The Day The Music Was Visited...Part Four

That's My Son

That’s My Son

 

I charged at this 50s rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly thing. HARD.

 

You could say I was given a vision in early 2010 that laid out the parameters of what The Holy Rocka Rollaz would become. Rocking. Authentically 50s. Bad ass. Fun. An upper midwest phenomenon that would bring joy to many.

 

There were wonderful moments of musical joy and ministry with drummer Matt Alexander and bassist Paul Jongeward in the South Dakota State Pen for several years. I shared with them the aforementioned vision, and soon enough, after a bit of reluctance, they bought in.

 

We found a cheap stand up bass online. It had, I'm not kiddin', weed whackers for strings. We learned a bunch of songs we knew would be fun to play in their original style and started rehearsing in Northeast Minneapolis with beers and the occasional bottle of whiskey. By studying the greats, a little bit of trial and error, we continued to do our best to capture the spirit of early American rock ‘n’ roll.

 

Apart from a couple of weird gigs in late 2010, nobody would hire us. One bar in Uptown Minneapolis did in early 2011; but they wouldn’t even list our name in the local trade ads. They thought our name was too religious.

 

So, here we were, a decently oiled rockin’ trio with a couple of hot sets...that nobody wanted to hire. We made a demo CD, a Youtube video and sent promo packages to places we thought might be receptive.

 

For awhile...nuthin’.

 

I finally received an email response from a very kind and enthusiastic gentleman named Bruce Fabio, who oversaw the North St. Paul History Cruzers Car Show that ran from June to September each Friday night.. He told me they’d love to have us. We were elated!

 

There was no pay involved, and we were told we’d be plugging into a lamp post stand for electricity. We were so hungry to get in front of people that those circumstances didn’t faze us at all.

 

We didn’t have a PA, so we went out and bought some powered speakers thinking they’d do the trick. The first Friday night in North St. Paul arrived. Folks, it was a steamer. Pert near 90 with tropical humidity. The evening sun shot straight at us as we unloaded our gear to set up on the side of the street.

 

We were excited. Nervous. Anxious to play. Sweating our butts off. After a bit of looking around we found the aforementioned lamp post and plugged in our solitary electric cord. As soon as we did, we heard an angry voice bellow out that let us know immediately this meant trouble. The voice shot out of the cheese curd stand. We turned our shocked gaze toward it and saw a man we knew was not to be messed with. He had the most piercing, grey eyes I’d ever seen. They cut right through me.

 

We knocked out his power. His business. He yelled at me, “If your amplifiers knock out my power tonight, there’ll be hell to pay.” I walked up to him, apologized profusely, told him we were instructed to plug into that lamp post and that we hadn’t even plugged in one amplifier yet. He didn’t care.

 

Thankfully, we’d only bumped a breaker switch. By pushing it back in, the cheese curd stand was instantly back in operation. But we could still feel those piercing, grey eyes burrowing in on our sweaty backs as we set up our very modest stage. With electricity now flowing and people starting to fill the streets to look at all the awesome cars, we pieced our sound system together...or so we thought.

 

There were old microphone cables that weren’t working, a microphone that decided to quit and another that was stolen as we set up. We didn’t even have the right adapters to hook up our newly purchased PA speakers. Here we were at our first gig that we knew somehow held extreme importance, and we couldn’t even get our sound system going.

 

I was shaken. My heart dropped and I had an overwhelming, sinking feeling. On top of that, I don’t do well in high heat and humidity. I was too dizzy to panic. So I went to my go to. I walked away from the stage mess, looked into the burning sun and asked God, “Lord, are you in this? I believe You told me to do this. Maybe I haven’t consulted You enough in this process.”

 

I turned back to the mess of our non-working equipment, ready to pack it in for the night. But, just a few minutes later a saint named Tony Braasch arrived and assessed our situation. With his expertise we started pretty much Macguveryin’ the set up enough for folks to hear some good, rough 50s rock ‘n’ roll.

 

It took us about two hours to set up that night, and for most of that time there was a very sweet boy with Down Syndrome who sat on Matt’s drum seat and had a blast playin’ with the drums. He loved hanging out with us while holding Matt’s drum sticks and a Mexican shaker. His smile provided a bright spot during our pandemonium.

 

So, with a barely put together sound system and a heartfelt prayer, we played our first set that night. If recollection serves me right, we opened with “Party Doll”,  and played for a solid hour in that blazing heat. It was a joy seeing all the heads turn as we did our thing. A crowd even gathered around us.

 

It came time for a much needed break and I was bustin’ for some ice cold water. I saw a sign on the cheese curd stand advertising a bottle of water for one dollar. I waited my turn in line, asked for a bottle and plopped a buck down on the counter. The man with the most piercing, grey eyes you’ll ever see pushed the dollar back at me and said, “Your money is no good here.”

 

“Man,” I thought, “This guy is still really hot from his power goin’ out.” But then, he plopped two bottles of water onto the counter. In a very serious tone, he pointed towards Matt’s drum kit where the boy once again sat down to play, and said, “You see that boy over there on the drum set? That’s my son. I was watching you guys all night long, and I really appreciate how you have treated him and let him be with you. Any time you guys want water, pop, cheese curds or fries, they’re free for you.”

 

Then, he smiled. Those piercing, grey eyes also showed the window to the soul of a man who fiercely loves his boy. We shook hands, he told me his name was Ben and that his son’s name was Adam.

 

Sure enough, in our three summers playing next to Ben’s cheese curd stand, we never paid for any of the best cheese curds we’ve ever tasted. (My daughters, to this day, compare all cheese curds purchased in the upper midwest to Ben’s. Nobody beats ‘em.) And, there were always cold drinks offered to us from set up to tear down.

 

Pretty much every Friday night Adam was waiting for us as we pulled up to our spot. He’d run to our green bag to pick up his drumsticks and shaker and assume his stage position. Adam rarely left our performance area and was often right by my side as I sang and played guitar. Many times he’d put his arm between my pickin’ arm and guitar; but not once did he ever cause me to miss a note. Not that it would’ve mattered. There was just so much joy happening.

 

Many times I’d hear this: “That’s so sweet you let your son up there with you.” One night a lady came up to me with tears in her eyes to let me know how touched she was seeing ‘my son’ with us as we rocked. She was dismayed when I told her he was the son of the cheese curd guy. She looked around a bit, turned her gaze back at me and gave me a heart felt, “God bless you.”

 

And that...He has. He continues to. I often wonder if my Creator was lookin’ down on Friday nights, beaming as I wielded my Gretsch and bounced around with Adam and the Rollaz.

 

Maybe He was watching me like Ben watches Adam. Maybe He was cheering me on.

 

And maybe, He was pointing me out to His Heavenly band of angels saying, “That’s my son.”

The Day SugarHill Studio Was Visited

The Day The Music Was Visited Part Three

The Day The Music Was Visited: Part Two

It's The Big Things

Standing on the west bank of the St. Croix River in beautiful downtown Stillwater blessed me immensely last week. The Rollaz put on a great show in front of an enthusiastic crowd. The weather couldn't have been any better. I had a smile for nearly three hours as I looked back at Matt pounding out rhythms and then to my left to see Lisa Lynn slappin' the stand up bass. 

Behind them was a cresting river and an awesome view of the historic Lift Bridge.

I kept thinking, "Man, am I lucky to be doing this."

When we charge at rockabilly and rock 'n' roll there's a soul-filled syncopation that creates a sound much bigger than our three-piece looks.

It feels like like gliding. It feels like Heaven.

Yet, as cool as the the show was, there were a couple of conversations following it that really blessed me.

We love getting approached by people after our performances. For the most part they just want to tell us they enjoyed the show and ask when and where we're playing next.

This night was different.

A sweet lady approached me and asked what our name meant. I went into my regular spiel about how I love it when Robin says "HOLY (fill in the blank) Batman!" in the Adam West Batman TV show. How I always chuckle when Lord Humongous is introduced as "the Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rolla!" in the "Road Warrior" movie. And how I wanted the name of the band to reflect our start doing prison ministry.

I often tell people, "We love the Lord. And we love rock 'n' roll."

People are either relieved or further perplexed when I share that. Sometimes an apprehensive look comes over their face while they wonder if they're about to get preached at. But this lady smiled when she realized I'm serious about my faith.

She told told me how much she and her family enjoyed the concert. She singled out "I Saw The Light" and said her family needed to hear that one.

Then she blurted out, "My mom died last night."

I didn't see that coming. I felt for her immediately.

She went on. "That's my dad over there. He said he couldn't just sit in the house tonight. He had to get out, so we came here. Your music really blessed us."

Then she teared up.

"She lost her legs. But now she's in Heaven. And she's whole. She's with the Lord and she was looking down on us tonight. She was here."

I agreed and found myself hugging this lady who just moments before was a stranger.

I felt even more blessed as she thanked me and returned to her family. I saw her dad wave a "Thank You" as they walked away.

That moment put things in perspective. I returned to helping tear down our gear. Just as Matt and I had most of the stuff in our cars, another lady walked up to us asking, "Is the band still here?" I told her we were the band, but that our performance was over.

She didn't care. She had a message for us.

"I live up on the hill and I heard you tonight. I wanted you to know what just happened. I have a three-year-old girl with a brain condition that stopped her from being able to speak. She's on medication and therapy, but I wanted you to know this. Your music was crystal clear up the hill and my daughter was dancing.

Then she said, 'Mommy! I go boogie!!!'

My daughter put a sentence together tonight! Because of the music! I ran down the hill to let you know that. Thank you!"

She left with a big smile. Matt and I shared one and went, "Cool!"

I hopped in my car double stung with those encounters.

I got to thinkin'..."They say it's the little things that matter."

Nah.

It's the big things.

NO LONGER UNEMPLOYED!!!

NO LONGER UNEMPLOYED!!!

When I tell folks this, they smile and say, "Congratulations! You finally found a job!"

I smile back and say, "No. I MADE one. Two actually."

With whatever's going on with the economy, finding a job with my skill set (or lack thereof) proved fruitless. So I picked up my lifelong passion and held up a sign that read, "Have guitar. Will work. Will sing. Will travel."

It's working!

I'd love to say this recently created career is firing on all cylinders throughout the year and providing everything my family wants. It isn't. But it is providing most everything we need. We're grateful.

If the band can start booking as many shows throughout the colder Minnesota months as we do in the summer, we'll be doing pretty well. Pert near what I was making with my 9 to 5.

And thank the good Lord I started a guitar teaching job on the side 10 years ago! There have been many times this past year a student left a check that got cashed immediately for a run to the grocery store. Funny how you appreciate those meals more.

I was laid off from the audio editor job of 7 years in January of 2013. Immediately following the shock of that, I networked. Crafted a resume. Searched online job postings. Applied. Applied. Applied.

Nuthin'.

I think I finally gave up the chase when a friend who had a line on a job told me, "Don't feel bad you didn't get called for an interview. There were over 700 applications for that position."

Eventually, my severance pay ran out. We were still floating! We had shows! I had students! Money kept rolling in!

I thought, "Hey! Maybe THIS is what I'm supposed to be doing!"

But I was still considering myself unemployed. Until I was at a get together hosted by my good friend, Ben. One person asked me what I did for a living. I sheepishly answered, "Well, I'm unemployed."

Ben smiled and said, "No, you're not. You're self employed."

I smiled back.

I haven't looked back since.

Or stopped smiling.

It Takes A Lot of Jobs To Become A Rock Star

It takes a lot of jobs to become a rock star. Well...at least for me.

I'm a veritable jack-of-a-lot-of-low-paying-trades. Please know that I'm chuckling as I write this. I can't help but laugh as I look back on my career trajectory (or lack thereof) and realize how my haphazard approach to becoming a rock star has led me to quite an interesting array of jobs.

I'll list them: (All of these jobs came after obtaining a B.A. degree.)

  • *Cleaned witch noses and sorted plastic fingernails for Halloween kits. (5 days)
  • *Painted houses.
  • *Buffed, burnished & assembled plexiglass underwear fixtures. (1 1/2 years)
  • *Filed and retrieved reels of tapes in a bank's basement. (1 month)
  • *Reporter/photographer for a small town weekly newspaper. (4 years)
  • *Water filter salesman (after five appointments that failed to sell anything...I had nice tasting water for years.)
  • *Put metal sprockets on wires, had them dipped in fluid, then took said metal sprockets off. (5 days)
  • *Data entry for various temporary assignments. (6 months)
  • *Watched and operated embossing machines. (1 month)
  • *Property manager of a flophouse in Dinkytown. Low point of that job...picking up fish heads in the hallways the tenants thought was my duty to retrieve. (6 soul sucking months)
  • *Desktop publisher (12 years!)
  • *Wrote articles for power pop and beer magazines. Got to interview heroes Paul Westerberg, Andy Partridge and Ron Sexsmith!
  • *Audio Editor (7 1/2 years)
  • *Guitarist for recording sessions.
  • *Composed and performed ad work for agencies.
  • *Made Halloween spooky sound records that ended up in Target and Walmart stores.
  • *Put nature sounds to relaxation music for Target stores.
  • *Guitar teacher (started in 2004 and I'm still happily doing that!)
  • *Played music at assisted living homes, churches and a state pen. (Still doing that too!)
  • *Played car shows, bars, amphitheaters and assorted outdoor concerts with my beloved 50s band. (Will do this 'til I fall down and can't get back up.)

I have not achieved rock star status. Yet.

2014 will prove a special year. I can sense it. Oh, I'm still without a full-time day job and I'm awaiting more temporary assembly and warehouse assignments. But I know can leave them behind come early June when our summer concerts resume. Thank you Lord!

We often hear this from older folks lookin' back on their lives (which, of course, I'm doing right now)..."I wouldn't change a thing."

Well, that mostly rings true for me. I'd definitely change the witch nose/fingernail and the sprockets-on wires-jobs. Those really sucked. I actually cried in my car before heading into the factory of Halloween sadness.

I just shrugged my shoulders for the sprocket job. That was January 20, 1993, my 29th birthday. It was my first Minneapolis job after moving from Clark, South Dakota to continue chasing this rock 'n' roll dream. I had a hunch it would all work out.

And it has. Twenty one years later I'm in a wonderful band with my lovely wife, Lisa, and dear friend, Matt. We made an awesome record with bona fide hits. Word is getting out about this fun 50s band and we're getting hired for bigger and bigger shows. The legend of "One Ball Daddy" grows.

I'm hopeful. Grateful. Excited. Confident. Expectant.

I'm 50. And I'm about to become a rock star.

I'm Glad I Lost My Day Job

I'm glad I lost my day job.

Really!

It kicked off a very cool and moving journey.

Oh, I miss the regular paycheck and the nice people I worked with. But that's about it.

Sometimes when you're waiting for your ship to arrive, life sneaks up and shoves ya off the dock.

So far, the water's fine!

I've spent more time with my family, more time chasing this dream, a bit more time worrying about finances (that ebbs and flows), less money (it's amazing what you really don't need), more time praying, more time trusting...and after 9 months of no day job, a LOT more time working my butt off for the Rollaz.

Look what's been accomplished!

A brand new, all-original record! The best one I've made to boot!

A short film about my bucket list trip to the crash site of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. It's so rewarding to hear people tell me they visited the site because they were moved by the film.

Took care of all the paper work, website registration and mailings with the Office of Copyright, BMI, SoundExchange, iTunes, Amazon.com and CD Baby.

The record was accepted by Pandora!

Continued work on three upcoming music videos.

A local press campaign for the upcoming CD release party.

Contacted many people and organizations in a promotional push for more big shows. And, some very big shows were successfully rocked by the Rollaz!

Folks, it's been a VERY productive year! Not much of the above would've happened had I stayed in a comfortable 9-5 job.

It's still spooky at times seeing bills stack up on the living room piano. It's a bit unnerving to see a calendar with tentative dates only pencilled in, knowing that the budget completely collapses if they fall through. It's always a relief to see a signed contract arrive; however, we've learned there are no guarantees until the show is actually performed.

Despite some sleepless nights, many questions from concerned family and friends and a LOT of creative budgeting...I've LOVED this year!!!

It's not how I would've planned it.

It's BETTER.

Field of Rock 'n' Roll Dreams


It'd been calling me for years.

Every time I'd read a book or article about the plane crash.

Every time I'd drive up and down I-35 to visit family in Des Moines.

It was always the softest whisper: "Come here son. I know you want to. I have some answers for you. Some questions too."

I'm still not sure why it took me decades to finally do it. I've lived in the midwest most of my life. Just a few hours away. It's only a mile or so to the west of the interstate my car has regularly traversed. Many times I'd peer over the cornfields during a drive and say to myself, "I should pull over and go visit it." But I'd just keep driving.

The field awaited.

Its call grew louder last summer when I came up with the idea to make a short movie of the Holy Rocka Rollaz visiting the crash site. We could never get our calendars aligned for the day trip. Nevertheless, I started feeling these mysterious emotions that wanted to be songs. They were simply meant to provide a soundtrack to the short movie. I felt them way more than I thought about them.

Then I started recording them.

Because the songs were to emulate the style of the musicians who died in that plane crash, I felt free to really go for a style in a way I'd never done before. About three songs into the recording I was kicked in the heart. Knocked back as it sunk in: "Oh boy! I have finally and fully embraced my life-long love of this young man's music!"

Folks...I got my Buddy Holly freak on.

I let out all the stops. I switched the Gretsch out for a Stratocaster. I tried to write like Buddy. Sing like Buddy. Play guitar like Buddy. Make my new record sound like Buddy.

Then the field called to me louder than ever before.

Oddly, it was a rejection letter for a job I'd interviewed for that served as the final catalyst. I chuckled wistfully as I crumpled it up and threw it away. It was a Saturday morning and I told my lovely wife, Lisa, "Honey, we're taking a road trip to Iowa Monday. Bring your camera, because we're going to document this."

As I worked on the record and prepared for the trip, foreign emotions ran through me. It's amazing how even at the age of 49, new feelings and spiritual territory can open up. I had these sweet, sad, hopeful, soulful butterflies as we ventured down.

I felt like I was going to meet a hero for the first time. I felt like I was going to a wake. I felt like I was going to meet up with an old friend I hadn't seen in years. I felt like I was about to embark on a journey that had been sovereignly placed before me.

I did it.

It was exhilarating.

The half-mile walk through the Iowa cornfield in the middle of a cold, windy and mostly grey day was, well...numbing. All the years of wondering took a back seat to the sound of my boots crunching in the field.

I took a deep breath when I saw the small monument just ahead. I was struck when I finally reached the area. Paul Fricke's illustration of me standing there really does sum it up. He based it on a picture Lisa took of me. They both capture a pivotal moment.

It's kinda hard to explain, but visiting the crash site of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper J.P. Richardson and pilot Roger Peterson made more of an impact on me driving back home (and later) than it did when I was actually there. It was probably just too much to soak in initially.

I LOVED the new emotional terrain.

Yes, the field gave me answers. I was finally able to put their short flight into geographic perspective. They didn't get far.

Yes, my admiration for the music they made grew even deeper.

Yes, the modest monument and barren field beg you to project whatever emotional/spiritual things you bring to it.

No, the spirits of the young men didn't wade out into the field to give me any guidance. I thought more about how their bodies were tragically sprawled out in the ground I was standing. I found it sad. I found myself wishing they'd never chartered that airplane. It did not feel like it was over 50 years ago.

Then, when my visit was winding down, I smiled at Lisa and noticed the freezing winds had turned her photo snapping fingers blue. The emotions mixed and we quietly walked out of the field.

As we did, I felt a responsibility to share what I'd experienced.

I heard the field asking me, "Will you tell people to come visit?"

"Will you let them know how special this ground is?"

"Will you assure them that I'm a place of comfort, hopes and dreams...despite the tragic history?"

I whispered back...

"Yes."

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