Tag Archives: Music

Give Yourself a Break…Election 2016

Greetings Friends,

I wanted to write you all a quick letter because I have something to say that I feel might help one or a few of you. I tend to stay away from politics. As you know it’s a very hot topic right now and it stirs passion and high emotions for a lot of us.  That being said…

Scrolling through my Facebook page today I see a lot of people who are angry, sad, confused and scared. Not everyone feels this way, certainly, and that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their own choice. I am comforted by the words of Barack Obama as he speaks of tolerance and acceptance and unity. He is so eloquent and I will miss him come January. I hope he will continue to lead with dignity and hope.

Here is what I want to tell you. Are you paying attention?

You need to disengage for awhile.  Look away.

I spent a long time this morning pouring through Facebook reading article after article about the election. I was consumed and couldn’t think of anything else. I couldn’t even focus on the work I was supposed to be doing.

I’m not saying you can’t feel sad or angry. You sure can, but you need to take a break. Pull yourself away from the computer or the TV just for a short time. 30 minutes. Go outside, look at the sun. Watch a bird fly. Take your dog for a walk.

I decided to listen to some music. I picked a song that reminded me how much I love music and how much I love my husband. Then I got to thinking about how much I love my family. No election can take those things away from me.  While listening and writing this to you, I feel like a person again. I’m breathing.  I’m celebrating creativity and love.  My heart is full and I am grateful.

Please, take a break today.

Sending my love to all of you…pass it on.



Da Sweet, Sweet Smell of Victory and da Agony of da Feet

If you’ve been following me on Facebook recently, you’ve been bombarded with pictures, videos and various calls to action. My favorite cover band, Puddin’ Head competed in “The One” cover band competition at Bourbon Street from October to December, 2015 in Merrionette Park, IL. A little background…Bourbon Street is the place every band wants to play. It’s really hard to get a gig there. This place is massive (used to be a Handy Andy store) with several large rooms in which bands or DJ’s perform.

The Rules: After an audition, 10 bands were selected to compete. Each week bands were given themes as described below. After performing, the band would be critiqued by 3 or 4 judges. Judges scores accounted for 25% of the total score, while 75% was based on audience votes. (Semi-finals and finals, the audience had 100% of the votes) Every week one band would be eliminated from the competition. No band could repeat a song throughout the contest, so it was in a band’s best interest to submit song choices early. Each audience member and band member was given 2 votes. Vote for the band you came to see and one other one. First prize: 10,000 smackers.

The One

If any of you thought this contest or even the process would be easy, you are completely mistaken. If I may be honest with you, the band was quite dysfunctional at the start of the contest and we were signing up for two months of intensive time together. The first week was a basic audition to enter the contest. Our first hurdle, choose two songs that all five of us could agree upon. Not an easy task, to say the least. We all finally agreed on “Blue Collar Man” by Styx and “I’m the Only One” by Melissa Etheridge. For this round, and every round after that, 3 to 4 judges would critique our performance. It’s always lots of fun to be publicly judged by others, especially when you don’t know the people. Were they qualified musicians who had mastered their craft and thereby able to offer constructive criticism? (Yes, that’s rhetorical.)

We made it through the audition round. Now, on to the real contest. Every week had a different theme. The first week each of the 10 bands were able to perform six minutes of whatever they wanted. Again, all five of us had to agree on two more songs. I have to admit at this point, I was feeling very nervous about blowing it for the entire band. I didn’t want to choose songs that were too challenging in case I messed up, but I didn’t want to choose songs that were boring. In the end, I went big and choose two strong songs, “Walk Away” by Kelly Clarkson and “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. We nailed it. Were the judges impressed? Not sure. They seemed to like my voice, but one judge told me I should use more vibrato. Strange observation. Another judge said we should interact more as a group. He was right about that. We made it through that round without a problem and set out to incorporate the changes required.

PH British 5


80s Night: We were all stressed about the contest, worrying about the time commitment and the song choices. We had to choose songs quickly and we had a tough time. We only needed two. It was interesting to find that we don’t have many 80s songs on our present set list. Much arguing via text and telephone occurred. Long-winded texts full of emotion. As I was reading one, another would come in. It was bananas. After choosing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Tom Petty and “Material Girl” by Madonna, we had a real gig to perform outside of the contest. Have you ever had to attend a family function while being angry at them all? You still have to smile and act like family. That was a tough gig and I was so glad when it was over.

For 80s night we decided to present a uniformed look. White shirts and neckties. It was a good choice. In later weeks, other bands tried to incorporate a more uniform look. 80s week was a success, although we did take some heat for performing a slower song.

Country Night: If you look at our current set list, you will find that there is not one country song. Not even a song that could pass for a country song. Here was our first big challenge: we had to learn two new songs from scratch from a genre in which we had zero experience. We picked “How Long” by The Eagles and “Stand Up” by Sugarland. Both are good songs that I actually like. Believe me when I tell you, we worked really hard on these two songs. I listened to them non-stop for almost two weeks. Honestly, country night wasn’t our strongest night, but we were very proud of our performance. The funny thing was most other bands didn’t authentically perform country songs. They did Southern rock songs or country songs in a rock arrangement. We thought we were supposed to do actual country songs in a country style. Hmmm…doubt setting in. This was the first time we were in the bottom three bands, meaning we were almost eliminated from the contest.

PH Country

Disco Night: I thought 80s songs were hard to choose. That was nothing compared to choosing two disco songs. After (too) much deliberation we decided to go with crowd favorites, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. Do you have any idea how many words are in “I Will Survive?” I can tell you, there are a lot. Okay, I flubbed one line…get off my back!! Just kidding, it was barely noticeable. The boys did an excellent job, as usual. The crowd was on their feet dancing and cheering. It was one of our best nights ever as a band. Much to our surprise, we were in the bottom three bands again. What? That just doesn’t make sense. Many of the other bands performed funk songs instead of disco songs and weren’t called out on that. Is there something fishy going on here?

Thanksgiving Break: This contest ran every Thursday night from October to December, so we had Thanksgiving week off. During this time, the remaining six bands were asked to make a one minute promotional video. The instructions I heard were, “Be creative. Promote the contest. Promote your band and showcase your personalities.” Also, we were told would be given “points” based on our video. On Black Friday I coerced the band to take part in filming a silly video. The concept was wacky, but they were good sports about it. My brother even came over to help film. We were also told that these videos would be on Bourbon Street’s Facebook page to promote the contest, but that didn’t happen. What did happen is that most of the other bands made a video to promote their band. Some were better than others, of course. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who’s really good at editing. Each video was played before each band’s performance during the next round of competition. Everyone else’s video went off without a hitch, but when it came time for ours, the last 10 seconds got cut off. That was the funniest part. While we were greatly disappointed the entire video didn’t get played, we still won for best video. No points were awarded to anyone. Hmm…glad we went through all that trouble.

British Invasion Night and Video Unveiling Night: Here’s a genre we can really sink our teeth into. Let’s play some rocky roll! We selected “Pinball Wizard” by The Who, “She’s Not There” by The Zombies and “Help” by The Beatles. Not only did we have a good time playing these songs, it was one of our best performances of the contest. While most of the judges praised our promo video, one judge said he didn’t like it. He said he wouldn’t book our band based on that video. Steve promptly retorted that the point of the video wasn’t to get a gig, but to promote the contest, per Bourbon Street’s instructions. For the most part, the judges liked our set and we received many compliments from the crowd. Oh, and the judges really liked my pants. Well, that’s nice. Guess what? We were in the bottom three bands again. What’s going on here? How can that be? We brought dozens of friends and family members out every single week to vote for us. Is this thing fixed? The band who was eliminated that night was not Puddin’ Head, thankfully. It was another band of guys we really liked from Milwaukee. The judges saved them at the last minute, moving them forward to the semi-finals.

Before I move on the semi-finals, I’d like to point out a few things. Every band in this competition was talented. It really was a pleasure to hear each band’s performance. That being said, there was one band that was the alleged front-runner from week one. No matter what this band did, the judges just ate it up. They could do no wrong. Even when other bands had stronger performances, this band was still set up by the judges as “the band to beat.” Here’s the thing though, this band didn’t have nearly as many people as other bands did, but they were NEVER in the bottom three bands. Never. Not even for a second. Is it possible everyone loved this band, so EVERYONE used their second vote on them? It’s possible, sure. Still seems a bit odd, though. Every other band was in the bottom three at some point, but not this band.

Semi-Finals: For this night, the judges picked songs for each band to do. We all blindly drew a song from the 80s, 90s and 00s. Some bands got some really terrible songs. We did alright. It could have been way worse. We performed, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard, “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears and “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift. The guys hadn’t even heard the two girl songs and I had never heard the Taylor Swift song. Did I mention we had to put these three songs into medley form? Different keys and different genres in a medley. We had less than a week to put it together. Karl really came through on this one. With help from all of us, he was able to craft a seamless medley. It was quite good. The bad news was I had 8 minutes of lyrics to memorize. Have you ever listened to “Pour Some Sugar?” Those words are jacked up. As a group we did a really good job. We played songs we didn’t like that we had just learned in front of a big crowd. And we did it with gusto. Many of the other bands didn’t even perform their songs in a medley, as required, but the judges seemed okay with some bands bending the rules. This night two bands would be eliminated since the judges saved a band from the week before. This is where the curtain dropped on Puddin’ Head.

We were disappointed. Well, I was disappointed and angry. It was such a weird night and it’s where a lot of realizations hit home for me. After our performance, one of the judges said we sounded sloppy. That simply wasn’t true. We heard other bands totally screw up and they were fawned over by the judges. The only bands that received criticism were the two bands that were cut. It was almost like the judges knew who was going to be eliminated, so they had to give just cause, whether it was true or not. Also, when it came time for voting, you wouldn’t have believed how many people were suddenly in attendance. It seemed like an extra hundred people showed up right at the end to vote. It was bizarre.

Needless to say, the finals went on without us. It was a stressful seven weeks. Scrambling to learn songs, practicing non-stop and being nervous for seven weeks straight can really take a toll on a person. While I was sad Puddin’ Head didn’t make it to the finals, I was a bit relieved to be done with the drama of it. Hey, remember that band that the judges picked to win back at week one? They didn’t win. Was this contest fixed the whole time? Did a few bands get a free pass to the finals, while others had to coerce their fans to show up every single Thursday night for 3 months? I think that’s possible.

Bourbon Street runs a vocal “The One” contest a couple of times a year. This was their first time running a cover band competition. Granted, there will be some hiccups, I get that. Rules were changed as the contest went on. Seemed like they were making things up as they went along. People got preferential treatment, seemingly. Some bands were able to hang out after the show to drink with the judges and the folks who organized the contest. Is this appropriate when $10,000 was on the line? Maybe not. Also, the number of votes each band received on a weekly basis was never shared. So it was really up to the venue/judges which bands would move forward. There was no proof shared about the number of votes cast or counted.

Meanwhile, we learned late in the process that some bands had made deals with each other to eliminate other bands. They would get their fans to vote for each other, thereby removing the fairness of the vote. Bands worked together to get rid of other bands they perceived as a threat. Things got a little ugly because of it. As you may know, in a competition people can get emotional about whom they “like” or “don’t like.” Honestly, I feel like our fans were kind and generous. They watched every band and clapped for every band. There was one night where I noticed that a whole side of the room wouldn’t clap for us or engage at all. It was so sad to see. Someone had told these people not to support other bands and those people did exactly that. They clapped and cheered only for their band. That’s pretty awful.


Alright, it wasn’t all bad. We had the opportunity to perform on a nice big stage several times (for free.) Bourbon Street provided cool lights and a sound company to make us sound our best. We have really cool videos to share and we have beautiful photographs of the event. Although we were all frustrated with the process and the outcome, we are very proud of the work we did together. We learned a lot of songs in a short amount of time and we bonded again as a group. Plus, we received a lot of support from our family and friends. That made us feel great. We also feel good that we played by the rules the entire time we participated. We always kept it classy. We didn’t flip off the judges, like some did and we never schemed to get rid of another band. I’m also glad we met a lot of kind, generous and talented musicians. Am I glad we did it? Yeah. Would I do it again? No.

This was not a contest about musicianship. In the end, it didn’t matter if the winning band was the best band. It was a contest about how many people a band could convince to come out and vote. I’m sure the venue made a ton of money every single week and that was probably the point, right? I know our friends and family spent a boatload of cash there. If Puddin’ Head brought 200 people every week, we would have won no matter how good or bad we performed. If any other band had done that, they would have won. Talent got us all into the competition, but talent did not rule the day. Art shouldn’t be pitted against art. This contest did not support local music at all. It actually reminded me how shitty this business can be. Any band, good or bad, can play a gig anywhere they want if they can bring 100 people with them. It’s that simple. An excellent band that can only bring 20 people? Sorry, no gig for you. Why is this so? Because we’ve all let that happen. All of us…bands, bar owners and fans. We’ve allowed venues to treat us this way for years and now we can’t back out of it. It’s frustrating and wrong, and it seems unfixable at this point. To drive this point home, Bourbon Street did not even announce the winner on their Facebook page. Is it because the band they were rooting for the whole time didn’t win? How rude to not congratulate the band that, not only played at your venue for several weeks for free, but also got a ton of people to hang out at your establishment for all of those weeks. Not a professional or kind way to handle that.

But hey, don’t let me tell you what to think. You can find out for yourself. Take a peek at Bourbon Street’s Facebook page. You can see for yourself how much promotion they did on their end, which was very little compared to the promotion the individual bands provided. Also, check out the other bands that participated. And while you’re at it, like their pages and support what they do. They are all talented musicians who have invested time and money into their craft. Here are the bands in no particular order: Evolution, Take Cover, Me & The Fellas, Blue Sky Blind, The Heart Sutra, LAVA Rock, Party Anthem, Reverend “T” & The Soul Shakers, Jailbreak Chicago and of course, Puddin’ Head.

I’d like to show some love to my band. Karl, Steve, Otto and Art…you guys are the best. I’m so glad we did this together. You’re like a second family to me. It’s been an honor and privilege to share the stage with you. If the Village People taught us anything, it’s that you can’t stop the music. And the YMCA is a creepy place to hang out.

Village People














Everyone Says Hi

It’s so weird to me that when someone we love dies, the world just keeps moving. I feel like everything should stop while we all process the sad news, but it simply doesn’t work that way. Monday morning when I found out David Bowie had passed away I felt like I had been punched in the stomach by a schoolyard bully. He took my lunch money, too. I was left alone by the monkey bars with tears in my eyes. During the weekly staff meeting, I reported that I was sad. A few of my co-workers said they thought of me right away when they heard the news, while other co-workers looked at me like I was a crazy person. Well, crazier than usual. They just don’t get it.

I have learned that some people just don’t give a shit about music. I have read that “pop music of today is disposable.” Have you listened to what’s popular today? A lot of repetition…verse and chorus sound the same…weird topics about nothing at all. No wonder we only hear it in the background while we’re twerking in the club and then walk away, discarding the wasted tracks. It’s like a deep kiss from a sultry lover followed up by a stinging backhand slap to the face. I’m not saying music can’t be fun. There’s a time and a place for upbeat, dance/pop/country music that regales a summer evening at the beach drinking beer out of a plastic cup with one’s friends. But the non-stop, constant barrage of this stuff is enough to make an authentic music lover sad.

That being said, it’s easy to see why many people don’t care about music. I guess I was lucky that I grew up in a family that thrived on creativity. My Mom is a wonderful writer and can make up funny stories. Although she claims to have no musical ability, she is above and beyond, a music supporter. In a previous blog I told you about my brother and me listening to my Mom’s 45’s from the magical striped box in the closet. Paul and I listened to her records before we listened to anything we picked. The Beatles, The Doors, Neil Diamond, John Denver, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Herman’s Hermits…we heard them first through Mom. And you know my brother Paul is about the most musical person I know. (See previous blogs.) He is also the biggest David Bowie fan I know. I may have only been a casual Bowie fan, if not for Paul. Luckily, Paul encouraged me to listen beyond “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” to hear what Bowie was really about.

And what was Bowie really about, you ask? He was about life. He was a lover and a fighter. He was happy and he was angry. He was one of us. He wasn’t perfect or conventionally beautiful. He wrote and sang about what we all were living every single day. He showed us that it was cool to be different. It was okay to love yourself, no matter what. Fuck what those other people say!

Although it’s sad to see him go, we are all so lucky to be able to share in his life. And just think of all the people after us who will continue to celebrate his catalog of creation. It’s special to us because we were here when it happened and that’s why we are so shocked and sad. He told us to be heroes and now we have to be. We have to keep talking about music and art and fashion and innovation. Let’s inspire each other just like Bowie inspired us. Those people who don’t care about music…or just don’t understand it, leave them be. Wish them well and put on your headphones. You get it. Remember, you’re not alone. There are others just like you and we accept you just as you are, because that’s how it’s supposed to be. ‘Don’t stay in a sad place where no one cares how you are. Everyone says hi.’

 One time with me….Awwwww….WHAM, BAM THANK YOU MA’AM!!!!!!!


Beautiful animation by Helen Green

Is This Cup Half Empty? (Dedicated to Ray North)

I’ve been struggling with a thought lately. Here’s my question: Am I living life to the fullest? What does that even mean? I hear people talk about it all the time, but who actually does it? I asked some of my friends and family what they thought.

I have a friend at work. Yeah, can you believe that? His name is Joe. He is a writer. Not only is he a genuinely nice person, but he makes me laugh every day. He’s one of those people that just makes the day better. You can give Joe the most boring topic and he will think of something clever to write about it. He self-published a children’s book, They Don’t Make Books About Uncles and he’s working on a play that I know will be successful…he’s just that kind of guy. Although I’ve only known Joe for a short time, I very much admire him and I know that he has changed my life for the better. He has inspired and encouraged me to write and create and try. That being said, I asked Joe what it means to live life to the fullest. We have the same job and it’s not always glamorous. Yes, we write and create, but there are rules and guidelines to follow and it can get monotonous and frustrating. It’s not always easy to be a creative type in the corporate world. Joe told me that it’s hard to live every moment to the fullest, but it’s what you make of the good things that happen. He said we have to fully enjoy the successes and the happy times. I happen to know that Joe’s family and friends are very important to him and he works to cultivate those relationships. Immerse yourself in the great moments and don’t worry about the small, mundane stuff. Maybe work is just what you have to do to get to the next great moment. I think Joe is on to something. He seems like a happy person to me.

Jeanne and Joe

I also discussed this topic with Steve. You all remember Steve; he’s my husband. You may remember him from such blogs as…you get it. I asked, “Steve, are you living life to the fullest?” He said, “Well, I sure am busy.” That’s not what I meant and I’m sure he knew that. Steve’s passion is music and sound. I believe that when he’s playing music or recording, he is doing what he loves most. In those moments, he is living life to the fullest. In our discussion, we talked about how it may be hard to live life to the fullest when you have to worry about bills and money. One cannot simply travel and take time out to write a novel or produce an album. How can a person be happy when he is hungry or homeless? Well, that’s an interesting thought. Is it only rich people who can really take advantage of a full life?

Jeanne and Steve

I have been listening to a book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic. In this book, Gilbert talks about living a creative life. It’s a choice one makes to pursue their creative endeavors in a responsible and mature way. She explains that creating is free. It’s for the rich and the poor. She mentions that if only the rich could create, the world would surely be a boring place. She cautions her listeners/readers to never make the artistic craft a burden. Work at it because you love it. Don’t do it to impress other people or even make a living. Do it for yourself; to make you happy. She describes a different way of thinking about being creative and talks about her path as a writer and novelist. She wrote Eat, Pray, Love for herself to work through her own life issues. It just happened to resound with millions of readers. (If you’re a creative type, I would highly recommend listening to or reading “Big Magic.”)

While I’m tossing all of these ideas around in my head, something sad happened. One of my brother’s best friends from high school, Ray North has been battling cancer for awhile. After a brave fight, Ray passed away on November 10th. My brother flew to Texas where Ray was getting treatment to be with him and to ultimately say goodbye. I hadn’t seen Ray since I was in high school. We went to the same school, but my brother and Ray graduated the year before I started. Basically, I knew Ray through Paul. Since I always thought my brother was pretty cool, I knew that Ray was cool, too. He was really cute, he could sing, he was in marching band and he had this killer smile. Oh, and he wasn’t rude to me, his friend’s stupid kid sister. Paul recently talked about when he walked into his new high school as a sophomore, he was very nervous. Ray was one of the first people to talk to Paul and made him feel welcome, including Paul in the “cool crowd.” That’s pretty powerful stuff. That’s a gift you never forget about.

At Ray’s wake and funeral I learned even more about him. He has a lovely family. A beautiful wife and four happy kids. Paul and his friend Eric, (also one of Ray’s good friends from high school,) made a slideshow about Ray. In every picture Ray’s smile shone. There were pictures of Ray goofing around with his family growing up and then enjoying happy moments with his wife and kids. I am not kidding, at Ray’s funeral, the church was packed. Not one empty seat. And it was a pretty big church. I was astounded at all of the lives Ray had touched at church, at work, through Scouting, or just within the community. Everyone in that huge room loved Ray. He wasn’t the type of guy you sorta liked. You could only love Ray. One quote from the homily stuck with me. It’s a quote from Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts.

“No one can pass through life, any more than he can pass through a bit of country, without leaving tracks behind, and those tracks may often be helpful to those coming after him in finding their way.”

Every person who spoke was touched by Ray. Ray enriched the lives of others just by being himself. He created a happy life for himself and for those around him. He wasn’t rich and he wasn’t famous, but without a doubt, he lived life to the fullest.

I’m not sure what got me thinking about living life to the fullest, but God or the cosmos, or whatever you believe in, brought me an example when I needed one. So, I’ll take a dash of Joe, a pinch of Steve, a generous portion of Elizabeth Gilbert and mix it all up with Ray to fashion my own life from now on. It’s probably not something I will be good at every day, but at least I have some wise and trustworthy guides to lead the way. I wish I could tell you exactly what it means to live life to the fullest, but I’m not still not entirely sure what it means. I think it’s a different story for all of us. It’s about finding contentment and creativity inside of yourself, loving everyone as hard as you can and ultimately leaving behind a legacy of infectious joy. Also, if you have a killer smile, that could really help.


My Buddy and Me

Over the years, many people have asked me who my musical influences are. I never have a good answer at the ready. Of course there are musicians I admire greatly, but as a singer, I can’t say I try to sound like any one particular person. Recently, I was thinking about this question again and I finally thought of a good answer. I would have to say that my first and most important musical influence in my life was my brother Paul.

Back when we were kids we shared a Fisher-Price plastic record player. It played the big records and the little records. It was a portable player that we could listen to upstairs in our own rooms. Most of the time the player resided in Paul’s room because he was older and could punch harder. (Of course my brother wasn’t punching a little kid; he waited until I got older.) We had a few records of our own like The Muppet Show, Pac-Man Fever and Strawberry Shortcake. Big surprise, Strawberry was my favorite. I used to practice my tap dancing to her rousing version of “New York, New York.” C’mon! I was a little kid!

The real treasures were my Mom’s albums. The first time I heard The Beatles was on that record player. My Mom also had the Broadway cast recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” By the time I was 10, I could sing that whole musical. We usually skipped over the death scenes though, as they are a bit much for a little kid. They still freak me out. (Happy Easter, Everybody!)

And then there was the red and white striped box. One of the best, most magical boxes in existence. This plastic coated box had a handle on the top and a hinged closure on the front and was full of 45’s. We played every record in that box from The Beatles to Elvis to The Doors to The Singing Nuns. There was even a version of “The Percolator” which always cracked me up. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, we would carefully carry the box into Paul’s room and look at them all. “Ooh, Paul! Play this one next!” And he would. On very special occasions, probably when Paul was bored out of his mind, he would tell me to gather my favorite stuffed animals and he would make my “friends” dance and sing to the records. Boy, was that cool. He could always make me laugh. Is it dusty in here? I think there’s something in my eye. Hold on.

Well, times, tastes and technology moved on as we grew. Pretty soon cassettes were all the rage. Paul got a cassette/radio boombox. I was not allowed to touch it. My brother, being the music lover that he is, amassed a large quantity of cassettes from Motley Crue to Prince and the Revolution to Missing Persons. He even had a Joe Piscopo comedy album that we thought was hilarious as young kids. (It’s not funny anymore, Joe. Write some new material!) By this time, Paul was a little too cool, or so he thought, to be hanging out with his little kid sister. Silver lining: I got the record player in my room. I would spend hours singing and dancing with Strawberry or The Muppets.

Even as an older kid, Paul would get bored and agree to hang out with me for the afternoon. We didn’t play Monopoly or Scrabble like the other kids, we played Star Search. For those of you not familiar with the 80’s TV show, Ed McMahon hosted a talent competition every week. Singers, dancers, comedians and “spokesmodels” would compete for the highest score of 4-stars. The winner would return week after week to defend their “champion” status. It was a pretty popular show. Here’s how you play the Paul and Jeanne home version: First, pick a song you’d like to perform. Weird Al was always a popular choice, but any song we owned would do. Next, take some time to cultivate your performance. As a dancer, I had a lot of dance costume remnants lying around, so it was easy to put together a unique, silly costume. The performer will also be judged on lip-sync and dance capabilities, so you’d better be good! I don’t remember anyone actually winning the competition, but we put on a good show.

As we got older, Paul and I spent less time together. We had busy lives with band, choir, theater shows, work, school and friends. Luckily, there was always time to watch TV. Maybe we couldn’t agree on a show or movie to watch, but MTV was an option everyone could agree on. We could watch videos for hours. It was so cool to see what our favorite bands looked like. Sometimes when I hear an 80’s song, I’ll ask Paul if he remembers watching the “World Premiere” of that video on MTV. Of course he remembers.

As we became adults we started to attend concerts together. We’ve seen some pretty great and weird shows. Here are a few: Prince, Billy Joel, Korn, Q101’s Twisted 8, Nine Inch Nails, Art of Noise, 311, The Stooges, Henry Rollins, Van Halen, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails again, Bauhaus, Moby…I’m sure there’s more. Ask Paul the next time you see him. Our next show together this June is Weird Al at the Chicago Theater. Anyway, even when we can’t attend a show together, we still share one song over the phone. When I went to see Duran Duran I asked Paul what song he’d like to hear. I can’t remember which song he picked, but he heard “Hungry Like the Wolf.” He didn’t really hear Duran Duran singing it, he heard me screaming the song with thousands of other people, through my phone. Whatever the show, Paul gets a call. We get a good laugh about it later.

Paul and I are still passionate about music. He is a very talented trumpet player and DJ and I am the singer of my band, Puddin’ Head. Music is a major part of both of our lives. If my car is running, there is music on at all times. I’m sure it’s the same in Paul’s car. Thank God for music devices that hold thousands of songs and albums. I’ve helped Paul move a few times and all those CDs are heavy! I’ve got a lot, too, but I’ll never have as much as Paul. He is a true celebrator of music. I would believe that he’s heard almost every song at least once. Okay, maybe not every song, but pretty close. I doubt I would be so passionate about music today if it weren’t for Paul. He and my Mom gave me an invaluable gift in the form of music and creativity all those years ago. I can’t imagine my life without that record player, that striped box of records…or my brother.

So, Paul….how ‘bout another game of Star Search?


Billy Joel Wrigley Field Concert Review July 18, 2014

Recently I went to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Guess what? I’m going to tell you about it. Just to review, Billy Joel is my fave. He has been since I was about 9 years old, but you already knew that. I’m telling you this to let you know that seeing Billy Joel is important to me. Of course I’ve seen him several times now, but each concert is special to me. Alright, now let’s get on with the show.

First of all, I’d like to point out how difficult it is to get to Wrigley Field. What a horrible venue for a concert. The parking is ridiculous. We paid $40 for parking, which isn’t horrible, I guess, but we had to get there hours early to secure a decent space. We walked around the area to find a bite to eat before the show. That was quite the disaster. Every restaurant was packed with folks who had the same idea. After walking and walking and then walking some more, we happened upon a bar close by. All of the seats were taken save one. Steve let me sit while we waited for another chair to open up. Our fellow patrons were ever so kind about stealing the chair before Steve could sit. People were very stealth. We, on the other hand, were not. We decided to order some food and waited more than 30 minutes for chicken fingers. The service was pretty awful. If I could remember the name of the place, I’d tell you, but I don’t. It’s right across the street from Wrigley Field. That narrows it down, right? I’m telling you all of this to get to our celebrity sighting. Steve kept staring at this guy several feet away. He claimed that the man in the Hawaiian-themed T-shirt was Tom Thayer of Chicago Bears and WGN fame. He had a hat on, so I wasn’t sure. I was urging Steve to say hello instead of creepily staring at the poor man. He was suddenly uncharacteristically shy. I told him I would do it, but he said no. It was finally time to leave to get to the concert. Steve walked just passed this mystery man and turned back to me and gave me the sign to talk. What? Oh, okay. I guess I’ll say something.

 “I don’t want to sound like a total dork, but are you Tom Thayer?” I asked.

“Yes I am!” he replied, “What’s your name?” Mr. Thayer has a hearty handshake.

I introduced myself and oh yeah, this is my husband Steve. Tom was very gracious and nice to us. I’m sure he’s used to people staring at him in a bar. At the end of the conversation Steve and I walked away giggling. Looking back, we should have gushed a little more, maybe we could have gotten some better seats with the cool people.

Back to the concert. I need to mention that a week before this concert, I saw NIN and Soundgarden at First Midwest Bank Amphitheater. I was thoroughly frisked upon entering. Wrigley Field is quite a bit bigger and we were let right in. But we needed to get in a huge long line to get a wrist band signifying that we indeed had seats on the field. Luckily we didn’t have to show our tickets to get one. Of course we had field seats! Why is it that whenever there’s a long line in a small space someone decides to fart? That is so rude and it always happens. I checked with Steve, it wasn’t him.

It was almost 8 o’clock and I was in a panic to get to our seats. I didn’t want to miss a second. There’s an opening act? Ugh! Gavin DeGraw isn’t a bad singer and the kids seem to like him, but when I’m waiting for Billy Joel, I don’t want to sit through anyone else. Plus I could have had another $7 beer instead of the $9 beer I was about to buy. Our seats were pretty good. 12th row way on the side. Being a not rich person, I’m usually stuck in horrible seats way up high longing to be with the crowd on the field. This time I splurged and got the best tickets I could.

As the seats filled up, Gavin wrapped up his set. I’m sure he did a fine job. Randy Newman’s theme from “The Natural” started playing. No, I didn’t know Randy Newman wrote that, Steve told me. Finally Billy Joel takes to the stage and he’s wearing a guitar? Wha? Well, that’s different. “Matter of Trust” started off the show at a rather slow tempo. BJ usually opens with “Angry Young Man.” I need to pause here for a moment of honesty. Ha! Get it? I’ve seen BJ a lot, pretty much every time he’s been in Chicago for the last 15 years. I have seen him perform the same songs in the same order several times. I get the feeling that BJ is totally sick of singing the same old hits. I rarely see any joy in his face when he’s singing “Movin’ Out” or “You May Be Right” and it makes me sad. A few years back, he added “Zanzibar” into the set and I saw that joy again. I wish he would delve into his deeper cuts for the true fans and for himself.

So, “Matter of Trust” was indeed a surprise, but a weird surprise. I’m not sure if I loved it, but it was interesting to see BJ play guitar. Usually he only plays guitar on “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The rest of the show pretty much consisted of the standards he usually plays like, “She’s Always A Woman,” “Movin’ Out,” “New York State of Mind” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” I was thrilled he decided to sing “Innocent Man.” I’ve seen him perform this song before, but someone else hit the high notes for him. At this show, he warned the crowd that he was going to give the song a try, but he wasn’t promising perfection. It was perfect. I loved it.

“Innocent Man” was early in the show which led into other slower tunes like “Vienna” which I had never heard live. The people around me all started to sit down. Not true fans. I stood up for the entire show. The great thing about the fair-weather fans sitting down was that I had a straight line to see BJ face to face. It was quite dreamy, I must say. I’d like to think he saw me standing by myself and appreciated my fierce loyalty. Let me think that!

Another surprise tune was “Sometimes A Fantasy” from Glass Houses. I’ve never heard Billy perform it before and it was flawless. I’m not sure how many people were familiar with the song, but I thought it was totally cool. Billy explained that this song was a bit risqué for the time, but it’s rather tame today by comparison. Unfortunately while I was rocking out to this song, Steve was waiting in line for the elegant port-o-pots they had set up for fine people on the field. Eww…just eww.

Well, of course he did “Piano Man!” I can’t believe you even asked. I think the crowd would rip the stage down if they didn’t hear that song, yet again. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s cool that everyone puts their arms around each other and sways to this iconic BJ song. I’m glad to see people enjoying themselves. It’s always a thrill when Billy stops singing and the crowd does a chorus on their own. Some people are too cool to sing along, but I promised Steve I would not name those people.

The first song of BJ’s encore was “Uptown Girl” which I have only heard him perform one other time. Although this is not my absolute favorite BJ song, I was really excited that he performed it. Whenever I’m sad or angry I listen to “Uptown Girl” and it makes me feel better. Sometimes I have to listen to it twice, but it does work eventually. I was so surprised and pleased to hear this song, that something got caught in both of my eyes and they got all watery.

Like I said, all of the staples were performed including “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” which he always performs at Wrigley and “My Kind of Town.” The past few times I’ve seen Billy he has let his roadie, Chainsaw perform AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” which I thought was funny the first time I saw it. I thought it was cool that BJ would let one of his people perform who is usually not in the limelight, but after the third time it wasn’t funny anymore. It’s not special if it happens every time and it’s always the same song.

Another minor complaint that I have had for a few years is that BJ’s band is just too slick. This may seem like a weird complaint, but there just isn’t any spontaneity left. The backing vocals are Vegas-like perfect and the songs can sound rather “canned.” Perhaps that can be fixed by choosing deeper cuts to perform or by changing up the set list. Every time I pay an exorbitant amount of money to see BJ, I think to myself, this is the last time I’m doing this, but every time he comes to Chicago, I’m there. I am holding out hope that he will eventually do smaller tours where he performs full albums. I suppose there’s not as much money in that. I think Billy Joel would find happiness in performing again if he could actually see and interact with his fans.

I should also mention that Billy Joel’s mother Rosalind had passed away just days before the Wrigley show. I didn’t know that at the time and I don’t think anyone would have known that based on his performance. He never mentioned it as I get the impression that he’s trying to be a more private person nowadays. I am grateful that he went on with the show as he could have easily postponed it. I’m sure it was tough for him to be upbeat in front of thousands of people, but perhaps he needed us just as much as we needed to see him. Overall, I had a great time and even though there were only two or three songs I hadn’t heard him perform a million times, it was worth it. Maybe someday I’ll actually get front row tickets. That is where I belong, after all.

Perhaps you can imagine the chaos of a sold-out Wrigley Field suddenly pouring into the streets. It can be a little frightening if you don’t have your wits about you. Steve was certainly witty and got us back to the car in record time. He was nice enough to stop at a nearby McDonalds to get me a Diet Coke because I was so thirsty. He’s a keeper, alright.


I’m Just a Singer in a Rock ‘n Roll Band

Being in a band is cool. You get backstage access, tons of drugs, free drinks and people just keep handing you money. Everyone tells you how great you are and the phone is ringing off the hook. Legions of fans come to every gig to cheer you on. They get tattoos of your band logo and wear the band’s T-shirt every day. Private jets, limos and fabulous vacations. “That ain’t working! That’s the way you do it; get your money for nothing and your chicks for free,” (Money For Nothing, Dire Straits, 1985).

Alright, back to installing microwave ovens and moving color TV’s. In reality, being in a local rock ‘n roll band is not like that at all. Maybe life is like that for The Eagles or The Rolling Stones. They’ve certainly earned it. But for the struggling musician, it ain’t so easy.

First, you have to find a group of musicians that you’d like to spend the next several years with. I’ve spent almost 8 years with the four men in my band. There has to be some sort of friendship there right from the start. Luckily for me, there was. I’ve spent countless hours with these four dudes creating a four-hour rock ‘n roll cover show. They are like a second family to me. We do every gig together, for better or for worse. All for one and all that stuff. Every member is crucial to the band and it just wouldn’t be the same without them. That being said, it’s not always sunshine and flowers. There are five different band members and that means five different opinions, five different schedules and five different personalities. Have you ever stood in front of jukebox with a friend trying to pick one song to play? It can be a full-blown argument! Try choosing 40 songs that will be performed over and over, gig after gig. I’ve picked songs to perform that no one else is interested in and vice versa. One must be careful about choosing a beloved song. Of course, our band’s version won’t sound the same as the original and hearing a song repeatedly for years can erase that loving feeling, if you get what I’m saying.

Great! You’ve got some guys and you’ve learned some songs, let’s get out there and play! Before you pack your gear in the car, there are some things you need to do first. It’s important to have fans. How do you get fans? You need to talk about your band non-stop to your family, your friends and even the nice young man bagging your groceries. You definitely need business cards, an email address and a Facebook page. Oh yeah, you also need a demo CD and a press kit. Here’s a tip: get a guy in your band that knows how to record a band, has the recording equipment and loves recording and mixing. Studio time is crazy expensive. You have to play the songs correctly, no perfectly, and then pay someone to mix it all together for you. Then, you have to pay someone to make a lot of copies. You need several paying gigs to pay for your studio time, but no one will book you without hearing your band first. That’s kind of how things work. You should probably keep your day job a bit longer. Okay, the CD is done and sounds great. Get those tunes out on Facebook, Reverb Nation and any other site you can think of. Don’t forget to write a riveting bio of your band for everyone to read. Hopefully someone in your band is a good writer. (Yeah, that’s me.) Someone also needs to pay for a website and update your social media outlets regularly. You need to keep your fans interested and engaged.

Alright, you’ve got your press kit, Facebook page and demo CD. Time to call, email and visit bars in your area. Guess what? Most bar owners and promoters don’t have time to talk to you on the phone. They may or may not return your email and they definitely don’t have time to listen to your CD, but they won’t book you without that CD. (I know, it’s really frustrating!) Maybe they’ll take a quick look at your Facebook page and see how many “Likes” you have and read what kind of band you are. The first question most bar owners/promoters ask is, “How many people can you bring?” If your band can bring 100 people, you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you sound horrible and your guitar player barely knows how to play. If your lead singer forgets all the words and just jumps around the stage spitting water on the crowd, that’s fine, as long as you bring 100 people to the bar. Yeah, that’s right, all that practicing, recording and arguing about song choices…it doesn’t matter nowadays. Many local bands talk about this problem. Bar owners want the band to be responsible for filling the bar and making the bar a ton of money. A lot of bands think that bar owners are responsible for getting people to their bar. The band is the entertainment provided for the bar patrons. I feel that if a band is talented and entertaining, people will stay, at least that’s what I hope for. Sometimes two or three bands will do a show together to get more people to come out. If you’re a cover band, you have a better chance because people will recognize your songs, sing along, have a good time and drink a lot. People have a low tolerance for original music in the suburbs. Playing original music is a whole different blog. Let’s stick to cover bands.

A bar owner has agreed to book your band, now let’s talk about payment. Let’s see…if we charge a $5 cover, the band gets $3 and the promoter gets $2. The band brought 30 people to the gig, which comes out to $150 total. That’s $90 for the band! Hooray! You loaded up your car with all of your heavy gear, set up the PA, did a sound check, performed for 3 hours, bought your own drinks, tore down everything and loaded up the car again. You take home $18! Good job! Those 30 friends you brought drank beer all night and probably spent at least $30 each on drinks. So, that’s about $900 for the bar. Yep, that’s the reality of it, my friends. My band doesn’t play bars too often anymore. It’s tough to do. It’s a ton of work on stage and off. You can be a marketing wizard and it’s still difficult to get people to see the band. Private parties and summer outdoor festivals are ideal, but those are hard to get. You have to play shows to get private parties and people who book outdoor fests need to have at least heard of you. How can they hear of you if you don’t ever play out? Well, you can offer to play benefit shows. It’s rare that we are paid for a benefit show, but it’s rare that we’re paid for a bar show. At least you’re helping to raise money for a good cause and people are appreciative of your talents. Most of the time, we even get to eat some food for free! That’s a nice perk.

Let’s talk about other bands for a moment. My band has had the opportunity to meet and perform with quite a few other local bands. You always hope that everyone will be respectful and supportive. And some people are exactly that. Our friends’ band, Convoy (http://www.facebook.com/convoyinsanity) has always been a pleasure to deal with. We’ve played several shows together. They are gracious people who have no problem sharing a stage with other talented musicians. We can share a drum kit or a bass rig with them without a problem. When they are performing, we are there to listen and support them and vice versa. For the most part, this is a rare situation. I think that we are all in this together and if we could all be nice to each other and work together maybe we could affect some real change in how things are done. One band can’t play every single gig in every single bar/venue every night. It’s not a competition. I don’t really see a reason to be rude or condescending to another band ever. Even if they suck. (No, I’m not naming names.)

So what’s the point? Why bother? Well, it’s important to realize one’s goals and share them with the band. If the goal is to make money, that band will fail. If the goal is to get famous, that takes a lot of work. You’d probably have to quit your day job and focus on playing, recording and getting gigs wherever you can. It’s a hard life, but some people are on board for that. What it really comes down to is love of music and love of performing. It takes a lot of courage to play or sing in front of a room of strangers or friends, so you really have to love what you’re doing. It is a rush to perform a song perfectly and hear applause at the end. It’s fun to watch people dance and sing along and then tell you what a great time they had, especially if it’s someone you’ve never met before. I am lucky enough to be in a band with my husband which makes performing even more special. It’s a unique experience that we are able to share together, the good times and the bad. When a gig goes well, the entire band is invigorated and the sense of togetherness is moving. It’s a special kind of love that is shared with my bandmates and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

That being said, are you looking for a band for your next event? 4th of July party? Do you know someone planning a benefit? Do you know of a bar that books talented bands? Well, I’ve got the perfect band for you… http://www.facebook.com/puddinheadband and http://www.sonicbids.com/puddinhead. ;D