Tomorrow night after festival, treat yourself to the sounds of Kevin Sekhani and his band at the Feed & Seed in Lafayette, LA Sunday Oct 15th @7pm. Kevin has toured all over the world bringing fantastic roots music, incredible showmanship, and lyrics that stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats in any style.
I'll be playing guitar alongside him, bass legend Gary Newman, Walter Pierce, and Jonathan Herron, and also doing a short opening set with my bride-to-be, Ms. Mandy Johnson. This is your chance to see some amazing music this weekend! Trust me, you want to be there!!
Sunday! Feed & Seed! 7pm!
At the risk of coming across as old man yelling at clouds, and even alienating some of my artist friends, I still feel like I need to say something. It's like a little sonar ping in the back of my mind that gets daily reinforcement, an alert with every scroll through social media, every time I turn on the radio or TV, which is less and less, I can't help but wonder where the courage in art, comedy, and music went?
Artists used to be bold, edgy, non-conformists. They were against the mainstream, the MAN. Now they are the voice of the man.
They are politically correct cowards with the same watered down bs coming from every single voice. It's a freaking echo chamber.
If there's any non-mainstream thought in the music community, both national and local, I can't find it, save a few personal friends of mine, who are mostly players and not songwriters.
The songwriters are afraid.
Maybe it's fear of being cast out, doxxed, whatever. Hard to be the one who says something different.
It's apparent only the approved message is allowed. Eminem hates Trump? How daring! How novel! I'm hearing the same thing from CNN, NBC, all the alphabet soup networks, Saturday Night Live and late night shows, even the NFL has turned anti-american. Wait a minute, don't jocks love the USA?
I'm going to be working on some new material soon. I've gotta get some of these ideas out... I'm not far along as a lyricist, but I'm around a lot of good ones, and picking up things along the way. This much I know:
Family is good. Marriage should last. Good health is a must. Church is good. God is real. Seeing healthy people with a gang of well-behaved kids is beautiful.
And America is the greatest place that ever was. It's time to start singing about it.
I want to share a few quick items that might help you out with improving your day to day life. Just a few things I've doing that really help.
1: Make the Bed. I know this sounds crazy, but the advice I got from my grandmother years ago, which I never took, was make the bed every day. I thought logically that I'd just mess it up again that night. It took hearing it from my mentor Tim Ferriss's podcast that it gives you an easy win, and at least you accomplished something today. Now, even if it's a crap day, it gives a sense of control over one small item, and it's comfortable to get into at night. I highly suggest trying it.
2: Make a List. Start your day with a list of the two most important things you want to accomplish today. Don't write a list of 20+ things you're going to get a third of the way through before collapsing, and pick the things that if you only did those 2 things today, you'd feel like it was a win. After that, you can add more stuff, but commit to doing two things to move forward today.
3: Cut the Cord. Cancel Cable. It's just like watching an endless youtube ad these days, 90% advertising and spam and totally not worth the expense. Whenever we can buy our entertainment channels ala carte and not pay for 200 channels of spam for the 3-4 we watch, I'll re-evaluate, but now everything is available cheap or free online. This will save you so much time, aggravation, and money and it reduces the amount of noise in the world. Read a book. Watch a movie or series online. Go outside. Talk to your friends and family. Go to church. Go to the park. Unplug! Trust me, it's worth it.
Bonus: I highly recommend the work of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, who's one of the most brilliant thinkers of our time. You can hear him on Joe Rogan's Podcast (twice!), on YouTube, and he has a clear and thought provoking way of explaining what's going on in the world today, and how you can improve your own life dramatically. He also has a course called Self Authoring that helps you get yourself and your goals sorted out. It's pretty amazing.
I am so excited and fired up for the new year. 2017 is going to be amazing. I have some revelations to share, some wisdom from 2016, a dash of trivia, and a ton of hope and love to share with each of you. I hope that you can come away with something to motivate and inspire, and I encourage you to share in the comments below, or on social media.
Note and Warning: Friends and family, in 2017 I will be doing a lot of new things that are way outside my comfort zone and character.
As Whitman said in Song of Myself:
"Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself.
(I am large. I contain multitudes.)"
Do not be alarmed. You may have to suspend your notion of who I am for a little while. This is all part of the plan.
Remember, you will find yourself in the same place next year, or five years from now, except for the people that you meet, and the books you read. Whatever it is that you are putting off, do it. Whatever it is that scares you, walk toward it. Enrich your life. Seek inspiration and fuel from outside sources. More than ever, I realize we can't do it alone.
Perhaps this can help you along in 2017.
TOP 5 Books I read in 2016:
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown:
This is a book on vulnerability, a scary topic for all of us. In a world where we only put our best face forward, and show others only the ideal version of ourselves, this book talks about courage and how to bring others closer by showing them our true selves. I found this super powerful, and it made me realize how far I had to go, and gave me the courage to step outside my comfort zone.
Note: For those of you who enjoy listening instead of reading, here is her Ted Talk.
How To Be An Adult In Relationships: Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo:
This was profound for me. This was a year where I broke things off with someone I loved, but never could let go, found romance in a longtime friendship, opened up my heart like never before, got it broken, picked up the pieces and came out stronger and happier than ever, with the realization that I have so much to offer, and for the first time in my life, I know how. I feel like this could help so many people stay together and find lasting happiness. I wish I had read it sooner.
The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss:
This is my most recommended book every year, and it counts again because I re-read it! If you are at all interested in business and efficiency, and have any inclination of starting your own business, or just want to understand how the modern business world works, please do yourself a favor and read this. It is perhaps my #1 most important book of all time.
Bonus: Tim's Podcast is great and turns me onto so many other avenues of interest. Fascinating. Check it out here. My favorites were Mat Mullenweg, Shay Carl, Tony Robbins... subscribe and enjoy!
The Power of Less by Leo Babauta:
This is a short little Ebook that transformed my productivity level. I am currently using a version of Leo's system of 3 MIT's (most important tasks) daily, and limiting myself to 3 Projects max, focusing my efforts for maximum results, and find I am hugely more productive, at the same time freeing up a lot of time and energy.
Emergency by Neil Strauss:
This is a book about prepping for economic collapse or natural disasters, and basically becoming a badass. It's a pretty entertaining read, and gave me a lot of ideas for what I want to do this coming year.
I'll also throw in honorable mention to my re-read of the classic Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. If there's one personal finance book to read, it's this one. Get it.
There is a holistic view of all this seeming madness. I am most of all dedicated to efficiency, and feel like our modern world is full of waste and distraction. Most of us, myself included until recently, have been chasing outdated plans that are given to us as a birthright, but are relics of a past that is no longer relevant.
We have to make our own way, now, and this is brilliant and empowering. As a minimalist, I am seeking to eliminate from my life everything that is without meaning and utility, from possessions, to projects, to people, and using the power of focus on what's truly important to create the life I want.
So, onward to 2017, the year where I move beyond self discovery, and graduate to self creation. This is going to be the greatest year.
I'm taking a page out of my friend Elizabeth's book and writing a post about this past year and the things I've learned. I always look forward to her reports and decided to do one as well.
The most important lesson has been the power of consistency. I learned to forgive my own missteps. My mission in life is bigger than any one event, one interaction, one gig, one problem. Through proper tracking, I can make sure that most days I'm doing the things that push my mission forward.
I like to take major stock twice a year, once in the winter for New Years, my favorite holiday, and once for my Birthday (Nameday, anyone?) mid-June. A sort of tune-up to check in on progress and resolutions.
On June 23 2015 I was at a terrible low point, burdened with overwork, literally heavy with extra weight, and a heavy heart, having gone through the most painful breakup of my life. I resolved to make some serious changes, and set about it in my usual way: research and follow-through.
I learned how to make a "Habits" list, which involves the items I want to turn into habits and a checklist for all 7 days of the week. Once these items become part of the daily routine they can be replaced with others. My max is 5, though.
Right now my list is:
On my last birthday I stumbled upon a book called the 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss, who is now one of my biggest influences and role models for life, and that book was a guide to health and self improvement that included a diet plan and workouts, and I am proud to say I've been on the Slow Carb diet for 1 year now, and it's been a slow grind to lose 14 pounds the right way, then put back on 5 of muscle.
I learned how to meal prep and pack lunches, and now cook in bulk, 20 meals that I can grab and go. I spend less time cooking than ever, and rarely have to scramble for food in my overbooked days, or eat out if I don't want to.
I also learned how to work out, based on a custom plan made by my friend Joel. The most important factor is consistency. Just showing up and tracking my weights and reps on paper made sure I knew exactly what to do, how long to do it, and how heavy I was lifting.
Motivation: I realized about halfway through our 12 week weightlifting program that I wasn't going to complete a week and had a total meltdown, and Joel talked me into taking a break and I realized that one misstep, or delay, wasn't going to stop me. I'm completing the 12 weeks before July, and will begin the next phase after, which will mainly be about cutting fat now that I've added muscle. Very exciting business, and it give me peace of mind knowing that my progress has been slow and can't be derailed easily at all.
With my Habits List I can consistently track my progress daily and know that sometimes how I feel doesn't match reality, and I got a lot done on a day I felt I didn't, or vice versa.
I've been forunate to play some great gigs this year with Kevin Sekhani and others, and I've come to realize two things.
One: lyrics are the most important part. I've been working hard on making sure these are the best they can be and enlisting the help of my brilliant songwriter friends and poets for editing and co-writing and I'm happy to be putting out the best material of my life this year.
Two: people here love to dance. I've started a group called Electric Rougarou, which combines rock with the two-step and waltz rhythm sections of traditional zydeco and cajun music. I am playing my very first gig with this group tomorrow night and I'm so curious to see how it's received, as it's the realization of about 2 years planning and I am so in love with the songs and so proud of my bandmates, who are such top-notch players.
I learned about biting off more than I can chew and the cost of attention. There's only so much attention that a person can pay before feeling numb and brain-dead. I'm working hard on simplifying greatly using the tactics in a book called the 4-Hour Workweek, which is revolutionary in so many ways. I want to give my full attention to the things that bring me joy.
I am greatly reducing my guitar repairs and eliminating amp repair altogether, because I'm just too busy in my other projects with health and music to do it anymore. I do enjoy making broken things make music again, but the worry over having a queue of projects constantly waiting is not worth the mental taxation.
This category will soon be replaced.
I decided to include language learning into my daily routine. I find it fun and rewarding and I have every intention of taking early mini-retirements into exotic locations and hope to speak several languages at least at cave-man levels.
June 23 2016 - June 23 2017
My plan this year will be based around elimination. I plan on having less possessions, less distractions, less obligations, and more time for learning and relaxation. I have tried several interesting methods of relaxation, including acupuncture, yoga, rolfing, and meditation, and will continue to investigate what works!
And for the TL;DR crowd, come out and celebrate my birthday with me at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette June 24 @ 9pm - 1am. You can hear the new music in person for the first time. I'm so excited to share it with you.
I just wanted to share a couple things from our time in Nashville this week. I've been playing shows with Kevin Sekhani's solo band, and we made a run up to Nashville this week to do a quick show and some sightseeing as well. This was my first trip to Nashville, and it was one of the best trips I've ever been on.
Kevin's group, which is carrying the torch for the Mercy Brothers, is in fine form with quite a bit of new material, and the current release, Day Ain't Done, is getting quite a bit of publicity and doing well on the Americana charts. Best of all, it's a really great group of guys who are full of energy, positivity, and enthusiasm, coupled with a loose and raw feel that was very well received! The songs are a blast and it's been fun showcasing some of my guitar playing in such a great setting. I'd recommend grabbing a copy of the record, which was also just released on vinyl!
Gary Newman, the bassist in the group, and one of the nicest and most talented people I've ever met, was kind enough to introduce me to some real heavy hitters in the country music world, Vince Gill, Paul Franklin, the Time Jumpers, and LD Wayne, who played with Tom T Hall, Jimmy C Newman, Porter Wagoner and Randy Travis. I was really in awe meeting these folks and seeing how friendly and how grateful they all seemed for their blessings being able to play music for a living.
We also got a chance to meet up with friends, including Will Harrison, who played with us at SXSW, and we checked out Carters and Gruhns vintage guitar shops (and even go upstairs in the restricted area with the good stuff!). It was a blast to see so many vintage pieces. Fortunately, I was able to keep my wallet closed and not bring home a guitar!!
Nashville is a great town, and it was such an amazing trip... Thanks also to Jimbo Callam for shooting pics and videos and flying all the way from Houston to see us!
Here's a little clip below from our performance!
Click here----> https://www.facebook.com/jcallam/videos/10205863320483750/
I acquired this 1954 Supro Dual Tone recently, and documented the refret I did with this pictorial. The guitar has a beautiful tone from these single coil pickups (that look like humbuckers!), solid body, and a chunky neck with a big aluminum core in the center.
These have been used by a handful of classic artists, starting with Link Wray, who had an early rock n' roll hit called "Rumble" back in the 50's, and was pictured with a Dual-Tone on his album cover. Frank Zappa used one in his early years, and currently David Bowie is touring with one. Eastwood guitars also did a reissue of these recently.
My only concern was the tiny vintage frets, which made bending a chore. I decided to go ahead and refret it so that the playability would match its already awesome tone!
The old frets, low and pretty worn.
Heating up the old frets with the soldering iron to make them easier to pull.
Pulling the old frets.
All the frets pulled...
Here's how the old fret slots look before prep.
Planing the fingerboard.
Nice smooth board now. The rosewood is looking really great!
Cleaning the fret slots with my favorite saw! This gets all the old crud out, and makes a nice clean slot for the new fret to be hammered into.
Look at these nice clean fret slots! These are going to seat perfectly.
Bending the fretwire with my bender. Fretwire ships perfectly straight and must be radiused to match the fingerboard. Actually, it's better to have it more curved, so that when you hammer them in, they bite into the board a little.
Wiping down the board reveals a rich grain pattern. I also love the slight marbling in the inlay... what a classy touch.
Installing the frets... I cut these to length and hammer them in. I prefer this method over the press method since I can use the hammer handle to feel and hear how it seats.
Frets are installed, with a little overlap on the ends.
Cutting the ends flush with my fret tang nippers!
Using my coarse file to get the fret ends flush with the fingerboard.
"Blueing", or in this case blacking, the fret tops so I can see where I'm at when I level them.
Using the sanding beam again to make the fret tops level. I can see my black marks as I file, so I know what's high, and what's low.
These crowning files round out the tops of the frets, which were flat from the leveling process. The top of the fret has to be round for good tone and intonation.
Polishing out the frets with sandpaper and steel wool. The blue tape protects the fingerboard.
These came out so great! Nice and thick, level, they are a dream to play on!
Got strings and a setup done on it... the Supro is rocking!! This old guitar has been around a long time, and has never played and sounded this great! It will be a treat to play on for years to come!
...for me. This 1966 Bassman amp, belonging to Shawn Budden, came across my bench, and it had been a little while since I'd restored one of these. This was an absolutely untouched original amp (aside from the homemade boat-seat padded head box), and needed the usual stuff to be put back to gigging condition, namely a 3-prong grounded cord for safety, and filter caps, since the original capacitors were busted.
I was able to recap the amp, bolt the transformers down tight, add a safety ground (and remove the death cap), replace a few tubes, and it is now singing beautifully.
What I wasn't prepared for was the rush of memory, taking me back to 17 yrs old, getting a bass gig with my guitar teacher's band, and shopping for a rig at a peculiar little used music shop in Baton Rouge. I had the idea to find a Fender Bassman amp since they could do double duty and be used for my bass gig, but also as a guitar amp. This was going to be my first vintage Fender amp, and a companion to my main Mesa 50 Caliber head. Little did I know, that amp would eclipse the Mesa in tone, and be used in many many bands. I couldn't believe how good it sounded as a guitar amp!!
Since that amp, many have come and go (including my original one), but I've never found amps that sounded better to my ear than the blackface Fenders from the mid 60's, and to this day my main amps are a Vibrolux Reverb, and Super Reverb, which have a very similar tone. Without Reverb, the Bassman, Tremolux, and Showman heads don't get as much love as their reverb equipped combo brethren, but don't overlook these, since they are true hand wired vintage amps with great iron in them, the spectacular blue molded capacitors, carbon comp resistors, and would command huge prices for a modern version made with the same parts.
Stunning tone, and worth every penny they sell for... and it was really cool to be reminded of that sound, hearing true sparkling tube tone, knowing there was no going back...
Hand-wired boutique tone for around the price of a Blues Jr? Impossible? Hardly. I had an amazing tone revelation this weekend at New Orleans' House of Blues for the French Quarter festival.
The night before the show I was getting my rig together and deciding the best setup to bring to complement the backline the venue was providing, which was supposed to be a reissue Twin Reverb. The group was Kevin Sekhani's band, which is a mix of Americana, Gospel, and Mellancamp/Petty style tunes, and I was thrilled to find instead of a Twin, my choice of Ampeg Reverberocket or Jet J-20. I never heard the Jet, but liked the small size, and the sound guy told me it was John Cleary's favorite amp to use when he plays there.
That was good enough for me.
Imagine my surprise when I found ample, full clean headroom with the sparkle of a Fender, and a sweeter, chewier and less strident tone than my Deluxe Reverb. I had no idea what this amp was all about, but the tone was off the charts, and I played a killer set full of fat, twangy solos, and even reached back to use the on board bias vary tremolo, which has a huge range of speed available. Awesome and inspiring.
When I got back and got a bit of downtime, I was able to research this amp, and find out what makes it tick. Turns out, my ears were not playing tricks on me, and it wasn't just a fluky good sounding room/venue/the rain/alignment of planets. This amp is HAND WIRED. I was not expecting that out of a newer model Ampeg.
The single volume and tone controls are a big plus, because many of the larger Ampegs use an active tone control setup called a Baxandall stack, that can boost and cut frequencies, unlike the standard Marshall, Fender, or Vox tone controls that can only cut them. Because of this, they can be finicky, and sometimes offer too dramatic of a change, or be a little too finicky for my taste. Not so on the Jet. It has a single high cut style tone control that was a snap to dial in.
In the image above, you'll see the schematic for the amp. Turns out, it is based closely on the Fender brownface era Deluxe amp, with a couple small differences. Three 12ax7 preamp tubes, two 6V6 power tubes, and a 5ar4 rectifier, bias vary trem, a 12" alnico speaker, and some nice component selection inside... this is a boutique amp disguised as a very unassuming little modern amp. Holy smokes, this thing is good. If Fender had reissued this exact amp as a modern brownface deluxe it would be $2000.
Ok, so for all this tubey goodness, there's gotta be a high price, right? A quick search of Ebay and google revealed the average used price of these is $500. This is an insanely low price for the quality of amp here. This is a true sleeper, and how they didn't catch on is beyond me! Wow. As a comparison, actual brownface Deluxes (like the one I used to own and traded to Jason Joubert out in Austin, Tx), are currently going for $2500.
As an added bonus, the bright and normal inputs are their own separate gain stages, so you could easily use a Y cable (or a very simple mod) to use both channels blended together, which ought to be a very cool sound, and something I'll try next time I get my hands on one!
In short, if you like chewy, beautiful vintage tube tone with boutique build quality, and a shockingly low price, you need to find one of these!!
Thoughts About Music and Life from Louisiana Roots Musician Jim McGee