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Kicking The Bucket List: Making My Rock and Roll Dream Real (Part 2 of 7)

This is the second in a series of articles. To read part one, click here.

Part 2: Music & Me

Those who know me understand I’ve written songs for my own enjoyment since I was a teenager. Though I view the songs more as a personal form of journaling and general creative outlet than any means of achieving recognition or compensation, I am proud of much of the material I’ve created and as I get older, I feel more and more that some of it deserves to be brought to life and shared.

But to this point, pretty much everything I’ve recorded and performed has been acoustic. The reason for that is simple: I can pick up an acoustic guitar and sing a song all on my own without having to rely on anyone else or having to lug around a bunch of gear. It’s as economical as you can get if you’re going to perform or record music. And I really love a lot of those songs. But I’m betting that most of my friends who have seen that I write music probably think, “Oh yeah – Kevin does that acoustic stuff.”

Yes. But that’s only part of the story.

There are many artists in the acoustic vein that I respect greatly and whose work I absolutely adore. But my true heart and soul have always belonged to rock music. Ever since I first saw Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme (yes, the “More Than Words” guys – the most completely misunderstood rock band of my generation) perform for the first time, I was hooked. When Cherone climbed up from behind Paul Geary’s drum perch, over a stack of speakers and onto a makeshift walkway high above the stage while Nuno (guitar) and Pat Badger, the bass player, crashed into the opening chords of “It(‘s a Monster)” at Molson Park in Barrie in 1992, I thought, “Oh, wow. I want to try that!”

It was then, after Extreme’s “III Sides to Every Story” spun my head off my shoulders, that I first began to write my own lyrics in earnest, and eventually took vocal lessons and taught myself how to play guitar by trying to fumble along with Nuno on songs like “Cupid’s Dead” and “Peacemaker Die.”

Extreme wasn’t the only band I liked, of course. They were simply my favourite, and remain so. But I love all sorts of rock bands and artists. Off the top of my head, some of them are: Volbeat, Saigon Kick, King’s X, Zakk Wylde (Pride & Glory, Black Label Society), Green Day, The Trews, Thunder, Airbourne, Rival Sons, Harem Scarem, Jackyl, Buckcherry, ZZ Top and sooo many others. Like anyone else, there are certain songs by bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith and Van Halen that I simply must listen to every now and then.

And by the way, I’m not asking you to like what I like. I’m past the point of needing to validate my own tastes. Like what you like! And if we agree, great! If not, that’s cool too. I’m just explaining a little about how I got here.

But after my band favourite broke up (in 1996), I got away from listening to that kind of music for a while, and wandered toward artists like Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle, then later to the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Great Big Sea, David Francey, Will Kimbrough and Todd Snider (Springsteen and Earle’s songs inspired me but I was attracted to their darker material, which wore me out after a while. I found the optimistic nature of Buffett, et al, very refreshing in the early 2000’s).

But then, in the summer of 2006, the members Extreme came back together to do three shows in the New England area. Ecstatic, I drove all the way to Connecticut to see them perform (I’m in Ontario, Canada, so that was an 8-to-10-hour drive). I thought I’d never have the chance to do that again. Since I’d last seen them, in 1995, I’d finished school, started my career and started a family. Indeed, my entire life had changed, and because of work and, well, life, I had not even taken my guitar out of its case in years.

Extreme at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, July 2, 2006. I took this photo with a disposable camera. Times have changed!

Extreme at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, July 2, 2006. I took this photo with a disposable camera. Times have changed!

Seeing the musicians that initially inspired me perform together again was an electric jolt that was like having a missing piece of myself reattached. Theirs were the songs that resonated with me when I was an 18-year-old kid trying to figure out who I was, and I still get emotional when I consider songs like “Am I Ever Gonna Change.

The experience reminded me of what I was really passionate about. After the long drive back home, I ran straight into my basement, took my electric guitar out of its case for the first time in years and immediately began to play the riff from a song I later titled “Dangerous,” which goes something like this:


Then and there, I committed myself to exploring my music more from that point on (I recorded and released an acoustic EP the following year, put out a full-length CD in 2010 and another EP in 2014). I have been planning and thinking about my rock project ever since then. And it’s my opinion that the best music I’ve ever written is my rock music. I believe it’s my best because I am so passionate about it and I make little effort to filter it. And yet no one’s ever heard or seen it.

Somehow, I’m going change that, with a project called “Mutineer.” I’ll share more about that in part three, tomorrow.

Song Blog, Vol. 1: “Broken Breath”

Well, I’ve finally jumped into something new. I’m calling it the Song Blog. It’s all explained, below, and on the new Song Blog page, which you can find in the drop-down menu under the “Kevin’s Music” menu item. It’s all explained below.

Up first, a song called “Broken Breath.” You can hear it and read about it, below, or skip all this and jump directly to its page by clicking here.

Enjoy.

– KB

Song Blog, Vol 1: “Broken Breath”
(c) 1997 – 2015 Kevin Bulmer Enterprises
Written by Kevin Bulmer (SOCAN)

I decided to start my Song Blog with “Broken Breath” because it’s a track that has come up in a unique way and has been referenced often in recent times. It’s been performed publicly at a few different events but has never been shared other than that. And in fact, at the time of this writing, I am scheduled to perform the song tomorrow at an event in support of the Southwestern Ontario Lung Association. I wanted people to be able to have the chance to hear it.

Lyrics:

When the lights go out in our younger years
All the demons dance so free
The night can be so frightful
Leave the door open for me

In the haze, a child will seldom understand
Just as seldom will they care
They think think they cause is not important
If the consequence is there

Won’t somebody help me?
I can’t breathe
The pain that’s in my chest
Has me at it’s mercy
Please, won’t somebody make it go away?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can do?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can say?

Now suddenly you’re thinking of
Maybe sending me away
They’re gonna take me from my home
But it’ll serve me well some day

Unconvinced, you packed my suitcase
And gift box full of toys
They were only a distraction
But you didn’t have a choice

Won’t somebody help me?
I can’t breathe
The pain that’s in my chest
Has me at it’s mercy
Please, won’t somebody make it go away?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can do?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can say?

The years go by and now I sleep
For hours, unpeacefully
Awake again with broken breath
I wonder what will become of me …

Won’t somebody help me?
I can’t breathe
The pain that’s in my chest
Has me at it’s mercy
Please, won’t somebody make it go away?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can do?
Ain’t there nothin’ you can say?

About the song:

In 1997, I was heartbroken over my favourite band, Extreme, having broken apart. To that point, I’d listened mostly to their music and other bands of that time (Saigon Kick and Thunder were two other favourites of mine from that era). But as the back half of the 90’s progressed, I entered into a heavy Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle phase. And I took great interest in their more morose, introspective material. In particular, it wasn’t the anthem-like arena party rock I liked from Springsteen. I was a “Nebraska” guy. I loved “Ghost of Tom Joad.” Those songs spooked me good. I loved them.

Naturally, I wrote some darker-sounding material at that time. I specifically remember wishing I had a song that featured a vibe similar to Springsteen’s “Shut Out the Light,” a brilliant track that tells the tell of a Vietnam veteran’s inability to re-acclimate to his life after returning home. In the chorus, he sings, “Oh Mama, mama, mama, come quick. I got the shakes and I’m gonna be sick. Put your arms around me in the cold dark night. Hey now, mama, don’t shut out the light.”

I am in no way trying to compare myself to Springsteen, of course. But “Shut Out the Light” most definitely was the original inspiration that got me writing what became “Broken Breath.”

Read more about “Broken Breath” by clicking here …

About the “Song Blog:”

Inspired by my favourite musicians, I began writing songs in the early 90’s. Since then, I’ve written hundreds of them but have only recorded, released or publicly performed a handful so far. I’ve struggled to decide what to do with the others.

I don’t write songs to try to become a hit songwriter or to impress anyone or be a “star” or anything I like that. I write them because they sometimes just seem to “show up,” almost as if they’re being channeled from somewhere else. As such, they reflect my own ideas, thoughts and opinions, and I’ve never felt that formula was one meant for any kind of mainstream consumption.

When a “channeling” happens, I just write down, hum or play what I’m feeling. Often times, that turns into a song. Other times, it won’t. It could be I get a little bit or a piece here and there, like a lyric line or a melody idea. And I’ll save those just in case, but for the most part, if a song is to become something I hold on to and treasure as a part of who I am, it usually comes to me fairly complete within 15 minutes to an hour or so, and then it’s just a matter of tinkering after that. And that tinkering sometimes goes on for years. I’ll forget about a song for a decade and then come back to it. It’s fun.

Read more about the Song Blog by clicking here …

 

Where’s My Newsletter?

I recently was talking with a good friend and business associate, Steve Stefanidis, the co-owner of a great business called “Liner Guys” here in Southwestern Ontario. Always one to shoot me straight, Steve surprised me that day by asking, “Hey, buddy – where’s my newsletter? Did you take me off the list? What’s up??”

Busted.

Earlier this year, I set a goal for myself to complete and distribute at least one email newsletter per month. I mentioned as much to my humble base of current subscribers. And while I’m aware I’ve failed at that pursuit, I believed I was the only one who could possibly care. So, while I was diverting my energies to other things, I let the newsletter slip.

Bless his heart, it turns out Steve was paying attention. I’m lucky to know him and grateful for his support. So although I may have temporarily slipped off track in getting that newsletter out, I’m okay with it because I’ve been able to do so much else. I told Steve as much and, of course, he voiced his complete support.

The search for balance between planning and acting continues to be a challenge for me. I like to feel as though I’ve thought things through, and am following at least a little bit of a roadmap. But I sometimes allow my need to plan my attack to attack my plan. Some call it paralysis through analysis. And I have so many creative thoughts and ideas floating through my consciousness at any given time, I still struggle with the balance, and I know it.

So I’ve not stuck to the discipline of submitting a regular blog, or of putting out a monthly newsletter, though I still aspire to both of those things. But I have been doing better at acting, and getting into the game, being more involved, meeting more people and enjoying life much more. I just haven’t been taking the time to write it down and share it regularly. So far.

This blog will serve as a little bit of “catch up” so as to recognize and thank several people and organizations that have been a part of the journey this year, and to take a brief look ahead to what’s planned for 2016 and well beyond.

We call ourselves "The Three Amigos."

Always my first priority. We call ourselves “The Three Amigos.”

Since my last newsletter went out, I have fulfilled some key personal goals. Most importantly, I’ve remained rigid in making sure that quality time with my two sons is my absolute top priority, and I’m pleased to stay that has remained the case. Eddie (12), Jaden (9) and I enjoy and celebrate every single moment that we get to be together. This past spring, summer and fall have bubbled over with wonderful experiences, great time with family and friends and all sorts of shared activities that have already become wonderful memories. I know that when I reach the end of my days, I’ll not regret investing my energy into a single one of those moments.

Clearly, Eddie loves VOLBEAT. I do, too.

Clearly, Eddie loves VOLBEAT. I do, too.

Highlights of our recent times include a second Daddy/Eddie excursion where the  younger Bulmer got to go on stage yet again with one of our favourite bands, Volbeat, at a concert in Oshawa in the spring; celebrating Jaden’s birthday with the 3rd annual playing of what he calls the “J Cup” ball hockey game; time spent visiting with family at my mother’s family cottage over the summer; and all the many very simple times of just engaging and playing in our community. I recall one weekend in August in particular where we whiled away almost 3 hours at a community pool and enjoyed more laughs than just about any other time through the summer, just by being together and enjoying the day.

At Count's Kustoms in Las Vegas. It was a thrill to be there!

At Count’s Kustoms in Las Vegas. It was a thrill to be there!

I also managed to visit Las Vegas for the first time, with my sweetheart, Caroline, at the end of May. As we’ve both been so immersed in raising kids and nurturing careers and other interests, neither of us had been on a trip far enough to make air travel necessary in many, many years. For so long, it seemed like the kind of thing only “other people” did. But this past spring, we managed to do it. And in the process, we got to be a part of a live concert filming featuring  my forever-favourite band (Extreme) and visited many places, including the locations of a couple of my current favourite television shows, “Counting Cars” and “Pawn Stars.” It felt like an achievement to get there and spend a few days seeing new things with someone I care about so much.

I started writing songs because of these two guys, Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt. Clearly, we had good seats at their Las Vegas show. I took this photo with my phone.

I started writing songs because of these two guys, Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt. Clearly, we had good seats at their Las Vegas show. I took this photo with my phone.

In July, I moved into a new house. That was a long time in coming and a sizeable project to tackle by myself. Much of the thought behind occupying a new space of my own was to set up an area equipped for capturing creativity, whether it be musical or otherwise. I’m still getting things put together the way I like them, but all my guitars are now out and available and I’ve felt brimming with creative energy ever since I began to feel settled in the new place. The process has been a major step forward and one that I believe will contribute greatly to my desire and ability to activate and share my creative pursuits in the coming weeks and months. But for a significant amount of time, just getting there took up most of my extra energy.

When work has to happen during Amigos time, the boys just come along.

When work has to happen during Amigos time, the boys just come along.

Professionally, I’ve enjoyed my busiest year in my work as a Marketing Consultant at Bell Media Radio. I love and respect the people I work with and deeply appreciate the opportunity to get to know so many wonderful people in both private business and non-profit groups in our community. It seems that I learn something from just about everyone I encounter, and I do my best to make a positive contribution for them as well.

Another goal I had at the outset of the year was to become more involved in doing MC and performance work and, as a result, be more visible and active in the community. I have been able to do that, and have enjoyed every second of it.

In August, I returned to my family’s original hometown of Wallaceburg, Ontario, and had a wonderful time performing my music and visiting with people at WAMBO (Wallaceburg Antique Motor and Boat Outing). That day was one of the highlights of my summer, and it led to being invited back a few weeks later so that my music could be featured for a week on their local radio station. I was able to take my kids with me for that, and we shared in a terrific day, feeling the heartbeat of the place where my parents (the boys’ grandparents) grew up. It was a joy.

With Jaden in Wallaceburg by an iconic mural of the old lake boat, "Superior."

With Jaden in Wallaceburg by an iconic mural of the old lake boat, “Superior.”

In September, I hosted the first anniversary event for my good friend Mike Mulligan at his business, Moving Forward Rehabilitation and Wellness Centre, along with my friends from March of Dimes Canada. That evening was enjoyable and inspiring.

With Mike Mulligan at Moving Forward Rehabilitation and Wellness Centre

With Mike Mulligan at Moving Forward Rehabilitation and Wellness Centre

A couple of weeks after that, I served as MC at a fundraising comedy event to benefit the Rowbust Dragon Boat Racing Team, which is comprised of breast cancer survivors in my community. One of the team members is a good friend, and I was thrilled when she asked me to participate to help them raise enough money to make the trip to Australia next spring to defend their WORLD Championship title that they earned in Italy in 2014. The comedy night was a blast, sold out to the doors with approximately 400 people on hand and a great lineup of very funny comics that included Lamont Ferguson, Danny Martinello and Scott Belford. All of them were terrific.

With Connor Wilson in Tillsonburg. We had some laughs over this picture, and our hardly-noticeable difference in height.

With Connor Wilson in Tillsonburg. We had some laughs over this picture, and our hardly-noticeable difference in height.

Just a little more than a week ago, it was a pleasure to MC and perform my song “Broken Breath” at a concert and fundraiser benefiting the Southwestern Ontario Lung Association at the Lion’s Auditorium in Tillsonburg, Ontario. The event, organized by Sarah Pratt of SEP Productions, was headlined by the very talented Tyler Shaw, and featured a lineup of terrific artists including Daniel Hamm & Stacy Evely, the Brooks Academy of Dance, Char Kelly, Chad Price and Connor Wilson. Out of everyone, I spent the most time with Connor, as he and I instantly got along well. His set of acoustic country music was terrific (his cover song renditions were great but I liked his own songs best). I also was happy to spend a little bit of time with Chad Price, who absolutely blew me away with his performance. If you enjoy the likes of Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, I would strongly recommend giving your ears a chance to hear Chad. He is a wonderful talent and I was proud to get to know him, and it occurred to me that I truly enjoy spending time around creative people like him.

I took this picture of Chad Price from beside the stage. What a performer he is!

I took this picture of Chad Price from beside the stage. What a performer he is!

Coming up, I’ve been asked to MC an event supporting the Brain Injury Association of London and Region this Saturday night and I am very happy to be doing that. I will also be appearing again this year at the Lung Association’s annual “Festival of Trees” Preview Night at the Covent Garden Market in downtown London, Ontario, on Wednesday, November 25th.

Beyond that, I have been working hard to set a schedule that I can stick to for sharing more songs and creativity on a regular basis. It all sounds easy when I think of it, but it takes time, desire and commitment to actually make it happen. I’ll try. My ultimate goal is to have done enough of it so that I’ve built a bit of a base of work and experience by the time my boys are older. But for now, I’ve not yet found anything nearly as rewarding as being fully present and engaged with my kids while they’re young.

Eddie took this picture on Thanksgiving weekend. No effects were put to it, but it accurately sums up how I feel when I'm with my kids.

Eddie took this picture on Thanksgiving weekend. No effects were put to it, but it accurately sums up how I feel when I’m with my kids.

That said, Eddie and Jaden are my two biggest cheerleaders. And I believe I’m just about ready to announce a commitment to trying to achieve something that has been a dream of mine my entire adult life, something I don’t want to get to the end of my days and wish I’d tried. It’s something that Eddie in particular really wants to see me do. Stay tuned for that one. I’ve been tip-toeing to the edge of the airplane on that project for months (years, even) and can see myself figuring out how to open the chute on the way down. I just haven’t had the courage to jump quite yet.

But that’s coming.

So now you’re up-to-date, thanks to Steve, though I still need to get this into the form of an actual E-Newsletter. And if you’d like to join that list, you can do so by clicking HERE.

And, hey – at least you know you won’t get spammed.

Using Facebook To Market Your Small Business? Be Careful

In my day job, I work as a marketing consultant and sales executive for a group of popular radio stations in Ontario, Canada. Understandably, I am asked about other various forms of media a lot, and I’m happy to offer my perspective, as I have experience in buying and implementing most of them. I also believe that each communication tool has its own strengths and weaknesses, and that a healthy mix as part of a strategic plan is probably best.

But when I am asked about Facebook for marketing small businesses, two words immediately come to mine: Be careful.

I recently asked, in an online poll on my website (www.kevinbulmer.com) and through comments received from Twitter (and, yes, Facebook) how people currently felt about Facebook. I asked because I wanted to get a feel for why, if at all, people still used that particular social media tool, because I feel its important to know, as marketers, why people are (or are not) engaged with any particular media. Marketers want to go where the people are. Or at least, where they think they are (but I’ll get to that).

The average response I got back more-or-less matched own personal feelings about Facebook: that I keep it more as an extended “address book” for far-flung family and friends than anything else.

However, there were a few people who responded to my question by cutting right to the heart of the matter, including this response on Twitter (read the bottom post first, then the top):

02-21-15 - d74g0n Twitter post

Now, this may be of no consequence to you if you’re on Facebook simply to know that you can reach out distant family members without having to keep track of phone numbers and email address (although, you may not be seeing all the content you wish to see, but we’ll get to that later). But if you’re running a small business and are being tempted by the seemingly inexpensive allure of growing your following on Facebook, sit up and pay attention.

And be careful.

If you’re thinking of paying for a Facebook ad to grow your business page’s following, please watch this video from Veritasium first:

Here’s a bit about my own marketing experience on Facebook:

From 2007 through 2011, I was part of an event management company called CPT Entertainment Inc. We ran a variety of consumer-based trade show-type events, and used Facebook as part of many of our marketing campaigns, along with radio, outdoor signage, TV and some print. Back then we felt we got decent value for our Facebook advertising. One example would be the time we arranged to have one of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s NASCAR race cars on display at one of our events. We used Facebook to put an ad out that targeted people who “liked” Dale Earnhardt Jr (or NASCAR in general) and lived within a certain geographical radius of our event. We felt we got good response to the ads. We could tell from the analytics and the comments we received, as well as through the attendance at the event itself.

But, as indicated in the Veritasium video (above), things have changed since then.

Forward to present day: I have a Facebook page for my own business, Kevin Bulmer Enterprises. Whenever I post something there, Facebook only serves it to between 5 and 10% of the people who actually “like” the page. I know this because it gives me those analytics with each post. And it always –ALWAYS – asks me if I want to “boost” the post to have seen more often.

Facebook says 235 people “Like” this page. A modest amount, sure, but note how immediate is the offer to is promote (i.e., “buy” more exposure) the page. I’d be more likely to consider that if my updates were first delivered to the people who already agreed to see them …

 

In other words, it wants me to pay to have my post seen by people who’ve already “Liked” the page.

Huh.

I tried it. Once. It was money wasted.

If 235 people 'Like' this page,

If 235 people ‘Like’ this page, why are these posts reaching only 17 and 40 people, respectively?

In fairness, I do believe it’s up to me to re-engage people. But still, I can’t help thinking that if someone had “liked” my page (and thereby given consent to see my updates), they should at least occasionally see that I’ve offered some new content, without me having to pay for it, shouldn’t they?

When I think about it in reverse, I looked to the pages that I’ve personally “Liked,” and realized that there are a number of them that almost never show up in my Facebook News Feed, even though I want to see their updates (to try to combat this, I leave my News Feed set to “Most Recent” and scroll all the way through, as opposed to “Top Stories”).

Hmm.

Still, even though I consider myself informed and I knew I was not having a good experience with my “Kevin Bulmer Enterprise” page, I decided to take it one step further and try a little experiment, figuring that maybe if I started something from scratch, my experience would be different.

Here’s what I did:

I created a Facebook page for a musical rock and roll project I’d been working on for a while, called “Mutineer” (I’ll write more about it another time). I posted it as a rock band page, put up some content and then set about creating an ad campaign. I designed an ad for the page, set a budget of $10 to be spread over a week and set the ad to target only people who ‘Liked’ the bands Extreme or Volbeat, were 18 years of age and up and lived in either Canada, Great Britain, Australia or Denmark.

Here’s a screen capture of the Facebook page for the yet-to-exist band I call “Mutineer.” Note the “Boost Post” option that accompanies every update. Sidenote: I just now realized how the song lyric that was posted here (which is a real lyric) is very appropriate to this article.

I thought that a pretty specific set of criteria.

And so I found it very interesting that the first page ‘Like’ I got was from a “person” named Denis Johnson. Denis has no posts on his timeline, yet he has 39,955 Facebook page likes (including 2,766 Music “likes”).

I’ll say that again: this “person” has over 39,000 Facebook page Likes.

Do you know any actual human being that actually “likes” over 39,000 pages on Facebook?! Neither do I.

Here’s a sample of some of the other “people” who liked this page shortly afterward:

– Choudry Khalid Mahmood Anjum (Page likes: 10,139)
– Sandra Berdan (Page likes: 8,712)
– Jango Gurug Gurug (Page likes: 5,961)
– Saif AL Hakeem (Page likes: 5,290)
– Saddi Mir (Page likes: 5,615)
– Tahir Rasool (Page likes: 6,748)

If you want to check these for yourself, go to http://www.mutineer.ca and click on the images of those who like the Mutineer Facebook page, on the widget on the right-hand side of the page

Do you think I’m likely to run into any of these people at an upcoming Extreme or Volbeat concert? I highly doubt it.

By contrast, I looked at my own personal Facebook profile and saw that I had 96 different page “Likes” (and, as noted earlier, I don’t even see all the updates from those pages). I can’t even imagine how much work it would be to get my volume of “Likes” up to, say, 5,000!

It wasn’t long before I realized I was only experiencing exactly what the Veritasium video (above) warns about, and so I cancelled the rest of my ad campaign. I’d wasted enough money.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Facebook does not have value to businesses. What I am saying is that, if you’re going to us Facebook as a marketing tool, be careful. Accept that there are no real short cuts with Facebook any more than there are with radio, television or any other medium.

Quality wins. The cream rises. Quick fixes are a fallacy.

I’ll be the first to admit I use Facebook poorly. I’ve thought many times about deleting my page, but have decided to keep it going simply because, every now and then, someone new finds me there. But as for growing my business, I still find that the best technique is to get out in the community and get to know people.

Are you determined to grow your following on Facebook? Then roll up your sleeves. Engage people and other organizations. Add value for them. Create and share good content. Interact. You can build a monster following on Facebook, but you better do it organically.

In other words, I’m sorry, but you have to actually work at it.

Or, try and grow the quick way at your own peril.

10 of The Most Influential Albums of My Life (So Far)

I recently was afforded the great pleasure of serving as Master of Ceremonies for a really neat event called “Rock for Dimes.” A key fundraising initiative for the March of Dimes Canada, the “Rock for Dimes” night featured a variety of rock bands and special guests, all coming together to help raise money and awareness for a great cause.

Grateful to meet Justin Hines, an incredible artist, at "Rock for Dimes."

Grateful to meet Justin Hines, an incredible artist, at “Rock for Dimes.”

As I took in each performance, I was struck by the variety of music that was played, and I noted what songs were covered and what other famous artists had been represented. I was interested to see what kind of songs these performers had so deep in their souls that they would be willing to dedicate so much time and effort into rehearsing and, ultimately, sharing them on stage.

I also wondered what it was that got each of the members of these bands to pick up an instrument in the first place? It was clear that they loved what they were doing, and that they were singing and playing as an extension of their spirit, rather than just a means to an end.

It was nice to watch, and it all got me thinking about what had inspired me musically. Once I started to really think about it, I was amazed at how many wonderful things in my life have come as a result of embracing and expanding upon the music I love. I had fun looking closer at which artists and albums had actually had the largest affect on me over the years.

Most of the truly “iconic” bands were a little before my time. While I appreciate them, I never had a love affair with the Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, Queen, the Who or other bands of that caliber. In that sense, I feel I was born a decade or two too late. I bet I’d have loved following along with groups like that.

Some of the big hit-makers of the 80’s, such as AC/DC and ZZ Top, are among my favourites. I still listen to their music and enjoy them from time to time. But they didn’t particularly influence me to do or try anything beyond just listening to their songs.

The albums listed here are not necessarily my “favourites,” or the ones I still listen to the most. But each of them will have made this list for having had an incredible impact, in one way or another, on my own creativity, curiosity, thirst for further knowledge and happiness in general. To have made this list, the album had to have had a considerable influence on me in one way or another.

I consider these the 10 most influential albums in my life (so far):

Here we go:

10. Volbeat – Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies

Volbeat_Outlaw GentlemenGranted, this one is very recent, so it may be a bit of a stretch to include it here. But I’ve no doubt that Volbeat’s “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” will not only hold up over time, but will probably move even further up this list as the years go by.

A year ago right now, I had never heard of this band. I first encountered the track “Heaven Nor Hell” while listening online to an out-of-market rock station last summer. The song practically jumped out of the speakers at me. I’d not had that kind of exciting, “what the heck is that?” kind of experience in a long, long time.

I wrote down the name of the band, and looked them up online once I got home. For years, I’d hoped to find a current group that wrote heavy, solid riff-based rock but with really attractive melodies and insightful lyrics. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever find one. And so, when I did my online search, I was astounded to learn that Volbeat had been around a while, had already sold millions of records and had a very large and loyal following, particularly across Europe.

As my taste for Volbeat grew, I eventually got to “Outlaw Gentleman and Shady Ladies” and it resonated with me right away, from start to finish. I remember the first time I listened through it. I had my headphones on and was in the kitchen, preparing to make dinner. Just after the opening instrumental (“Let’s Shake Some Dust”) rattled to a close, the cold opening of “Pearl Hart” practically body-slammed me with an immediately likeable melody. I instantly giddy. That song is so infectious that it got into my bones straight away. I thought, “That was awesome, but the rest of the CD can’t possibly be this good.”

But it is.

After “Pearl Hart,” another stellar track came next. Then another. And another. And another.

I cannot pick a favourite song from the disc. Looking further into the band’s inspiration for the whole concept of the record helped me to feel the spark of my own creativity again. The excitement over hearing new music I loved as much as Volbeat got me back strumming the guitar again after having been away from it for the better part of three years. At the time, I’d been wavering on completing and/or releasing an acoustic EP I’d been working on. Volbeat’s arrival in my life helped me to see that it was important to me to finish that project, regardless of what anybody else might have thought of it.

Bonus points for this record: my 11-year-old son, Eddie, LOVES Volbeat. I don’t know why. But he does. He insisted upon seeing them live. We are going to see them in May.

It will be his first concert ever. And it’ll be with his Dad.

9. David Francey – Skating Rink

Skating RinkMy sister Karen gave me this CD as a Christmas gift many years ago. It remains one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

David Francey writes astonishingly beautiful songs. They are brilliant in their simplicity, in that they sound somewhat minimal at first blush, but are in fact quite complex, insightful and thought-provoking. Francey is the most efficient lyricist I’ve heard, and he packs more wallop into just one or two lines than any other artist I can think of.

This CD has had a massive influence on me. I’d have put it further up the list, except for the fact that we’re going to run into Francey again in a bit.

I remember listening to “Skating Rink” for the first time. Back then, I enjoyed the title track (which is also the first song on the disc). And the second track, “Broken Glass,” is also lovely. But it was the third track, “Exit,” that initially stopped me in my tracks. I’d not heard many artists include a song with vocals but no music accompaniment, but it’s not uncommon for Francey, and he does it with “Exit.” The song is just Francey’s voice alone until a sweet little musical bit appears and then fades the song out, like a reluctant acceptance of what he sings about before the instrumentation comes in: “Rich or poor or young or old. Some of us carry a heavy load.”

“Skating Rink” is a beautiful CD from start to finish. Standout tracks for me include “Belgrade Train,” “Nearly Midnight” and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” an absolutely beautiful song that would be a massive hit if it were covered by the right popular band.

My sister giving me this CD turned out to be the impetus for many inspirations and wonderful experiences in the years to come, including getting to meet and visit with David Francey on several occasions. And spending time with him has only deepened my appreciation and sincere affection for these wonderful, beautiful songs.

8. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown

21st Century BreakdownI held a strong dislike for this group for a long time. They became popular at a time when the band that I still consider my favourite (more on them a little later) was not getting anywhere near the attention I felt they deserved. Partially because of that, I didn’t like Green Day and never paid them any mind. I thought they were childish punks. And maybe they were. But they certainly were churning out better music than I ever gave them credit for.

Ironically, it was it was another fan of that same favourite band of mine (the one I’ll reference in just a bit), that suggested that “21st Centrury Breakdown” was a “masterpiece.” I laughed at the thought and challenged him on it. He challenged me back. So I went and gave it a listen, and was floored by the scope of it. There was so much to dig through in this one record alone. For some reason, its tone and lyrics spoke to me at the time in a way that kept this CD in my stereo for months.

The style of writing and overall concept of this album left me considering different ways to write, and to listen to and enjoy music. I’m still finding things on this record I’d not notice before.

Green Day may be best known for “American Idiot” or their debut, “Dookie,” but it’s “21st Century Breakdown” that had the biggest influence on me, and made me a fan of the band.

7. The Trews – Hope and Ruin

Hope and RuinThe Trews are a Canadian rock band from Nova Scotia, and I absolutely love them. All of their records are among my favourites, but this one came out at a time when it almost felt as if it had been created just for me. Having just been through a marital separation (and eventual divorce), the very title of this collection had me feeling as if the band was inside my own head.

Songs like “Hope & Ruin,” “Love is the Real Thing,” “I’ll Find Someone Who Will,” “You’ve Gotta Let Me In,” “If You Wanna Start Again” and “Dreamin’ Man” all hit home for me in a deep and profound way. I clung to this record for many months, and felt rather emotional when I got to see them live on the headlining tour they did to support this effort.

I’ve got a bunch of songs kicking around that I wrote in the months following this CD’s release. It both held me up and inspired me.

For a time, I held on to this record like a life preserver.

6. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

NebraskaI haven’t listened to anything from this record in years. But I have not forgotten the impact this harrowing set of songs had on me.

I love the story about how Bruce recorded these tracks alone, at his home, and when he brought the songs into the studio for the E Street Band, they just couldn’t recapture the original emotion and feeling, no matter what they tried. And so they ultimately decided to master and release Springsteen’s original demos, a gutsy, bold move. The results are downright spooky.

It’s a good lesson in the power of a good song not needing much instrumentation or production. If the song is solid, it will still remain (and maybe even become more impactful) even with much of the instrumentation stripped away.

“Nebraska” is loaded with heavy, heavy tracks about common people and their daily struggles, their simple hopes, collective fears and frailties.

I tried to write some songs in this style in the mid 90’s, but I realized I didn’t have the knack for it. Most don’t. Springsteen’s ability to tell a story in the framework of a song is absolutely incredible. His characters appear on the scene fully developed, and the settings are clear from the get-go. I don’t know how he does it. Some novelists take pages (or even chapters) to do what Springsteen achieves in a single lyric line.

To me, the album is absolutely heart wrenching, but a good reminder of the thin line between happiness and despair that lurks within us all.

It’s also powerhouse songwriting that leaves me a little breathless if I really dive into it.

5. Great Big Sea – Courage, Patience and Grit (Live)

Courage, Patience and GritIn trying to remember how I first came upon this disc, I think I may have been going through a phase of enjoying all things about pirates and found the song “Captain Kidd.” If memory serves, I think I found this double CD at the local Wal Mart and bought it without having heard anything from it. In fact, that would have been an odd thing to do, as I’d previously been aware of Great Big Sea as the band that performed “Ordinary Day” and “Sea of No Cares” but, to be absolutely honest, I never much cared for them. It’s not that I disliked them as much as I just really wasn’t interested. But when I listened through this collection of songs, that all changed.

As with Springsteen, I don’t listen to Great Big Sea all that much anymore. But I still love them. And for a time, I played this particular album over and over and over again. The Celtic, folk, pop, rock and traditional tones that run through all of Great Big Sea’s music strongly influenced a lot of the stuff I was writing at the time (I consider my songs “Hope Over Hurt” and “Glass” to have been heavily influenced by Great Big Sea).

I love my country and feel even more deeply Canadian when I listen to this band. And most of all, I suppose I just truly appreciate the sincerity with which these fellows perform, particularly Alan Doyle. At the time I found this CD, I had just come off of a particularly draining job change. This music helped me to feel revitalized, and I will always remember and be grateful for that.

The musicianship, the vocal harmonies, the tone of the songs and the general feeling of being in a big ‘ol Newfoundland kitchen party are all things that appeal to me about Great Big Sea. And maybe it’s because one of my sisters lives in St. John’s. Perhaps this music helps me feel a little less removed from her. In any case, it’s all great stuff.

4. Extreme – Pornograffitti

PornograffittiHere is the band I referred to earlier, writing about Green Day. Back in the early 90’s, I resented Green Day (and a lot of other bands) for getting the attention I felt Extreme rightly deserved. Luckily, I’ve grown up a lot since then!

Still, Extreme was the wrong band at the wrong time. In my view, they are easily the most misunderstood and under-appreciated band of my generation. They were not a “hair metal” band, nor a “grunge” band. They were just a great group of musicians who always showed incredible reverence to their own musical idols like Queen, The Who, Zeppelin and the Beatles.

“Pornograffitti” sounds like KISS one minute, then the Everly Brothers another minute, then the Red Hot Chili Peppers another, and Frank Sinatra the next. They grew even more eclectic in future recordings, and I loved them for it.

Extreme is, and always will be, my favourite band. I have an irrational attachment to this group, and the fact that most people don’t understand or appreciate them at all only makes me love them more. “Pornograffitti” was the record that started my love affair with their music.

Like many others, my first exposure to Extreme was through the smash acoustic song, “More Than Words,” which hit in 1991. I did not like that song at all at the time. Just another hair band, I thought (and, as it turned out, that’s what many others thought as well). “More Than Words” was a Billboard Number 1 sensation and helped Extreme sell millions of records worldwide. The trouble was, that song was not at all representative of Extreme’s real body of work. It turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. While I resented the song somewhat for overshadowing the collective work of the band, I later came to appreciate that it, too, is really special piece of music that went to number one for a reason: it’s good. Really good.

“Pornograffitti” is a brilliant rock record. A theme runs throughout, following a character named Francis as he’s subjected to the allure of money, sex, power, love and the rat race of life in general. It starts with “trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses” in what is still probably my favourite song of all time, “Decadence Dance” (shame about the hideous music video for this song, though. Ugh. No wonder people had the wrong idea!). From there, it follows many twists and turns addressing all of life’s temptations until it comes back to rest with “Hole Hearted,” a song many misinterpret as a boy-meets-girl love song, but is actually more of a statement the singer is making to his or her interpretation the Divine: “There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you.”

Those who feel this record sounds like other 80’s-based rock of the time are missing the message. Extreme was always different, and they foreshadowed their falling out of sync with the popular music industry in general with the very first song of the record: “It’s hard to stop once the music gets started. Til the souls of your feet harden up like your heart did.”

The first big festival-type concert I ever went to, I attended simply to see Extreme. When Gary Cherone, the lead vocalist, climbed up and over the runway/risers behind the drum kit as the rest of the band launched into the opening song, I thought, “Oh my goodness! I want to try to learn how to do this!” It was one of the most exciting things I’d ever experienced, and led me to writing songs, learning how to sing and, eventually, to play guitar.

Extreme was my band. They still are.

They always will be.

3. David Francey – Right of Passage

Right of PassageTo me, all of David Francey’s songs are gems. Each of his albums is a gift, and it almost seems wrong to rank them. I’ll just say that, of all of the truly incredible CDs he’s shared, this one means the most to me.

Francey’s story behind the song “All Lights Burning Bright” makes me emotional. I sang this song at my Grandpa’s funeral.

I remember seeing Francey perform in Aylmer, months before the release of this CD. He sang “The Ballad of Bowser MacRae.” When he got to the part of Bowser’s son saying to his Dad, over the phone, “I love you Daddy, good luck and goodnight,” I cried. I am almost doing it again right now. I think of my own two sons and get a lump in my throat every time I hear that song. My sons mean everything to me, as they do to Bowser as well.

I love the stories behind “Kansas,” “The Conversation,” “The Gate,” “Stone Town” and “Under the Portland Weather” (if you’re curious, you can find all the lyrics and liner notes to these songs HERE).

Part of Francey’s liner notes about the instrumental track “Ferry to Cortez” served as inspiration for part of the lyrics to my song, “No Schedule Man.”

I was fortunate enough to be a at Hugh’s Room in Toronto to see the CD release show for this stellar collection. I had never heard (or heard of) a Shruti Box prior to that, but I will never forget its mournful tones as it opened the show with Francey then singing, “Well it was Edmonton late in the fall, and I was done for good and all.” It gave me shivers.

There were only two times that I can remember when I saw someone perform and thought to myself, “Wow – I want to try that.” One was the first time I saw Extreme. The other was seeing David Francey at Hugh’s Room. What an incredible inspiration.

To me, each of David Francey’s CDs rate a rock solid 10 out of 10.

“Right of Passage” gets an 11.

2. Jimmy Buffett – Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

Buffett LiveI can’t help but chuckle, looking at this album so far up this list. In the late 90’s, I was in a band that played (among other songs), “Margaritaville.” I detested the song. I felt that we were lazy for including it in our sets and trying to appeal only to the “lowest common denominator” (I felt the same way about many other songs we played as well, including “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Mustang Sally,” “Honky Tonk Woman” and a whole bunch of others). Of course, I can now admit that those songs are all very popular for a reason. If I’d been choosing which songs to play, the bar would have been empty!

In the early 2000’s, I visited Universal CityWalk in Orlando, Florida. Among the many restaurants and bars at that complex is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. There was a cover band playing in there that night. Their music was being piped out to the walkways outside the restaurant as well, and I distinctly remember the singer saying, “We’re in Jimmy Buffett’s bar. I guess we should play one of Jimmy Buffett’s songs.” They then went into an upbeat track I’d never heard before and I thought it was really catchy. I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. I didn’t know what the name of the song was but remembered that they kept getting back to singing, “Fins to the left, fins to the right.”

A couple days later, I saw on the news that Jimmy Buffett had been kicked out a Miami Heat basketball game I had attended the day before (in fact, that was the reason for the trip: to see the Heat in Miami playing their arch rival at the time, the New York Knicks). I figured that was a sign. At least Jimmy Buffett and I had the Miami Heat in common.

On the last day of that vacation, I decided I’d try to find a Buffett CD, maybe with that song on it, so I could have it as a kind of soundtrack-type reminder of the vacation. I went into the FYE music store in Florida Mall, expecting to find some kind of collection like “Margaritaville and 10 other songs you’ve never heard of before.” I was shocked when I found row after row of albums by Buffett, in stock. There must have been 25 different selections. I couldn’t believe it. How could a guy that only had one “hit” have recorded and released so much music?

I combed through the bin until I found “Live: Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays.” I figured it would be a good sample of his career, and saw that one of the songs on it was a tune called “Fins,” which I figured was the one I’d heard a few nights before.

When I first listened to the album, I didn’t like it right away. But as I started to go through some of the songs and they began to sink in a little more, I started to realize I’d been way off in my assessment of Jimmy Buffett and his music. Songs like “One Particular Harbor” and “A Pirate Looks at Forty” infused me with a sense that Buffett was a guy who knew what he liked, was entirely comfortable inside his own skin, was happy to share what made him happy, had more insight to offer than it seemed from the surface, and that there were a LOT of people that were happily in on it.

Despite the fact that he’d only ever had one “hit” (and “Margaritaville” never even got to the top of the charts), Buffett had been selling out stadiums and amphitheatres for years. He’d established a successful restaurant chain, began his own internet radio station (eventually picked up by Sirius/XM satellite radio), and had made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list as both a Fiction and Non-Fiction writer.

My curiosity led me to reading Buffett’s books, which resulted in me reading other authors he’d referenced (including Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Herman Wouk and Carl Hiaasen). I began devouring historical books about pirates, privateers and also modern day adventurers. One work led to another, and another, and another.

Listening to Radio Margaritaville helped me discover many other artists that I now love but wasn’t hearing anywhere else (some examples include Will Kimbrough, Sonny Landreth, Todd Snider and John Hiatt).

I eventually acquired Buffett’s entire recorded catalogue (that took a while!) and saw him in concert a couple of times. I wrote scads of songs off the various inspirations from the music, literature and experiences I gained that all started with discovering Jimmy Buffett (a couple of examples include two songs from my “No Scheudule Man” CD, “Orlando” and “Do Better,” the latter of which references the Buffett song, “Fruitcakes”).

In terms of sheer volume of additional influence and inspiration, this album really deserves to be at the top of this list. Looking back almost 15 years later, the inspirational ripple effect of first listening to Buffett has been staggering, and unmatched with anything else I’ve enjoyed.

And I guess that statement alone should give you some idea of just deep into my bones I feel about the only record that could rank ahead of this one, it terms of its influence on who I am, what I’ve created and what I still hope to be ….

1. Extreme – III Sides to Every Story

III SidesThis album spun my head off my shoulders. It helped to shape the way I think about a lot of things, and still do. This was the one that spoke to me on a very meaningful level when I was an 18-year-old, bordering on adulthood and trying to figure out what my place in the world was going to be, who I really was and what I really thought about things.

Songs like “Am I Ever Gonna Change,” “Stop the World,” and “Who Cares” resonated with me very deeply. It was as if lead singer and lyricist Gary Cherone had lifted the thoughts from my head, made them eloquent and set them to incredible music.

Once I’d truly absorbed this record, I was so moved that I was sure I wanted to try and learn how to write songs to express my own thoughts and feelings. This is where my songwriting started.

When I eventually picked up an acoustic guitar, I didn’t learn by doing basic strumming patterns to traditional songs like “Tom Dooley.” Instead, I wanted to be able to play what I was hearing come out of the speakers when I put on an Extreme record. I bought any guitar magazine that had any reference at all to Extreme and tried to figure out the tablature so I could learn some of what guitarist Nuno Bettencourt was doing. I didn’t beging with basic lessons. I tried to learn how to play “Warheads,” “Cupid’s Dead” and “Peacemaker Die” instead.

I don’t recommend that, by the way!

Three sides to every story: Yours, Mine, and the Truth. It’s still true. And I can’t say enough about how this record just resonates with me deep into my soul.

The use of part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech in the song “Peacemaker Die” is breathtaking. The band had to secure permission from Dr. King’s family to use that audio. The family must have sensed what Extreme was really all about, and I thank them for giving their blessing. The song is a masterwork.

The old Dr. Pepper commercial parody in “Warheads” works perfectly. It’s tragic comedy, illustrating just how casually we seem to accept violence and aggression as part of our everyday being. Sadly, that song resonates and holds up just as much today as it did over 20 years ago.

I may have learned a lot about other artists from Jimmy Buffett, as I outlined earlier, but my world expanded greatly because of Extreme long before that. Extreme would constantly nod their respect to the artists that influenced them. Their songs are laced with references, both lyrically and instrumentally, to iconic musicians like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Queen, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and many others.

For evidence of just how much the members of Extreme respected those that came before them, listen to what Brian May says about them (in the video below) before they took the stage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium. Extreme then effectively stole the show with a spot-on medley of Queen songs in a display of absolute love, appreciation and reverence for Freddie Mercury.

“III Sides to Every Story” was acclaimed critically as a masterpiece. And it is. But it didn’t resonate with the public the way “Pornograffitti” did off the strength of “More Than Words.” It also was released at a time when the Seattle-based “alternative” sounds of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots were taking over the airwaves.

Extreme was cursed to have been the wrong band at the wrong time, at least in terms of sustained public success. But that doesn’t make their work any less impactful to those who found and embraced it

My love of “III Sides to Every Story” was a watershed connection in my life. I’ll never be that same age again. I’m not likely to ever be that impressionable again. I’m just glad it was this particular record that found its way into my spirit, as I believe I am better for it.

 

So there we have it! That’s my list. Thanks for reading. Please feel welcome to share yours as well, in the comments below. Maybe it will inspire others!

Recording Journal, Vol. 42: “Homecoming”

There is a little town on the banks of the Sydenham River, about halfway between Sarnia and Chatham, Ontario. It’s called Wallaceburg.

I adore the place.

I was born in London but I view Wallaceburg as my “other” hometown. My parents were born there. My grandparents spent most of their lives there. My great-grandparents were there. And as far as I’m concerned, I was born in London but I am from Wallaceburg.

Today KG and I capped a terrific week by visiting Wallaceburg, as we’d been asked to do a live, in-studio interview and performance on 99.1 CKXS FM, a radio station that did not exist the last time I was in the town (August of 2008).

We had a grand time. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. KG and I chatted the entire drive from London and completely enjoyed each other’s company. When we popped out of the car along the banks of the Sydenham River, I immediately asked for a picture.

I love the place. The moment we arrived, I could feel my family’s heartbeat. It just feels comfortable. Warm. Welcome. It feels right. I don’t know how else to describe it. For a time after my Grandpa Newkirk passed away, I’d lost that feeling. But it was back in full force today. It was as if I could hear my Grandpa’s trademark chuckle, happy that I had returned and brought friends.

KG and I had lunch at the Fiesta Restaurant and then went on walkabout. I was pleased to be able to have my picture taken by a mural of lake boat that used to sail straight up the Sydenham and into downtown Wallaceburg. And while we were at it, a woman happened by and starting asking questions of us. It turned out that she’d been in the same school as my mom and dad, only a year behind them. We chatted for about 15 minutes, right there on the street, after which she wished us her sincere best wishes and sent us on our way.

Boy, I love that place.

We also stopped by the local music store (“The Gear Box”) where KG checked out some microphones and I bought some guitar picks the likes of which I have never seen before. It’ll be neat if I come to like playing with them. Time will tell.

Back at the radio station, we did an interview where I was given the chance to talk about my family a little bit. That was fun. And then we played one of our new songs, “Do Better,” followed by my favourite song from my first EP/CD, a tune called “Glass.” That was fun too! It was the first time KG and I have “performed” since October of 2008. But it felt completely natural. We’re just getting started.

The time on the drive home flew by. Many stories were shared and many laughs were had. It was a grand time.

Earlier in the week, we’d debuted two new singles, “Hope Over Hurt” and the aforementioned “Do Better.” I am very proud of both and am entirely excited to have this train rolling along. It now seems hard to imagine that it was just last Sunday night that KG, Alyssa Sestric and I were back at Kevin’s studio, all three of us dog tired, trying to re-record a part I felt was very important for “Hope Over Hurt.” Less than three days later, the song was on the air on an FM radio station. Two days later, KG and I were there to personally see to the task.

Neat, huh?

One other thing I don’t want to forget: Green Day’s “Last of the American Girls” was the last song to play on the air before our featured spot. We joked that they were “opening” for us. But, jokes aside, I took it as a sign that I was on the right track. I love Green Day, and especially their most recent CD, “21st Century Breakdown.” The only rock band I like better is …

EXTREME! They also graced me with their new live CD “Take Us Alive” this week. The playing in their performance is absolutely out of this world. It is going to be a while before I listen to much else. That’s my band. I love Extreme! I’m so excited to have the chance to see them live again. They are my favourite band and they always will be.

I also celebrated my 36th birthday this week by playing nine holes of golf with my great good pals from CPT Entertainment. What I got for it was a terribly sore back and a terrific sense of satisfaction that I work with the best crew ever. Upon arriving home, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my three most favourite people in the world. My boys gave me some of their Pokemon cards for my birthday and were determined to have me eat some of the cake that they helped Tracey make. It was great. They are great. Life is great.

And we haven’t even put out our CD yet? Hahaha!

Hey Wallaceburg! You know what?

We will be back.

– Kevin

Recording Journal Vol. 41: “Whipped From Water, Work & Waiting”

What a week. I’m whipped. And looking back in my day planner and listing out all the things I’ve tried to tackle, I can understand why.

Got my taxes finished, submitted and processed this week. I got our car e-tested and the plates renewed. I also had to turn to Tracey’s dad for help in solving a water-in-the-basement issue that had been going on for almost two weeks. He and I gobbled up an evening and part of the next morning diagnosing and fixing it. However that was only after I’d contacted the company that provides our water heater and had it replaced (which turned out not to be the issue).

That was Monday.

I won’t even get into the puzzle that exists in the land of CPT Entertainment. It’s too much to describe. It’s all good, but too much to describe. I bet I would exhaust you if I tried to explain it. So I won’t.

My role (through CPT) in assisting our partners at Delaware Speedway has also become one that I won’t bother attempting to articulate, other than to say that we are on the doorstep of another season and we are all under a crush of deadlines. It’s fun and exciting, but it’s the kind of thing where you need to stop yourself from time to time, take a deep breath, focus, re-prioritize and then cut to the heart of the matter. Fast. And then do it again. And again.

And then there is the music, which sees us creeping closer and closer to various deadlines, the latest being our promise to release the first two singles from the new CD on CKXS FM next week. Since they are featuring us in their Local Spotlight program, we have the wonderful opportunity of having our music played on an FM music station and around the world via their internet stream. It’s important to me that we take advantage of that opportunity by having some new material to share.

You might think that several months’ warning would be enough. Me too. But it never seems to matter; when I come up on a deadline, there always seems to be a scramble. Maybe that’s why I set deadlines. Anyway, the time is upon us and one way or the other, we’ll be ready

Monday morning, I asked KG (Kevin Gorman) if he’d make me a CD copy of the two songs we’re releasing next week (“Hope Over Hurt” and “Do Better”). Now, in order to understand why I asked for that, you must realize that, for the last few months, we’ve been hearing the songs in bits and pieces; a vocal line here, a piano part there. It’s been a while since we just sat back and listened, start to finish, to a couple of full songs. The parts of what I’d been hearing of each were good. And the individual performances were also pretty good. But I wanted to get a sense of how it felt as a whole, and how close (or far away) we were to being ready. So I popped by to KG’s around lunch time on Monday and collected the CD from him. I promptly put it in my car stereo and turned it up full.

Soon after that, I felt a little ill.

We’re always our own worst critics, but I felt that we were off the mark on “Hope Over Hurt.” Now, I knew that there were edits and mixing issues that we hadn’t yet attacked and would be fixed, but I was still jarred at the overall lack of “feel” in the whole thing. That was my honest impression.

“Do Better” gave me a slightly better feeling, although there were some things missing that made me a little uneasy. And I know better. I asked KG for the songs before they were done. I knew there were things missing. But I felt I needed to stand back and hear it as a whole and when I did, I thought, “Oh boy; we’ve got work left to do.”

I wonder if painters do that; just stand way back from their work and take it all in from time-to-time. KG and I do. It’s just that we’ve been so focussed on a lot of little things over the last few weeks that we haven’t stood back to hear the big picture.

After listening to “Hope Over Hurt” several times, it started to become clear to me that the song was okay, but it just needed some adjustment, sort of like a race car that’s just not tuned up quite as well as it can be. The more I listened to it, the more I felt confident about what we needed to do, and none of it was a big deal.

I texted Kev, telling him that I “Had some thoughts about ‘Hope’ and would email him later.” He said that was fine. So after dinner and after putting the kids to bed, I sat down at my computer and typed out my thoughts. In the interests of giving you the inside look on how this stuff comes together, here is exactly what I wrote to KG that night:

Hey Kev,

It’s going to look like I’m being hyper-critical. I’m not. I love both songs. Just giving you my gut feeling on a few things with each:

Hope Over Hurt

Notes

Piano – are we overdoing it? I’m wondering about something more basically “rhythmic” like what you do in “Glass.” The fills are nice but it almost seems to slow the song down. Plus, I wonder if we did less of that through the verses if, as a result, the solo would really pop more? Just a thought. This is my fault, I know. Seems you would have learned by now!

Bass – I know what you’ve got in there is just a placeholder. I think there can be more from the bass, especially in the solo, to help drive the song along.

Beginning – I’m not convinced we need the beginning to be that long. My gut says we should go back to the way we had it before and cut the intro back to half of what it is now. Start with just the guitar for 4 bars and then the piano would come in with the vocals when my voice says “pilgrims” (by the way, the opening lyric starts just a hair too late … easily fixed!)

The Ending – I’d like to hear how it sounds if you filled out the ending on the piano a little more. Sounds too sparse to me. Sorta’ my feeling about the song as a whole … needs more balls to give it that subconscious confidence right off the hop. Just a thought.

Percussion – I have an idea. Ask me tonight and we’ll see if it’d help or just make things a whole lot worse. Hahaha.

Vocals – There are a few shaky moments for my voice but we’ll just have to live with it I guess. I wonder about the descant. Part of it sounds off to me (at 2:58). Not sure if you were going to do that over or if my ears are screwy.

Do Better

Notes

Too much echo/reverb on my voice. I sound way too far away. Rough mix though, I know. Just thought I’d mention it.

We need your voice in the chorus and in the “na-na-na” part to balance it out. We have to have you in there!

There is a little “pop” in the vocals after the line “permanently gratified state” (I think). I could hear it in the car but not on my computer speakers and I can’t quite place it on my iPod headphones. But in the car, it comes off as an audible “click” from an edit. Easy to miss.

Tuesday night, I returned to KG Records (albeit 2 hours late because of the basement water woes I mentioned earlier). Kev smiled and held up the paper with the email you’ve just now read. He chuckled and said, “Now, you may not remember this,” (I smile) “But just about everything you’ve mentioned here, we’ve talked about before.”

“I know,” I said.

KG smiled. “I know you know. And the good news is that I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said.”

The only thing Kev talked me out of was my proposed change to the beginning. He convinced me we should leave it the way it is. I’ll be interested to know what you think of it when you finally here it.

The rest of the night, we worked on some minor editing and arrangement issues and I felt better about things when I left.

Later in the week, I saw Kevin again, along with Alyssa Sestric, a cool young lady who is lending her talents to some harmony vocals on our CD. Alyssa is a big fan of country music. As you might know, I spent over three years working with BX 93, the FM radio country music monster in this market. Weeks ago, I asked Alyssa if she’d like to go and see the station and meet some of the people that work there. It didn’t take much convincing. She was enthusiastic, to say the least. So, after clearing it with my radio pals, I met KG and Alyssa at the station Thursday afternoon, gave them the “tour” and introduced them to anyone I could find that was willing to talk to us.

Of particular interest to Alyssa was my great good pal Chris Harding, the afternoon drive host and Music Director at BX 93. I’d told Alyssa that Chris would be willing to offer her some advice and share some stories, and he did just that. Chris has a great ear for music, far more so than you’d be able to tell by simply listening the station (regardless of what you think about the song selection that actually goes to air, I can promise you that far more work goes into it than you could possibly imagine).

It was fun to watch Alyssa. She was clearly excited to be there. She listened intently to everything Chris had to say. I am very grateful to Alyssa for the time and energy she has put to what is largely my project. And I am also very grateful to Chris for being a great friend, mentor and just an overall good person. To see them together was especially gratifying to me.

We also stopped by to chat with Barry Smith, the Operations Manager. Barry is another person I hold in the highest of esteem. I will never forget that he took the time to offer me his constructive feedback about 15 years ago, even though I worked in another market (Sarnia) and for a rival broadcasting company. Little did I know that he and I would cross paths again, and that he would throw me a lifeline back in 2007 when I needed it most (but that is another story). It was fun for me to go back to him and say, “Here is a young person I believe has a lot to offer by way of talent and personality” and to see him agree and encourage Alyssa.

In any event, the whole thing was fun. It generated some positive energy, got me back to see some of my radio mates and got KG, Alyssa and I together away from the studio for the first time.

Moving on to today, I popped in to see Kev at his studio again for a couple hours and we worked out more of “Hope” and I got him to sing the parts I wanted him to do for “Do Better.” The results were great. We’ll be back at it again tomorrow. And when 99.1 CKXS FM comes a-callin’ we will be ready. Besides all that, I’m so ready to share some of this newer music, I feel about ready to bust. Today I felt like just screaming at Kev: “Just FINISH it!!” Hahaha. But of course it’s not that simple. He’s working as hard as he can and so am I.

In the rest of the world, I must admit I am a happy guy. In terms of the things that entertain me, it would seem that the stars are all lining up to put on a show just for me. I’m delighted! Earlier this week, the mail carrier brought me my copy of Craig Werth’s new CD “The Spokes Man.” It’s terrific; a gorgeous collection of songs (matter of fact it’s on right at this very minute; the song “I Had To Get Here”).

On top of that, my favourite band of all, EXTREME, is on the verge of releasing their first-ever live CD/DVD combo. I have pre-ordered it from Amazon and will try to be patient while I await its arrival. I have had a love affair with Extreme’s music in a manner than I’m not sure I can explain. Their 1992 album “III Sides to Every Story” not only changed the way I look at music, it changed the way I view the world and myself. That view still holds. There is something intangible about the combination of Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt together that hits my music nerve. I don’t know what it is. But I do know that others out there like me share the same affliction. When EXTREME’s “Take Us Alive” CD arrives at our door, we’re going to have a hard time listening to anything else for some time.

It is also not lost on me that Jimmy Buffett (another one of my absolute favourites) has released a new collection called “Encores.” I look forward to hearing it, though I’ve decided I’m going to wait to get that one until I’m really in the mood. For all I know, that’ll be tomorrow. Or maybe months from now. I don’t know. But I do love Jimmy Buffett and I look forward to hearing “Encores.”

As for this last one, you might find it funny. But I’ve always liked the rock band Jackyl. Tracey and I went to see them a few times in the early-to-mid nineties. I’ve always liked their attitude and their straight-ahead, no apologies brand of rock and roll. So when I learned that they have a new CD on the way within a couple of weeks, I was pretty happy. I bought their new single on iTunes the other day and have been pushing the limits of my car stereo with it ever since.

I am also looking forward to Carl Hiaasen’s next book and the new TV series “Caprica” (now that I’ve watched all my Battlestar Galactica DVDs). That’s all good.

Gotta’ have things to look forward to.

And I am looking forward to finally getting this CD completed, releasing it and sharing it with whoever will listen. The work doesn’t go away; it just changes from creating it to playing and promoting it.

And I wanna play.

– Kevin

PS – A week ago today, my ‘big’ sister Karen was born. Today, one week later, I celebrate the arrival of my baby sister Janna (or, as I know her, “J”). I am constantly inspired by both of my sisters. But what J has accomplished, I’ll never quite understand. It amazes me. Years ago, she ventured up north as north can be: to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. I didn’t think she’d last three months. Instead, she adapted to the climate and the culture and she has not only made it her home, she has become so involved in the community as to make a truly positive difference in the lives of many people. She has married a terrific fellow named Kurtis and I am just so proud of my sister, I can’t tell you. My lone regret is that J is as far away as she is. Of course, she could say the same thing about me. We may be a long way apart, but I love my kid sister as only a proud brother can. I love you J. Happy Birthday.

Recording Journal, Vol. 30: “Looking Forward”

We’ve almost put January astern and I can scarcely recall any of it. Seems a blur to me. And as I stand at the doorstep of the first weekend in many weeks that does not include work, big events or the like, I hardly know what to do with it. Though I know what I’d like to do:

Sleep.

For a long time.

It’s been over a month since KG and I last recorded anything. But the heart of the project is still beating (much like the “Heart of Rock ‘n Roll”) and I can sense an upcoming return that will bring renewed vigour and momentum to see it through to completion. Right now I’d be happy just to get back out to see Kev again and hash out some songs, as it’s difficult to fall victim to life’s perceived burdens when you’re singing.

Still, whenever I’ve been able to steal a few minutes, I have been playing guitar and creating concepts in my mind over the last few weeks. But when I grab a guitar, it’s been the electric 6-string (rather than the acoustic), and I’ve been dusting off some rock material that I’m excited to work on. Burying myself once again under a mountain of my own expectations, I’ve already told KG that the minute we’re done recording the acoustic album, we’ll get to work on the rock project! Haha.

I’m my own worst enemy. I know it.

At this point, what I need is some rest. We’ve been through a time of very high intensity with my company, CPT Entertainment, and we’ve come through it with some success, more knowledge and more firepower. Of course, as you grow, it all becomes more to manage; an art in itself.

There has been no rest in the radio work either. Hosting a weeknight show, regardless of the fact that it’s pre-recorded, tethers you to a regular routine whether you like it or not. Even though your body and mind cry out for a rest on a Monday after working a trade show all weekend, you still need to find the energy to prepare and perform on the air even if you’d really rather tell people to go listen to something else for a day or two.

I am not complaining. The great news is that all this work was expected. And I am lucky to have the opportunity to do it. Embarrassingly fortunate, really. And on top of that, there is much to look forward to.

This coming week, I’ll be escaping for a few days to do nothing but be with my wonderful wife and two great sons. We are headed to the Sunshine State, hoping it saves for us some of what the state was named for. But if not, that’s okay too. We’re just excited to be together without all the day-to-day distractions life requires. And we know that after a few days away, we’ll be aching to get back home, which is part of the fun of going away.

I’m excited that the Daytona 500 is coming up. I’m excited that the golf season is getting into full swing (with or without you-know-who). I can see that spring is not far off, and that’s a nice thought too.

I’m pumped up about where CPT Entertainment is headed. We have worked tirelessly and in a constant state of change for about three years. We are finally starting to see the roadmap of the future coming into focus. That’s exciting and empowering.

I’m very excited about where Kevin Bulmer Enterprises is going, and you can expect that I’ll be putting more of my time and effort into that in the coming months and years, especially after the “No Schedule Man” CD is ready. Songwriting, performing, speaking and writing: those are my passions. I have promised myself I will make those things a part of each day in some way, even if it’s only a few moments’ thought.

Off the top of my head, some other things that are happy thoughts:

David Francey told me the other day that he was working on a new CD with Keiran Kane. That is very good news!

Extreme fans are impatiently awaiting the upcoming live CD/DVD and, possibly, a chance to see the band live again this year. That’d be really exciting.

Will Kimbrough’s new CD, “Wings” is due in the latter half of February

Jimmy Buffett has announced that a new Margaritaville restaurant will open in Niagara Falls, Ontario, by this summer!

Looming on the horizon: the Masters, the US Open, the British Open and the Ryder Cup; four events that are about the only things that will keep me in front of a TV for more than an hour anymore

NASCAR’s season and the inevitable (and enjoyable) chatter among friends that goes with it

Spring training is around the corner. Tigers baseball will be on the air again soon.

The A-Team movie is due to hit theatres in June. I love it when a plan comes together.

Above all else, my wife and kids are healthy and happy. I’d trade all of the above and anything else in order to be able to continue saying that. After all, what else is there?

As for the whole reason for this journal – our recording project – well, we’ll be back on the “No Schedule” schedule soon enough. And when it gets closer, I’ll put my nose to the grindstone and make lots of noise about it.

But not today.

Gotta have some things to look forward to.

– Kevin

PS – Just “cooked” myself a couple of corn dogs (Pogos) for lunch. Now my office smells like a fall fair! See you at the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Recording Journal, Vol. 5: “Zac Brown, Green Day and Progress Made”

Boy, was this a great week for music in my world. After sitting a little stagnant for a while, I became suitably jazzed thanks to two brilliant CDs, each by artists I’d never given any positive thought to previously.

The first was “21st Century Breakdown” by Green Day. Having heard from an acquaintance that the album was “a masterpiece,” I first thought, ‘A masterpiece, by Green Day?! C’mon.’

Sounded like an oxy moron.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never given the band any thought. They’re the punk guys who sing “Basket Case” and that “Time of Your Life” song (sort of like how I used to think that Extreme were only the guys who sang that “More Than Words” song; Springsteen was the guy who sang that “Born in the USA” song and Buffett was the guy who sang that “Margaritaville” song). Anyway, yadda yadda yadda … I bought the CD and, in my humble opinion, the thing is a masterpiece. I don’t like it – I absolutely, totally love it.

The other is “The Foundation” by the Zac Brown Band. You know – the “Chicken Fried” guys. Well, I “accidentally” heard a couple of other cuts from their CD, which were good enough to peak my interest. So I looked into them and very much liked what I learned. So I bought the CD.

Holy cow. The thing is fantastic, but in a totally different way than the Green Day CD. “21st Century Breakdown” is a wall of sonic emotion that twists, turns, rises and dips in and out of all kind of razor-sharp themes and lyrical content. It’s the kind of CD you turn up to ten and wish, like Spinal Tap, that your volume went to eleven (“one louder”).

On the other hand, the Zac Brown Band is an incredibly gifted group of players who know the art of what notes not to play, and which instruments to leave out. The Zac Brown Band CD is great from start to finish, and on every single track, the group gives each song only what it needs; exactly what it needs, and nothing more. It is a wonderful collection of songs. The tune “Highway 20 Ride” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard this side of David Francey. Great stuff.

I’ve been listening to – and loving – all kinds of music for a long time now. I know the difference between hearing some good, catchy songs that I’ll enjoy for a little while versus experiencing something that just connects to me in a way that’s hard to explain. The two CDs I’ve described are the latter. My gut tells me that, five or ten years from now, I’ll still view them as being in another class than most of what I own.

Off the top of my head, I recall that had the same feeling when I heard “III Sides to Every Story” by Extreme, “Skating Rink” by David Francey, “Live: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays” by Jimmy Buffett and “Courage, Patience and Grit” by Great Big Sea.

On top of that, a little internet noodling revealed to me that the Arc Angels are working on another CD and are currently on tour! Those who do not own the band’s only record (“Arc Angels,” 1992) are cheating themselves out of one of the best albums of my generation.

Fire in a bottle is what that CD was. So, in my opinion, are “21st Century Breakdown” and “The Foundation,” in their own way.

Naturally, excited about all this great music, I took to my guitar as much as I could this week. I also managed to take advantage of my lone visit to Kevin Gorman’s studio to start fleshing out a couple of songs. It was the first time we’d played music together since last October, and it felt great.

Having already “ghosted” five of the songs we’ve chosen for the “No Schedule Man” project, I told Kevin to choose whichever one he wanted and we’d work on that. He chose a song called “Orlando” (which I wrote in 2002 and then updated, lyrically, in 2006). We had a total blast trying some different things and re-tracking it. I think we made some decent progress with it.

Next, he chose “Bagley Avenue,” a song I wrote in the summer of 2007. One of the few “story” songs I’ve ever done, it remains one of my favourites. It is more or less just autobiographical verses mixed with a metaphorical chorus. But let me tell you, when Kevin got to putting the emotional touches into the song with his piano … it broke me up. Whether or not we ever actually finish the CD, it is a complete rush and total honour to hear the song brought to life, if only for us to share in those few moments while it’s alive and breathing.

Our schedules did not allow us to stay at it for long, but Kevin and I both left the encounter feeling the same way; it not only felt great to play and work on songs together again; it felt right. It’s hard to explain, so I won’t try. It’s just a feeling of connectedness I get only from music. I guess you could say I felt “connected” all week.

What a great week.

– Kevin

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