosophy students’ journals gave me plenty of sustenance throughout the weekend.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not really alone.

Warm Memories to Fight Back Against a Cold Day

February 5, 2015

In art, we are the first to be heirs of all the earth. . . . Accidents impair and Time transforms, but it is we who choose.

Andre Malraux

Texas Wesleyan University

Texas Wesleyan University

What a frigid Texas day! I know the Midwest and Northeast received the worst of the winter weather, but boring Texas gave us a 32-degree day with darkness and environmental dimness and not a trace of snow. Just cold. When high school let out, I had some administrative business to tend at Texas Wesleyan University in neighboring Fort Worth. Being strictly an online teacher at this time, I had no idea how much I missed that campus. Posted is a photo I took of the administration building after I had lumbered up and down three stories of stairwells inside. This morning, we discussed rustication in my A. P. Art History class, pointing out the Romans’ use of it in architecture and how the Italians picked it back up again in Renaissance times. I couldn’t resist shooting this facade, thinking back over what we had discussed earlier.

Once in the library, I returned to a spot on the top floor that I had always referred to as Luther’s Tower.  It was here that I cloistered myself before and after evening lectures, always enjoying the sight of the distant Fort Worth skyline to the north.

Fort Worth Skyline from the Top Floor of the University Library

Fort Worth Skyline from the Top Floor of the University Library

Fifteen years!  That is how long ago this university hired me to do adjunct work for them. It still seems like yesterday, and the longer I sat in that overstuffed leather armchair reading Wallace Stevens, the more I had to brush the memories away like a cloud before my face. It was a comfort in the best sense, a warming sensation on a frigid day that tried to bring depression in its claws.

Guitars Waiting for Me

Guitars Waiting for Me

Once I arrived back home, my waiting guitars made a good day even better.  My friend Reid had given me plenty of inspiration and material to practice from the night before, and I was anxious all day to begin work on these pieces. I’m glad to have an evening at home again–a chance to do some things that matter to me.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Little Slide Guitar

February 3, 2015
Practicing Slide Guitar

Practicing Slide Guitar

We set up a lot of academies for ourselves, a lot of rules; the process of developing over time, loosening up and becoming free, is really the hardest thing to do.

Gregory Amenoff, New York artist

This will be short, as I had another commitment tonight that was school-related. On top of that I’ve had to spend more prep time for tomorrow’s classes, and now the hour is late.  Thanks to all of you who responded to my last post–it is you that make me want to write more and write better.  I’ll work on that.

A parallel I’m experiencing between my watercolor and my guitar playing the past few weeks is this notion of trying to break out of all the disciplinary procedures I’ve learned throughout the years, concentrating on all the rules and not on style (whatever “style” is!).  With watercolor lately, I’ve tried to break a few rules and follow some notions that I “felt” rather than learned and practiced throughout the years.  And now, after picking up the guitar following a lengthy hiatus, I’m doing more of the same.

As I wrote earlier, I’ve returned to a serious look at blues music, and for the past 72 hours have stolen some moments out of each day and evening to slip a brass slide on my finger and practice with open tunings (in G, D, and E).  The more I work the slide, the looser I feel my playing is, and I’m beginning to hear some things I like (playing slide guitar used to guarantee that I could empty a roomful of people within seconds).  The more I read of how Robert Johnson pushed the boundaries of music with his slide techniques, the more excited I’m becoming with these possibilities.  When I read this interview with New York artist Gregory Amenoff this morning, I was pleased to hear someone articulate what I’ve been feeling of late, so I posted his words to open tonight’s blog.  As the days unfold ahead, I hope I’ll be able to give some quality time to exploring these freedom boundaries.

Thanks for reading.


Life by the Drop

July 12, 2014
And Old Friend Waiting to be Played

And Old Friend Waiting to be Played

Hello there, my old friend

Not so long ago it was till the end

We played outside in the pouring rain

On our way up the road we started over again 

You’re living our dream oh you on top

my mind is aching,’ Lord it won’t stop

That’s how it happens living life by the drop

Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Life by the Drop”


I wasn’t prepared for all of today’s bonuses.  I gave myself until Sunday night to finish cleaning out my third bedroom, and actually had it finished before noon.  Now I have all my guitars, amps and unframed art work installed in that room in orderly fashion, with still plenty of room for walking about–no clutter now.  Suddenly I have a combination music room and gallery added to my dwelling.  And to top it all off, I received a phone call from a guitar buddy whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, ready to get back together and play guitars again.  We turned out to be on parallel planes, each not knowing of the other–both of us are clearing out an unused portion of our home to create more creative, livable space.  I can’t wait to see him.  He was the one who taught me to play the song posted above, one that still tugs at my heart every time I think of it.

Reid, thanks a million for the call.  You lifted spirits that were already soaring, Buddy!

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember. 

I journal when I feel alone. 

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

The Passing of a Local Blues Guitar Legend

February 9, 2011

Zeb Cash-Lane, holding his Fender Jazzmaster

My Watercolor Tribute to Zeb

Zeb Cash-Lane passed away yesterday, February 8, 2011.  He had taken me under his wing back in 2006 when I was trying to find my way as a blues guitarist.  I played side guitar for him at the Peppermill Lounge in east Fort Worth, Texas for a few months spanning 2006-2007.  Zeb’s health was failing then, and when news came this morning that he had died, I could only hope he hadn’t suffered.  I had seen him on many days when it was a struggle just to draw a breath.  I’ll always remember with gratitude what he taught me about guitar, music, performance and a host of other matters relative to the music environment.  And I will always recall the sensations of his Fender Stratocaster shrieking in the night as he belted out his original blues compositions.

I close by posting recollections recorded in my personal journal the morning after I met him:

Friday morning, October 13, 2006, 7:50 a.m., Martin High School Philosophy Class:

Last night, I had a life-altering encounter at a recording studio in east Arlington.  I met for the first time Zeb Cash-Lane, an aged blues musician, specializing in harp and searing electric guitar (Fender Jazzman played through a Fender tube amp).  It was a night to remember always and I now attempt to record the visions . . .

7:00 p.m. Thursday found me pushing my Jeep westward on Abram, with temperatures dropping, a chilly October evening and a sun sinking large, flooding the western sky with color.  Looming silhouettes of tire shops and tattoo parlors paraded down the corridors of my peripheral glances.  Finally, the cinder block building came into sight.  Jim Farmer waited outside on the parking lot with a slender, rangy man sporting a Rasputin-like full white beard, faded jeans, suspenders and a gray-blue “Charley Guitar Shop” T-shirt.  I was introduced and shook hands with Zeb Cash-Lane.

Inside the dim studio room that doubled as Zeb’s dorm room, we heard the searing electric blues that Zeb ripped.  It was an authentic Blues environ: whiskey bottles, ashtrays, Zeb rolling his own cigarettes, scattered amps, guitars, a cello and even an upright piano.  The room had the clutter of a maintenance shed or electrician’s shop, but it was a music room.  A Blues room, a three-dimensional photo gallery of where Zeb was and where Zeb had been.  Jim Farmer played his new electric bass, Zeb played his Fender Jazzman and I played my Martin D-35.  The Blues seared, screamed and moaned late into that cold October night.  Inside, the guitars cried while outside, the winds answered with a chorus of mournful, yet affirming howls. Stormy Monday set the tone for the Blues night in the studio.

After hours of playing, we sat outside on the concrete steps, weary but full of hope about our musical collaboration, and shared stories over cold beers.  I drove home, late in the night, numbed by the experience.

Silver Dollar Tavern (in progress), 4th of July, 2010

July 4, 2010

Silver Dollar Tavern

I’m excited to re-enter the studio at last.  The long hiatus can be best explained by a conference at Lake Tahoe, California, followed by travel weariness and the need to clean my studio.  Finally I have my energy back and a place to work.

While cleaning the studio, I came across a large watercolor I had begun about 5-7 years ago and abandoned, then forgot about completely.  I almost threw it away, but after looking at it over the past several days, decided that I could rescue what was earlier considered a botched attempt.

Last night I added the guitar player (myself), the GMC pickup (that appears in another watercolor of mine titled “Brian Plays the Blues”), and signage from some abandoned sites in New Mexico I photographed on a road trip three summers ago.  I think these props have greatly improved the overall composition of this piece.

This is much larger than I’ve grown accustomed to creating (about 22 x 14″).  I’m getting lost in the detail, but loving it.

The setting is what’s left of the Silver Dollar Tavern, a road house that my father frequented before he entered the Korean conflict.  It is located along old U. S. Highway 61 (the Blues route, hence the guitar player recently added) in the small town Old Appleton.  The place has great memories for my father–a bar on the ground floor and dance hall on the second.  It has memories for me as well.  Before Interstate 55 was created, we had to travel the winding Route 61 to visit my grandparents in rural Jackson, Missouri.  From St. Louis, the trip was 2 1/2 hours and dreary for me as a child, save for some of these relics that would catch my eye along the roadside.  Once I-55 was in place, an hour was cut off our travel time, so we no longer had to fret about weary two-lane travel.  Many decades later, I returned to old Route 61 and took quite a few photographs.  Finally I am getting around to painting some of these abandoned sites.

Thanks for reading.

Kat Under a Hot Tin Roof, February 11, 2010

February 11, 2010

Kat Under a Hot Tin Roof

Isn’t it funny how we as artists practice the “dance of avoidance” (Ted Orland, Creative Authenticity) when we have all the time in the world to practice our craft?  Why do we do that?  Why do I do that?  I got sick last week, the doctor ordered me to stay home for four days and recuperate, and what did I do?  I worked harder on my lesson plans, anticipating my return to the classroom.  I’ve taught 22 years!  I don’t have to re-invent the wheel for public school!

Now, north Texas is expecting up to 8 inches of snow.  Tomorrow’s (Friday) classes are already canceled, and Monday is President’s Day.  So–I’ve just inherited another 4-day weekend.  I’ll get to know myself a little better this time, perhaps, and have something to show for the hiatus before I get back into the classroom next Tuesday.  Right now, I’m just sitting, chilling, and rhapsodizing on the huge, HUGE snowflakes filling the sky outside my study window, and recalling–Oh yeah!  a blog for today!  So, here goes. . .

I’ve had the privilege of playing acoustic guitar and singing in a band for a number of years now.  I have posted a watercolor of Kat Duke, one of our most amazing charter band members.  Kat is a gifted, soulful song writer, acoustic guitar player and vocalist (my how dusky and sultry her alto voice is!).  She and I began pulling people aside back in 2004 to play together, and, next thing we knew, we were a band with gigs on the calendar.  Through the years, band members came and went, but Kat always remained steadfast.

Finally in January 2008 Kat decided to pursue her long deferred dream of moving to the Pacific Northwest and living out the life of a folk singer.  She boarded a plane for Seattle, and we were all saddened to lose her, yet proud of her brave step into the future.  Before she departed, I secretly created this watercolor of her.  The pose came from a photo I took of her playing my guitar in my art booth at a festival at Kessler Park in Oak Cliff, Dallas.  I created the brick wall from my imagination, and added graffiti of all the band members who had played with her since 2004, and a logo of the band that she and I stayed with the longest–Interchangeable Parts.

Anytime I want to hear Kat’s voice, I only have to look at this painting.  And it all comes back . . .

Bluesville USA–Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago, February 10, 2010

February 10, 2010

Here is the third and final watercolor submitted to the juried exhibition of the Arlington Visual Arts Association.  The Blues are my passion, and I think Buddy Guy is the greatest living Blues guitarist and performer today.  It has been my pleasure to see him perform countless times, and finally, when I visited the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008, I made my way south of my hotel to visit his celebrated Legends nightclub.  My wife and I had flown in from our home in Arlington, Texas the night before, and as we entered his establishment, we asked the manager if Buddy Guy ever “hung out” in his own club.  His answer was, “Yeah, every night that he’s in town.”  Of course we had to know if he was in town.  We were in Chicago for a three-day stay.  “No, he’s performing a three-night venue in Houston.”  Oh well.  Still it was a great club, and the music we heard all three nights was Chicago Blues at its steamiest.

I photographed his club from every angle possible, finding it especially difficult from this perspective posted, with the constant obstruction of traffic lights, passing traffic, etc.  But I liked this angle, and gave it my best try.  I was intimidated by all the teals, as that is my least “cooperative” watercolor, so it seems.  I also struggled with the teals in an earlier blog post–the one of my St. Louis Jazz at the Bistro.  I found the neon-lit signs against dark windows very challenging, but was satisfied with how they came out.  I have tried neon a few more times in my more recent Waxahachie, Texas courthouse square paintings.  My attempts at capturing mildewed and stained concrete again took me back to the Andrew Wyeth coffee table books in my collection.  I spent a great deal of time looking at his drybrush renderings of the concrete buildings at Kuerner’s Farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.  Wyeth has constantly “taken me back to school” when it comes to solving problems in drybrush renderings.  Finally, I had to try my hand at that vertical corner sign surrounded with light bulbs, featuring the illustration of a young Buddy Guy.  Lettering is my Achilles heel, and there was plenty of it to fight in this sign.  I’ll have to keep chipping away at the lettering issues because I love signage in watercolors, just as I do when I’m out looking at old commercial buildings downtown.

I miss Chicago, and look forward hopefully to spending more days in that Windy City.  It features one of my favorite art museums, my favorite musical genre, and the entire downtown is an architectural wonder to me.