I logged in a lot of stage time this summer, with Seann Clark & Friends, Colette Bone, and my own solo gigs. But the high point was my birthday (July 19), when I went to see the High Life play at the Sprague Brewery in Venango.

If all I did that night was see the High Life play, it still would have been a great evening. The High Life are one of the most exciting acts in the tri-state area. Though primarily a cover band, they recently released an excellent album of original material:

https://www.amazon.com/Uncovered-HighLife/dp/B07F6WD8VP

As I said, if all I had done was see the High Life play, it would have been enough. But because it was my birthday, they invited me onstage to play five songs with them:

“Amie”

“California Dreaming”

“Lyin’ Eyes”

“Comfortably Numb”

“Hotel California”

I’ve seen the High Life (who are good friends of mine) literally dozens of times. Even so, I was amazed how much energy there was on that stage. When I play my two-hour solo gigs, I hardly break a sweat. But after five songs with the High Life, my tongue was hanging out like a red necktie!

For some reason, YouTube wouldn’t let me post it, but here is the video of (most of) the performance:

https://vimeo.com/352613168

Needless to say, it was a great time. But the evening held an additional bonus in store…

One of the first things you learn when purchasing a musical instrument is that quality is quality and junk is junk, and seldom do the twain meet. Some notable exceptions to this rule are the “cheapo” Japanese guitars that came out during the 1960’s. This is because many of them were equipped with “gold foil” pickups, revered among cultists for their dynamic, “chimey” sound. (Ry Cooder, for example, is a big proponent of gold foil pickups.)

Unfortunately, the increased availability of information nowadays has resulted in better-educated guitar sellers. Gold foil pickups themselves go for $150 on eBay.

Well… while I was playing with the High Life at the Sprague Brewery, I took a closer look at the various “knick-knacks” decorating the stage. I spotted a beat-up xylophone, a cheap trumpet… and a junk guitar with gold foil pickups! I asked Brian Sprague about buying it and he agreed to let me have it provided I brought him another junk guitar to hang on the wall in its place.

I returned to Sprague’s the following evening to conclude the transaction. On stage were Glenn Rankin and Dan (“Chip”) Schell, another excellent duo on the local music scene. Rankin and Schell are also a cover act; however, I was impressed with some of their song choices (“Summer Breeze”, “Penny Lane”).

https://www.rankinandschell.com/

When they were done playing, I expressed my appreciation that they didn’t do the same tired old songs that musical acts around here usually play (i.e. “Wagon Wheel”, “Sweet Caroline”). “We actually do both of those,” Chip sheepishly admitted. “But we’re not allowed to play ‘Wagon Wheel’ here.”

So… bands at Sprague’s aren’t allowed to play “Wagon Wheel”. That’s fine by me; if I never hear it again, it’ll still be too soon. But it got me thinking… If you were in charge of booking musical acts, what songs (if any) would you ban from being played onstage?

To get the ball rolling, here are my “bottom ten”:

  1. “Wagon Wheel”
  2. “Sweet Caroline”
  3. “Last Dance with Mary Jane”
  4. “Folsom Prison Blues”
  5. “Wish You Were Here”
  6. “Brown Eyed Girl”
  7. “Me and Bobby McGee”
  8. “All Along the Watchtower”
  9. anything by the Beatles
  10. “Wonderwall”

A word about #9… Those of you who know me well know that the Beatles are my favorite group. It is precisely for that reason that they made the list. The Beatles’ songs are very personal to me. They sound simple, but in fact are full of intriguing nuances. When someone plays a Beatles song and screws it up, it’s like fingernails scraping on a chalkboard.

Anyway, that’s about it for this newsletter. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and if I don’t see you around here, I’ll see you around. Hear?

Rock long and prosper,

Frank

There are many reasons why I love summer. For one thing, there are the various music festivals held throughout the tri-state region – a great opportunity to hear live music outside of a barroom setting. I myself applied to play at one of these festivals. The conversation went along smoothly until I uttered those six fateful words:

“How much does this gig pay?”

You’d have thought I was Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. The booking agent went on and on about how people were donating their time and talent for this community event, and how dare I ask for money when people much better than me were playing for free.

This drives me crazy. Are the arts and crafts vendors giving away their stuff for free? Are the food trucks giving away food? Is Penelec donating electricity? Why is it always the musicians who are asked to take it on the chin at these things?

Another thing I love about summer is that the nicer weather is more conducive to travel. Last weekend I saw the Lemonheads in Pittsburgh. It was only when driving home that it occurred to me that the audience… was entirely white.

I don’t want to be one of these “walk five miles to school” guys, but when I was growing up in the 1980’s, it wasn’t like this. White kids listened to Prince and Michael Jackson. Black kids listened to Madonna and Bruce Springsteen. Everyone listened to everything. But, around 1990, the races split apart, with blacks embracing rap and R&B, and whites gravitating toward country and grunge (and later, indie rock). 

I am neither a sociologist nor a musicologist. I don’t purport to understand how or why this split occurred. But it’s a disturbing trend, and it ought to be addressed.

The main reason I love summer is that the time off allows me to play more music. Earlier this month I actually went on tour!

Okay, it was only five shows in two weeks. And they were all in northwest Pennsylvania. And I went home after every gig. But this is my newsletter, so I’m calling it a tour!

I have a few more shows later this summer; check the website for details. In the meantime, I hope everyone reading this has the opportunity to take in some live music this summer – if not mine, then someone else’s.

As usual, thanks for your support. And remember… you only get about eighty summers in a lifetime, so make each one count.

 

 

One of the hardest parts of being in your fifties is that people your own age start dying. My new year got off to a rocky start when a longtime friend of mine, Joshua Schoenfeld, unexpectedly passed away.

Joshua was not only one of my best friends, he was also one of my biggest fans. It was he who suggested the album titles Foul Weather Friend and American Proust. Josh and his wife also came to see me when I played at the Baggot Inn in New York City in 2002.

Joshua was the proverbial “glass is half full” kind of guy. After the Baggot Inn gig, we went out for a pepperoni pizza. (Though a devout Jew, Joshua believed that what came out of your mouth was far more important than what went into it.) I was unsure how well my performance went (sparse attendance, not much applause) when Joshua reassured me:

JS: When you started playing, did anyone get up and leave?

FM: Well… no.

JS: Then you did okay!

However, even someone of Joshua’s sunny disposition would have found it hard to put a positive spin on my performance at the Tipsy Bean Coffeehouse in Erie.

I was in the audience watching my friend Tommy Link play there last January. When he took a break, he invited me to play a few songs during the interim.

I pretty much cleared the room. By the end of my third song, I was playing to Tommy and the baristas.

Tommy – to his credit – didn’t hold a grudge. To the contrary; he put in a good word for me to play at the Breakwall BBQ in Conneaut, Ohio. (I’ll be playing there on Sunday, June 2.) The Breakwall, with its lakefront location and picturesque sunsets, is one room I know I won’t clear!

I’ve had a YouTube channel for about 10 years, but I haven’t done anything with it for a long time. When I recently saw how many subscribers I had, I figured I should probably get back into it. Over the past few months, therefore, I’ve uploaded several new videos: mainly live performances, along with a couple of instrumental pieces I’ve been working on.

You can see what all the fuss is about at:

https://www.youtube.com/user/fmarzano2003

Well, that’s about it for now. As always, thanks for your support.

Rock long and prosper (or, as Joshua would have said, “Shalom aleichem”).

Those of you who know me well know that, when I’m not playing music, I’m either writing music, listening to music, or reading about music.

In his autobiography A Cellarful of Noise, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein recounted a rare visit to a Fab Four recording session. Epstein had the effrontery to remark from the control booth that something didn’t sound right. John Lennon, in his now-famous reply, responded, “You stick to your percentages, Brian. We’ll look after the music.”

I mention this because pretty much the same thing is happening here in northwest Pennsylvania. One bar in the area asked to see my setlist before they would book me. Another local watering hole informed me that they don’t allow any original compositions!

When I inquired why, I was told, "Our goal is to keep people here." This drives me crazy for two reasons. It assumes that (1) meticulously crafted original songs won't keep people in a venue, and (2) boring covers of "Wagon Wheel" will.

Since when did venues get into the business of dictating the musicians’ repertoire? This makes about as much sense as me instructing them how much sauce to put on the hot wings, or telling them when the fries are done.

On the plus side, however, it does explain why so many musicians in the area play the same dozen songs (“Sweet Caroline”, “Last Dance with Mary Jane”, etc.)

So... bars in the tri-state area continue to be unwilling to book me. To be honest, I find myself missing it less and less. Bar crowds aren’t what they used to be.

Among other things, I’ve found that they speak in a kind of code, which I’ve managed to translate for your edification. Here are some examples:

“Turn it up!”

Translation: “I am a total rube. I don’t get out much. I wish to control the volume onstage just like I do on my home stereo. Please pour a beer over my head.”

“Freebird!”

Translation: “I am a total rube. I don’t get out much. I wish to control the song selection just like I do on my home stereo. Please pour a beer over my head.”

“One more!”

Translation: “I am a total rube. I don’t get out much. I wish to control the duration of the music just like I do on my home stereo. Please pour a beer over my head.”

So… I haven’t been playing in bars. Where have I been playing?

I play at senior homes throughout Crawford County 2 – 3 times a month. I also play at the Venango General Store on a semiregular basis. Then there’s the Little Church on the Hill.

On the third Saturday of each month, the Elk Creek Historical Society organizes “Coffee House on the Hill” – an event featuring potluck and local musicians at the historic (1855) “Little Church” in Wellsburg, PA (just north of Albion).

I myself used to play here when I was taking my first baby steps as a live musician, playing lead guitar for Dave Devine back in 1999. I used to joke that the average age of the crowd was somewhere between 70 and “dead three days ago”. Not that big of a deal (except that, if there was a fire, I’d pretty much be looking at certain death).

These days the Elk Creek Historical Society is in the hands of new people who are trying to cater to a younger crowd. When I reached out to them to play at the Coffee House, they were receptive to the idea - although, at the time of this writing, we haven’t booked a date yet. Once we set something up, I’ll post it on the website.

In the meantime, check out the excellent work the Elk Creek Historical Society does on their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/LittleChurch/about/?ref=page_internal

Finally, I hope all of you reading this have a joyous holiday season. And, if your holiday list contains that hard-to-shop-for person, the perfect stocking stuffers are right here:

https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/FrankMarzano 

Rock long and prosper,

Frank

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