Saturday, January 31, 2009

Songwriting: Inspiration or perspiration?

It's both. Even the tiniest impetus to write a song is inspiration. It doesn't have to be big, or about something important. It can be world hunger or toilet paper. Once that inspiration has passed - and it will, sooner than any of us wish - it's mostly perspiration. After you write down the lines you dreamed last night or the fragment of conversation you overheard in line at the checkout counter, it's all work. But that's the fun of it.

What inspires you? Do you wait for inspiration to strike, for Efterpi to descend and coax the song from your struggling brain? Do you take a drive? Walk? Run? Do yard work? Movement can be a good catalyst. Manual labor as well. A tired body often leads to an active mind.

Inspiration occurs any and everywhere. Be prepared to meet it halfway with pencil and paper. Otherwise you stand a good chance of missing the details. Using a small tape or solid-state recorder? That'll work, but it's easier flipping pages back and forth combining this verse with that chorus than trying to locate half-a-line on a recorder. But, admittedly, I'm a writing-on-paper kind of person.

Turn on the rhythm section of your electronic keyboard to a beat you rarely use (reggae? waltz?).

Try an alternative tuning. This link not only provides a sample list of songs in a particular tuning, but you can mouse-over the individual notes to help tune your guitar. A great help if you're new to alternative tunings.

Go on-line for tips. Bloggingmuses. Other muses.

Search your ancestors several generations back for an interesting name, turn it into a title, and take if from there. (My great grandfather was named Urban L. Jones. Surely there's a song there.)

Where do you find inspiration? I don't know. But go find it. And write a song in the next seven days.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nauseous Disaster

Walking into a gig a few nights ago, guitar in a gig bag, the buckle on the strap gave way and bag and guitar hit the sidewalk. The sharp crack of well-crafted, expensive wood on unforgiving, incredibly hard concrete was (literally) sickening. I almost threw up (don’t mean to be graphic, but I’m sure you understand). Ironically, until that night I had only trusted my guitars to hard shell cases, never gig bags. After all, gig bags are, well...bags!

Opening the bag once I got inside, the damage was plain, and painful; a long crack across the face, another across the back, and the rattle of wood inside. (Recurrence of nausea.)

The gig went well, but the guitar needed tuning after every song. Playing for several classes of kindergarteners, singing silly songs and having them sing and shout and jump, got me in a better frame of mind. Until I got home. Then the nausea returned.

When my wife saw the damage she wanted to be sick as well. My son also felt like participating in the "broken guitar queasy stomach syndrome" but he was doing laundry and it's not smart to be nauseous while cleaning clothes, so we didn’t let him join in the nausea-fest.

(I didn’t tell our daughter, away at college, or she would have been nauseous as well and she didn’t have time to be nauseous and study too).

Next day I contacted a luthier. Great news! The damage was repairable, the cost reasonable, the sound would not be impaired, and I could have it back in a week or ten days. My nausea subsided, as did that of my wife and son.

This means I’ll be able to perform with my ‘good’ guitar (the injured one) Feb. 10 at a gig in Fort Payne, Alabama, with my friend Russell Gulley (great blues/roots artist who incidentally also got nauseous when he heard about the accident).

(Russell Gulley, left. His guitar has no cracks.)

I had also told my friend Dennis Gulley, Russell's brother, who runs a recording studio in Nashville (and is a great bass player who performed that feat as well as producing, engineering, and arranging the songs you hear on this blog). He, too, expressed feelings of queasiness when he heard about the injury, but he’s in Nashville and there’s so much music there folks have little time to feel sick.

Besides getting my guitar restored to its former glory, I’ve made a new friend, Marco Ferrara, The Luthier. I know where to take my guitars should they need repair. And while I like Marco – very personable, articulate, professional – any future encounters will be social, not business, because I have banished gig bags from my home, F-O-R-E-V-E-R.

You folks who use and love gig bags, please don’t write to tell me I’m overreacting. I wouldn’t use a gig bag if you paid me. Okay. If you paid me, maybe. Depends on what you’re paying. But I wouldn't put my best guitar in one, that's for sure!

(Dennis Gulley, right, with a lot of gray hair. I'm the other guy, with a little gray hair. Actually, very little gray hair. Note - at this time my guitar has no cracks.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tiberias (Walk on Your Water)

The town of Tiberias rests against the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. From the southern end of the Galilee the Jordan River exits in a rush before slowing down as it meanders south past Jericho, finally emptying into the Dead Sea.

(Photo above - Bob on the road north of Jericho, 1972)

In 1971-72 I worked on a kibbutz several miles south of the Galilee, a place that offered a welcoming oasis to a young traveler who had journeyed from Amsterdam, through Germany, across Austria and Yugoslavia, and come to rest in Greece before deciding to winter in Israel.

Like several other songs on my CD Never Too Late, Tiberias was written more than 30 years after the fact; after I had walked through the town's crowded market, sipped tea at its tiny cafes, and dipped my body and soul in the mystic waters of the Galilee and the Jordan.

I had always wanted to write a gospel or gospel-ish song, and Tiberias is it (so far). It's also an attempt to make sense of, or explain in some fashion, spirituality and our quest for understanding.

Tiberias (Walk on Your Water)

There’s a tall Galilean been hanging around

he looks just like everyone else

the high priests don’t like it when he comes to town

he cares for none of their wealth


Tiberias, Tiberias I wanna walk on your water

walk on your water I do

Tiberias, Tiberias Lord knows I’m serious

I wanna walk on the water with you

He sails the Galilee collecting the fishes

collecting the souls of those Galilee men

storm clouds come rolling to stir up the water

he is the fisherman’s friend



He wanders the shoreline searching for sinners

hoping to find him a few

some’ll be fishing, all will be wishing

they could walk on water, too

Well, you don’t need a life vest

you don’t need a cushion,

you don’t need nothing to keep you afloat

you don’t need a flare gun, you don’t need a whistle

you don’t even need a boat


© James R. Corley 2008

I.B. Dog Music, ASCAP