In June of 2013, I became a first-time uncle. At the risk of selfishness, it was the perfect gift. An opportunity to assume the loose responsibilities of raising another human without having to commit to the drastic lifestyle change and financial toil. My brother and I joked for years about “Uncle Blake” to the point of developing a script of a renegade character that would show up unannounced in the middle of the night, mildly intoxicated on the front deck, discovered by future nephews and nieces to their joy of a cooler version of their father. Toys in tow. The imparting wisdom of the real world. Uncle Blake does show up unannounced, usually in the middle of the afternoon, tired from a month on the road, with his best attempts at educational gifts, books or toy tractors. My brother’s first-born, Tucker, was quickly followed by a bright-eyed smiley little brother who is more often referred to by his middle name of Pete(y) than his given, Clyde.
Materialism only goes so far. Auntie Mel and I were just as pumped to give Tucker a Slip n’ Slide for his third birthday as he was to receive it but then come attempts to start thinking outside of the toy box.
I was texted in April by my good friend Taron if I would be interested in posing with a toy car as part of a project from an uncle to a nephew. “Yes” has been my attempt to move forward and trust that my path is unfolding, so without thinking the one-word answer was my reply.
Leroy Shultz is a photographer and uncle from Edmonton, Alberta. He also has moved through the lesson of materialism as an uncle and in grandeur effort is giving his nephew tangible proof that we are all connected. The catalyst: a little green car. In a gift from uncle to nephew, Leroy travels the country and photographs strangers from all walks of life with Miguelito’s toy car, accumulating the photos and stories at www.miguelitoslittlegreencar.com.
Leroy operates with ease. His vision aligns with his demeanour. Taron, Leroy and I met in a park and moved quickly into conversation related to the topic of the project. We are all connected. The discussion veered towards chit-chat about our day. I spent the morning connecting with a venue in an attempt to find a host for an upcoming performance in Edmonton. Leroy’s friend was opening a new venue in Edmonton and was looking for acts. Taron’s clients (The Steadies) were touring and performing a show that night at this new venue that just opened in Edmonton. As if prearranged, The Needle Vinyl Tavern acted as our morning proof to the worth of Leroy’s project.
Thank you to Taron and Leroy for this opportunity. We are all connected. The smallest of actions have infinite results. A little love can change it all. I can’t wait to see how Miguelito and Leroy come back into my life.
(I’m really digging the cut and past DIY tour poster thing)
We pulled the van into the studio parking lot immediately following my May tour with Belle and Bryce and started recording harmonies for the new record (as I type this, my cosmic sister, Megan Nash is finishing up the final ooos and ahhhs in and around Belle’s – the light is at the end of the tunnel).
I hopped in and out of radio stations across The Prairies, played everything from coffee shops and honky tonks to barns and quonsets (it’s a Saskatchewan term) and grew my list of people that are near and dear to me. When we weren’t in hotel rooms we stayed with friends and family, enjoying the few days off. I use the term “days off” loosely as I’m in the midst of tracking the single to Canadian Country, Campus, Community, and College. It’s paying off – we made the second ballot for 2016 Roots Artist of the Year at the Canadian Country Music Awards. So…Let’s hit the road again! Here are the anchor dates for the next couple months – stay tuned, many more to come!
Surprise Pop-Up Tour Kick-Off at O’Hanlon’s Pub tonight in Regina! See you there!
Friday, June 17 (+ Vultures)
O’Hanlon’s Pub w/ Chris Sleightholm
Saturday, June 18 (+ Vultures)
Summer Solstice Festival d’ete
Thursday, June 23 (+ Belle Plaine & Bryce Lewis)
Tower 3 Rooftop – Corporate Gig (Harvard Developments)
Friday, June 24 (+ Bryce Lewis)
Dakota Dunes Casino
Whitecap First Nation
Saturday, June 25 (+ Bryce Lewis)
Dakota Dunes Casino
Whitecap First Nation
Wednesday, July 6 (Solo)
Slate Fine Art Gallery w/ Twin Peaks
$15 adv. ticket – available at Slate (2078 Halifax St)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – APRIL 18, 2016 (REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN) – Saskatchewan Twangster, Blake Berglund, is releasing a limited edition, double-single on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Word’s Gettin’ Around/Funny Thing About You Leaving will appear on translucent orange vinyl and act as the first installment to a trilogy of releases throughout 2016 and 2017. As the overall concept unfolds, Word’s Gettin’ Around/Funny Thing About You Leaving will be followed by the anticipated full-length concept album, Realms, and the finally The Architect EP.
“I didn’t realize the scope of the project until I was well into the process. The songs had a through-line that demanded a third release to complete the thought. The last couple months have been an intense game of creative catch-up.”
Recorded at Catherine North Studios in Hamilton, ON in early 2015 and produced by Aaron Goldstein, the two tracks explore a throw-back sound and push the boundaries of country music’s modern tone. With the apparent mainstream shift in Berglund’s genre, Word’s Gettin’ Around/Funny Thing About You Leaving has a sincerity through its thought-provoking lyricism and polished musicianship.
Berglund’s efforts have found him a co-write on Barber’s new release, The Puck Drops Here andQuinton Blair’s current single “Following Him Around”. His solo-penned track, “I’ve Never”, was recently performed by Calgary-based duo, FOXX Worthee, as part of a three song set to award them the top prize through Country 105’s Rising Star Competition presented by The Ranchman’s and Lammle’s Western Wear.
“We’ve been relentlessly independent and will continue to enjoy the grind while we slowly hand responsibilities off to focus more on the creative process and the hustle.”
Berglund’s hustle is defining. Industry buzz of him selling 10,000 albums door-to-door across western Canada shows a sense of heart and ingenuity that doesn’t go unrecognized. Paralleled with a devout artistry, refined writing, and a vision and you have yourself a Contender.
“Staying true to the vision, we are abandoning the industry’s model of releasing on Fridays and dropping 300 hard copies on Tuesday, May 10 – my 33rd birthday.”
The double-single hits national radio on Monday, April 25 and tour kick-off and vinyl release will take place at The Exchange in Regina on Saturday, May 7 with special guests The Windows Up Above.
WORD’S GETTIN’ AROUND TOUR 2016 (PART 1)
May 7 Regina, SK The Exchange w/The Vultures & The Windows Up Above
May 9 Moose Jaw, SK Common Café
May 10 Swift Current, SK House Concert
May 11 Medicine Hat, AB Mario’s Pub
May 12 Calgary, AB Wine-Ohs w/Quinton Blair
May 13 Calgary, AB The Palomino Smokehouse (Happy Hour Upstairs)
May 14 Priddis, AB Water’s Edge Pub
May 17 Oyen, AB The Barn Pub & Grill
May 18 Saskatoon, SK House Concert
May 19 Rosthern, SK Good Habits Café
May 20 Birch Hills, SK Mane Event aka The Flute & Fiddle
May 24 Lloydminster, SK The Root: Community Emporium
In the wake of our Merle’s death, we woke Friday morning with an unassailable need to jump in the vehicle and drive to Moose Jaw for the day to see Tex. With an impressive resumé spanning over 60 years in the industry, Tex Emery and I bonded through our mutual friendship with my band mate Steve Leidal. Being introduced backstage at Gateway Music Festival in Bengough, SK, led to using my position with the Saskatchewan Country Music Association to see him recognized with the 2015 Legends and Legacy award in which I was honoured to present. I’d regulate evening phone calls to hear more about his time spent with Chet Atkins, Bob Wills, Gene Autry, Wilf Carter and Hank Snow, escapades with Hee Haw’s Grandpa Jones, and musings about the state of country music. As Tex puts it: “There were only three pedal steel players in Canada, some guy in Vancouver, some guy in Halifax, and me.” I believe him.
Tex will pull you in with his charm to find you quickly developing a fond care for his well-being and a need to have hours fly by in his presence. Bryce, Steve and I through the guitars in the van and headed off for the day. We picked Tex up and went for a coffee where he wooed the waitresses and held hands with the female construction workers on their lunch breaks. Back at the house we listened to his recordings that went as far back at the 50’s to as recent as last year. He booted up computer, where as an 86 year old man is just learning home recording so he can receive files from afar, do his thing, and fire’em back down the line. Forget his back catalogue, Tex is out-composing and recording all of us in the scene, combined. We jammed some Ray Price as he slinked around on his steel in his sun-room addition where he checks in on Bonnie by poking is head in the bedroom window that once gave way to fresh outside air.
Our visit saw it’s end immediately following an hour so of jamming out standard only to get interrupted by Tex pulling out vinyl of Hal “Lone Pine” Breau and priding the mono recordings.
“Listen how simple that is boys. Mark my word, it’ll all come around again. People will go crazy for it. Mark my word.”
Another hour later, Bonnie snapped a few pictures, hugs handed out, and we we headed back to Regina.
Having spent the the previous night two-stepping to Regina indie-rockers Rah Rah’s alter-ego (truly impressive and raw) country group, The Alley Dawgs (mouthful, I know), I must have totalled five quick hours of sleep. Paired with the 6 strip chicken dinner at Moose Jaw’s Deja Vu, I started to head-bob around Pense, SK. Powering through, I got home and hit the hay, sleeping until supper.
Rested, I woke to find that the band-date continued without me and the boys received a call from our friend Buzz down at Sawchyn Guitars on Dewdney…and not just any call, but an urgent one of excitement.
“You’ll never guess what Bryce and I did this afternoon” said Steve
“You guys went skateboarding and hit up some slurpees”
“Nope – we played Roy Nichols’ guitar.”
“What do you mean you played Roy Nichols’ guitar?”
Roy Nichols wiki reads as follows:
‘Roy Nichols (October 21, 1932 – July 3, 2001) was an American country music guitarist best known as the lead guitarist for Merle Haggard for more than two decades. He was known for his guitar technique, a mix of fingerpicking and pedal steel-like bends, usually played on a Telecaster.’
Gifted by Roy himself to a Regina resident via Kelowna, complete with letter of authentication, free of any obligations, the 1952 Telecaster found its way into the guitar shop of Peter Sawchyn. Up for sale.
En route to Winnipeg we stopped back in at Peter’s this morning to closer share in the Universe unfolding.
With the numerous passings of musical icons in the past few months, I felt my respects were best paid in silence. Resisting from a passing tweet or Facebook post but truly giving a few minutes to the appreciation for their lifelong dedication to creating art. Coupled with an unexplainable experience closing out 2015 I found myself questioning and hence appreciating our time in this physical realm. Seeing everything through a completely fresh perspective, it moved me into a place of knowing that we come into this world and have a mission of leaving it a better place. Word’s resonate and thoughts manifest.
It seems suiting that I received news on the passing of Merle Haggard this morning while immersed in the administrative duties of finalizing tour dates and committing to a year in the van with the boys. It was only days ago I felt a strange newfound sense of motivation after seeing the reworked poster for Willie’s performance at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, TX. The original bearing Merle’s face alongside Willie’s, it was now promoting Ryan Bingham, Shakey Graves and Jamey Johnson as support for the three night stand. A No. 1 debut with Willie on their Django and Jimmie album, a plethora of click-bait pleas for prayer and finally the soon to be iconic photos taken by Ben Haggard of Sturgill alongside The Hag was the Universe preparing us for the passing of a man that truly accepted his artistic mission.
To communicate how his writing has shaped me in character and self-expression would be extensive. As a band we study his stylings and if ever in a creative bind simply revert to our mantras of ‘what would Merle do?’, ‘how would Roy phrase this?’ and ‘steal something from Redd Volkaert’. We’ve paid for albums and touring vans by playing his songs live for ten years now. Bryce has dissected The Strangers instrumentals and began his own band in the styles of.
With love and white light we wish the soul of Merle a smooth crossing and graciously thank him for all he’s left behind. Prayers to his family and close friends that they find comfort in this time of grieving the physical loss. And finally a heartfelt appreciation for the influence he bestowed on the pathway we are on.
The arrogance and dividing efforts were displayed in spades last May when radio consultant, Keith Hill used the painfully weak metaphor of a tossed salad to provide an unsolicited opinion on how to “fix” your radio ratings. I could get behind the usage of the term lettuce to describe mainstream’s masculine forces in the sense that it all tastes the same and if used sparsely, does have its place in a sandwich but Hill bit off more than he could chew when referring to females as tomatoes. Furthering his notion, “…take the females out…they aren’t the lettuce…the females are tomatoes”. Ok, so maybe Hill accidentally voiced a misogynistic viewpoint in an attempt to “do good” (used in the same looseness as the previous referral pertaining to masculinity) but even following the verbal unleashing by heavyweights such as Martina McBride, Jennifer Nettles, Carlene Carter and Terri Clark, Hill took his opportunity to respond by saying he was a “victim of all this passion”. Fail.
In a dated mindset of separating the boys from the girls, the movement is obvious. A powerhouse front of females leading and defending traditionalism in the throes of country music. Even if select few lack a sense of twang it’s made up through their devotion to craft, business-sense, and authenticity. Outside of the cutsie-retro-costumers peppered throughout the country there’s a breed of songwriter that needs no facade. An approach defined by hustle and backed with raw talent. No two the same. Ambitious Road Warriors. And in respect to modern efforts of equality…gentlemen, we are not equal.
Just so happens, these ladies are all from Saskatchewan.
Kacy Anderson (Kacy & Clayton) – Kacy haunts. Not in the sense of an apparition that periodically shows up only to quickly dissipate into the matrix but the kind that forces empathetic qualities. Gives you a visual of ache and hangs around, daylight be damned. Kacy’s tone is that of Canadian folk royalty, complimenting her first cousin’s unique finger-picking clunk. Wood Mountain is home to the province’s oldest running rodeo and the country’s oldest adolescent duo.
Jessica Moskaluke – I’m sorry Kelly Buchberger. I’m sorry Gopherville. Langenburg, SK now boasts Jesse. Let’s cut to the chase, in an industry hierarchy, Jess’s back-to-back awards as CCMA Female Vocalist of the Year puts her at the top. The rarity is that she’s the best female vocalist in the country. Moskaluke is H.A.F. as I personally witnessed her walk a half mile in high heels at 3 am toting a suitcase with a windchill of -30 degrees Centigrade. Well earned Moskaluke.
Ellen Froese-Kooijenga & Kasia Thorlakson (In With The Old) – We should disregard age at this point because it seems to be irrelevant when considering sound and influence among Saskie Youth. Already having headlined 200 seat venues completely independently, Ellen and Kasia have their trio completed with the quirky charm and innocence of their male counterpart, Jaxon Lalonde. In With The Old’s tightness will be displayed at the esteemed Merlefest this April in North Carolina.
Eli Barsi – Raised a mile and a half north of yours truly, Eli was quick to replant in Tennessee. The America played home to her for years but never altered the localities of her sound. Eli’s embodiment of authenticity was recognized in 2015 by receiving the prestigious Wrangler Award for ‘Best Original Western Composition’ for “Portrait of a Cowgirl” by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. An award shared by only one other Canadian – folk hero, Ian Tyson. And then there’s this…
Val Halla – Sitting confidently on the country fringe, Valerie McLeod takes no shit from anyone. Aside from personally valuing of her loyalty as a friend she shows the same devotion to all aspects of her artistic autonomy. Self producing and mixing recordings, self promotion, self bookings, and self-worth, Val is our lone wolf. She gracefully moves back and forth between her expansive networks on both sides of the border as we anticipate her upcoming release.
Kara Golemba – Kara’s sound settles somewhere between Joy Williams (Civil Wars) and Cary Ann Hearst (Shovels and Rope). Owning the gift of Wordage while wrangling melodies gives her smokey approach to songwriting its own bluesy flavour. Golemba heads in to work with Jason Plumb this April as her sound is recognized by the producing ear of The Dead South and Colter Wall.
Jen Lane – another songwriting veteran that runs her independent artistry like clockwork. Set a plan in place and execute mercilessly. Jen’s newest release is produced by West-Coast Brilliance, John Ellis, and has just wrapped up its first leg of promotion. Regulars to the Cameron House Residency in Toronto, Jen’s strategic approach titles her as one of the most intelligent workers in the industry.
Belle Plaine – As only a live album could, Melanie Hankewich (AKA Belle Plaine) displayed her folk/jazz/country hybrid song chops with a seven piece band on the newly released ‘The Unrequited Love’. Backing up Willie’s belief that jazz has it’s place in country, Melanie storms across the country playing concert halls to honky tonks with her devout core trio comprised of Jeremy Sauer (keys) and Elizabeth Curry (bass) and line-ups that compliment their placement-drop. It’s her wit that made her my better half, then her soul. Belle’s a perfect fit with my Vultures, the smooth to Colter Walls grit, and the feminine front to Regina’s progressive twangsters, The Lazy MKs.
Megan Nash – As earthly as she is cosmic, The Nash approaches a myriad of material that spans taxidermy to timelessness in an eloquent folk-twang tinge. Megan has proven herself provincially as the one who’s nose is to the grindstone celebrating weekends off as they are few and far between. With an album in hand that has topped ‘best of’ lists for the past year, the title hints of a quick follow-up which we are desperate to receive. She needs no band, carrying a performance through organized scatter that truly proves time’s relativity.
Tenille Arts – finish school, jump in the car, head to Nashville, become huge. A fellow Southeasterner, Tenille writes hooks big enough to catch Marlins. Troubadouring herself through the Nashville club circuit and dedicating herself to basically making the world a better place having teamed up with Cystic Fibrosis Canada raising awareness through the release of her latest single “Breathe”.
On a fall day in 1964, amidst road construction 5 km outside the rural village of Kyle, Saskatchewan, a scraper blade unearthed what was to be a major historical discovery. As the southwest corner of the province boasts home to fossils ranging back 70 million years; the “recent” hunting by the Paleo-indians on the Great Plains aged Wally the Wooly Mammoth at 12,000 years old – a young’un. Call on Don Foulds, a Saskatoon based sculptor, to commemorate the findings with a big ol cement Mammuthus in Kinsmen Park at the north end of town (budding a new branch in his career and since erecting The Indian Head in Indian Head, The Turtle in Turtleford, The Moose in Moose Jaw, and The Giant Squid in Glover’s Harbour – well done Donny, well done.)
But it seems Kyle needed more wooly, loveable characters. And who doesn’t love one, that again, could kick your ass. Under the supervision of the iconic Stu Hart (father to Owen and Bret “Hitman” Hart), Stampede Wrestling saw it’s end in 1984 after falling victim to a full on riot at Ogden Auditorium in Calgary, Alberta a year previous. Stampede Wrestling was sold to the World Wrestling Federation and Bret became my idol. But the town of Kyle was brewing up a new champ and with the resurrection of the Stampede brand in 1999, Danny Hannouch entered the entertainment world as Saddam (or Soddam) Insane. Suplexing his way into the formation of The Baghdad Bullies with TNT, they went on to win the NWS Tag Team Championship in 2006. Somebody ring up Donny and clear a space in Kinsmen Park.
Yet again, Kyle has a way of producing Titans. Maybe it’s the distinct amounts of magnesium and iron in underground water sources or possible astrological significance to it’s geographical coordinates (50.8317° N, 108.0374° W) – but none the less – lovable, wooly mammoths.
A three-year-old’s constant begging for a guitar found David Lewis in-front of a bandsaw shaping the instrument out of a quarter-inch piece of plywood. The four tuning pegs would technically make Bryce Lewis’ first axe that of a tenor, fully equipped with fish-wire strings and yellow wood paint finish. Through a progression of beginner guitars and an old Harmony six string found in the back of the Kyle Community Hall, Bryce found his groove in a red Mexican-Tele; learning every lick on Marty Stuart’s Marty Party Hit Pack and studying the phrasings of Redd Volkaert…learning, studying…paying homage, stealing. Executing his newfound chops at every afternoon weekend jam from Turner Valley, Longview and Black Diamond, Alberta to the long-running Ranchman’s jam in Calgary. Stan’s Place in Saskatoon toughened him up and rural Saskatchewan touring refined him.
In an act of desperation, being left high and dry in the lead guitarist department a week prior to a marathon rodeo cabaret in 2012, I took to the Twitter committing to hire any guitarist that simply replied to the tweet. Quickly introduced to Bryce a year prior after a show with Corb Lund in Swift Current, our reacquaintance came in the form of the reply I was looking for – “I can play the guitar” popping up on my Twitter feed notifications.
“Do you have anything I can listen to?”
“But you can play, right?”
“Alright kid, you got the gig. 40 songs, 5 days. See you Saturday”
Call it what you want but my career direction took a turn on June 23, 2012. Bryce slayed every lick in the book. Played the fiddle lines and pedal steel whines. The lack of B-bender didn’t stop the melodies it wrote. He killed it. The Vultures line-up was complete.
Bryce (or better known as Bruce among friends and family) is tip-toeing his way into the spotlight with a series of instrumental pieces performed live a Sawchyn Guitars in Regina, SK. We were lucky enough to have him open up for Belle and Myself this past December and he will be sharing the stage with Ryan Hicks on Tuesday, January 5th at O’Hanlon’s in Regina. It’ll be a flash-bang 20 minuter but jam packed with interpretations and original compositions in the style of Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, and Redd Volkaert.
In yet another act of distinctly setting himself apart from the rest of the wheel, Eric Church got his Drake on and dropped a fully-produced, 10 song album into his Church Choir’s inboxes – an “old school” subscription paid fan club – giving thousands of $49.99/yr fans a WTF morning on November 4, later revealing it to the world on an international broadcast. This album is more than a surprise Eric Church album – it is an effort to lead the charge and assist with the turning of the Nashville tide. A ceremonious passing of the torch opened up the 49th annual CMA’s between Hank Jr and Church, aviators and all, and if we are keeping to the theme of Surprises – yes – Hank Jr on the CMAs. Hank last appeared in 2011 just following his reference to Obama playing golf with Speaker of the House, John Boehner, as “That’d be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.” The comment which ended his 20 year relationship with Monday Night Football. Something had to be up. Oh right, and they covered Waylon (well, Neil.) Then the lucky duck gets to sing again – two points for Church.
I downloaded Chief and The Outsiders the first day of each respective release and dove in. One went over much better than the other but still never satisfied my appreciation for his writing as a whole since the Sinners Like Me album. With last week’s streaming of Mr. Misunderstood, Church reminded us that the movement will not happen if the guy in charge isn’t writing Grade A shit, himself. He accepted the role.
Before we get to the songwriting let’s lay down a few of the facts. It was claimed, in hand-written letters by Church himself, to select media movers and shakers that with a new guitar that his son named “Butter Bean” he wrote 20 songs in 18 days and had 10 recorded 20 days to follow. The recording wrapped up mid-October putting the beginning of the project’s stamp around late August 2015. But Eric, what about in July when you debuted your new song (and Mr. Misunderstood’s closing track), “Three Year Old” at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater? Fishy. Because Math. Doesn’t matter. Part of any orchestration is a sellable story, works for me.
An album in 40 days. Kinda like that Jesus figure that he claimed was needed on Chief – resisting temptation from the devil that he sold himself to in Tracks 9 and 10 of The Outsiders?
If there’s one thing that Church does well (aside from his writing on this album…there, cat’s out of the bag) is narrate the story of Eric Church. He reminds us of his motives and solidifies his character. He’s a marketing genius walking in the backdoor of a megascene. I’d love to state altruism and become a fan again solely for his writing chops but I will buy a ticket to his next regional arena show because of his smarts.
So the writing is fucking great. The title track gives us what we love about Church – him and a guitar. Thank you sir. It crashes into a melody so familiar that I spent the next 20 minutes playing a G and C chord back and forth mumble-singing words to try and place it. ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ once again puts “Old Eric” as the compassionate refuge for today’s “They Just Don’t Get Me” Generation as he did throughout The Outsiders. Church also knows his early fans. The ones that let him go. He name drops Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jeff Tweedy clean out of the box; he raised our eyebrows, turned the corners of our mouth down, and had us nod. The song is Mellencamp-esque (which the CMA broadcast eluded to us is Keith Urban’s coming direction).
It’s ends with a pleasing drone dragging us into Track 2, just incase he didn’t have us back.
‘Mistress Named Music’ is stylistically peppered with the coming trend – soul. Authenticity will be the new manufactured selling point – whether it be natural or not. Soul music is the most accessible entrance in that development – uh, remember how good you felt the first time you heard Garth’s ‘We Shall Be Free’? Church mixes in a little Richie Sambora style solo, tone and all, and moves the album’s progression into Track 3, ‘Chattanooga Lucy’ – complete with Memphis born singer-songwriter, Joanna Cotten on back-ups. Memphis eh, kinda like that Timberlake character – with that said, at 1:06 Church beats Timberlake to his own coming sound. I swear I just saw Timberlake performing at a funeral…anyways.
The women of this album deserve they’re own blogging effort – his collaborations are strategic and legit. ‘Mixed Drinks About Feelings’ has long-time producer Jay Joyce calling up his old buddy Susan Tedeschi of Tedeschi Trucks Band (formerly known as Soul Stew Revival) and wife to Derek Trucks (of the Allman Brothers) lending her insanely soulful voice (soul, soul, soul) to the powerhouse track. Church clearly reminds you at this point in the album that he can write. And sing.
The only way to confront a decision or turmoil over a decision is to own it. That’s the outlaw way. Track 5, ‘Knives of New Orleans’ does just that. Screaming “I did what I did, I have no regrets, when you cross the line you get what you get” – admitting to us (his old fans) and vying for our forgiveness. Keep going Eric, I’m coming around. Boom. ‘Round Here Buzz’ – classic Church. This will be the transition song in his career…I’m guessing the next single judging by the percussion. The “new country” will not be able to deem success without the intelligent lyric – no more cookie-cutter shit. It’s still that tailgate-getmydrinkon-missyou cliché but it’s backed up with a solid narrative and lyrical payoff. The Bridge Song.
‘Kill a Word’ brings in another heavy hitting, legit, female vocalist Rhiannon Giddens. Fellow Tar Heel and lead vocalist of Americana mainstay band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Yet again a surprising turn also features a virtually unknown singer/songwriter, Andrea Davidson. Google her name and a Toronto Real Estate agent pops up. ‘Kill a Word’, once again, brings in the Outsider theme and attacks bullying head on. These songs are never done right and the movement more often than not comes off as insincere. Church knocks it out of the park.
He then steals Chesney’s fanbase from under the megastar’s nose channelling his inner Buffett admitting he is ‘Holdin’ My Own’ and literally telling us “I mix blues and soul“. I got a JJ Cale kinda groove to this. (Speaking of Cale, kinda, Church has achieved another online milestone by having his name appear about Clapton’s when typing “Eric” into a search engine.) Church on Church.
Yes! Finally – the double entendre song. ‘Record Year’ is great. Remember Martina’s ‘Crying on the Shoulder of the Road’? Nashville writing at it’s modern best has the double entendre as a staple approach. This song does not fall short. Church’s love affair with vinyl is apparent in his writing – he shows The Outsiders on vinyl in the ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ music video and walked the walk with this magical little album release by sending out Vinyl of the album to select fans prior to the surprise inboxing. Vinyl takes months to create, the manufacturing is an art in itself…nevermind – I’m going back to the timeline of the release. Because Math.
Finally, ‘Three Year Old’ – dammit man, you got me.
Mr. Misunderstood is an incredibly well-written release chalked (see what I did there) full of Church’s best. Did he stalk-pile his material while inking his deal with the devil and release it with a great marketing story – let’s say he didn’t. In that case, Church wrote a unified album in 18 days that WILL bring his old fanbase back into his world; his ticket sales will sore and EMI will make damn sure that he is the number one priority. I might do Eric a solid and order this one in from Dave down at X-ray; I’ve listened to it in it’s entirety five or six times and will continue to do so. It has set a standard and in an attempt to fulfill the prophecy of Christ’s return was set in place with a whopper of a marketing plan and execution – but while Church was filling his contract with Satan on arena stages, Stapleton did so in private…
Church created Chief and The Outsider personnas, and Stapleton focused on himself. The roll-over orchestration had Hank Jr giving Church a christening only to have his evening robbed. Frequently hopping up and sharing stages, Church and Stapleton will lead this front – and everybody knows “friendly” competition is great for Capitalism. But my money is on the fact that Church is pissed.
In an enlightening move, a prominent Canadian country radio Music Director took to his personal blog last night in effort of calling a spade a spade. With all facets of the machine so closely interdependent, it was quite admirable for Mike McGuire of Big Dog 92.7 (Regina, SK) to educate his followers, specifically, independent artists on the realities and risks attached to hiring a tracker. Excuse me. The wrong tracker.
Upon releasing my second solo album in 2010, a handful of songs loosely lent themselves to country production (or my version of) and in an attempt to broaden the masses, I believed I had a fighting chance of getting on the radio. But how? It was an elitist group and I hadn’t the first clue of the process. I was soon directed to the concept of the tracker, a middleman/woman, one to be paid for not only what they know but who they know. My well crafted introductory email and submission was responded to modestly, not promising anything, directing payment, and game-plan put in place.
But be damned, it wasn’t weeks in and upon arriving at stations for a little PR and arranged interviews, I had MD’s (music directors) saying that they spoke to someone who I had no idea was representing my song. An outsourced minion. A hustling henchman. I paid for not only “what they know but who they know.” What they knew was one can’t be making all the calls when representing multiple artists at once and who they knew was in the spreadsheet tossed to a neighbouring desk.
The campaign ended with a disheartened Blake giving up on Canadian Country Radio dreams and ready for experiment number 2. Community, College and Campus radio.
At this point I was performing around 100 dates a year and thought it would be in my best interest…and I regret using the cliché in hindsight, but “go for broke.” Making contact with an industry advisor on the west coast I was directed to an independent company out of Toronto specializing in rock radio and led by one silver tongued son of a bitch. Quickly talking me out of my song decision, radio format and my $2000.00 max budget, we released to rock radio. Starting the campaign before the contract was signed I was on the hook for the initial payment of 2G and was continued to be fed the “successes” on his end such as having the most influential names in the industry considering my release for adds. “We’re almost there bud, it’s gonna break but we have the amp up the campaign…send more money.”
Coincidently, other business at the time happened to have me fly out to his home turf and in a personal gesture, I suggested we meet for lunch. At his request we met at a thirty-dollar-fucking-salad-bar not without making me feel that by meeting him in person I was taking away from his tracking time. These kinds of bastards are good – I was once again sold on continuing the campaign as it would be an absolute shame to have wasted the initial time put in to set the success up. Another $2000 deposit.
With weeks to follow and $4000.00 in, we had one add. One. I abruptly ended the campaign and was informed that I had a remaining balance of over $3000.00 – which included his thirty-dollar-fucking-salad-bar and parking that given afternoon. Seeking legal advice I quickly learned that regardless of a signed contract an email giving the go-ahead was as good as gold and that I best pay the remaining balance and wash my hands. One add. One. As a side note, I ran into the scum at Canadian Music Week the following year and he had no idea who I was.
I wish my tracker troubles ended here. You really would think a guy would learn.
Let’s get back into the Canadian country music radio market.
Because I’ve re-infuriated myself tonight digging up bones, we’ll make the story quick. The industry is small and it’s very easy to make good friends with people quickly – as I did with the then MD in the Swift Current, SK market. Upon receiving my “tracking report” for yet another single in 2013, I simply did not believe that this certain MD said what was reported; a phone call not only proved me correct but there was never contact in the first place. In questioning where the information came from my tracker responded with honesty – he never bothered contacting the station because he “already knew what he was going to say” and hence forwarded that assumption.
These were my experiences on three separate accounts and it’s too bad that missteps, assumptions, and a downright con can colour one of the most important roles in the radio world. With all this said I have heard nothing but accolades for the professionalism and approaches of groups such as With a Bullet , Dale Speaking, & Frontside Group – but as an indie artist one must understand the realities and truly what the goals are when releasing to radio. A great song and a great team will shoot you up the charts but if you are rockin’ and rollin’ as a lone wolf in the radio world here are a few tips and benefits of taking the bull by the horns.
1.BUILD AND REBUILD A SOLID DATABASE – It’s as difficult to track radio employees as it is a single. Changes and transfers are made on a regular basis so stay on-top of it. I generally like put in a couple hours a week into my database whether I’m pushing a single or not. I use google drive spreadsheets so I can team up with other artists and we all have access to the same info and each other’s updates.
2. LEARN YOUR DATABASE – You did it for Grade 9 Biology, do it for your radio career investment. Flashcards – know who is running what stations at the drop of a hat.
3. KNOW THE RECEPTIONIST’S NAME – They are your first line of contact. Any missing info in your database is accessible with a phone call. Greet the receptionist by name and you drastically better your chances at getting the info you need.
4. LISTEN LIVE – Almost every station has a listen live option on their website. Make it a habit to boot up their player and keep it on while you are going about your workday. Save the link in your database for easy accessibility.
5. DON’T ASK FOR AN ADD, ASK FOR A FEATURE – One spin goes a long long ways. You are representing yourself independently, you don’t have time to chart – you can only market. Features add up and if by the grace of God momentum starts rolling, that’s when you revisit the contact and inquire about light rotation.
6. PLAY THE MARKETS – Duh. Radio tours are great ways to personally connect but why wouldn’t you take advantage of being able to reach such a massive audience as an invite to the live performance. Whether it’s that night, the following week or plans to return in a year – if you wanna release to all of Canada, plan to tour all of Canada.
7. DROP IN – Your mom and dad did it to the neighbours all the time. Chances are they brought beer. Why would this be any different?
8. BUY SOME AIRTIME – If Jim Johnson Chev Olds can snag a 30 second slot to sell something, so can you. Remember when I spent over $10,000 on trackers? Think about the results if that was spent in advertisement.
9. LATE NIGHT AND WEEKEND DJs ARE THE SECRET WEAPON – Just like the morning show and afternoon drive hosts, they have a microphone in front of them and the ability to push play. Give some love to the one’s putting in the late shift…wouldn’t you rather be sleeping or hanging out with your family on the weekend?
10. ONE BY ONE – It’s only a matter of time until you build a personal relationship with everybody. You aren’t in this to chart, you are in this to market yourself – charting will be the bi-product. Write what you write and slowly garner relationships. Representing yourself for as long as need be gives you a huge advantage when the tipping point comes, all relationships will be personal and successes swift.
With swagger, patience, and drive you will get spins, lots, but approach with the long-term in mind. It’s about relationships not charting. The classic scene from Dennis Hopper’s 1988 film Colors, might just describe the approach best with Robert Duvall telling Sean Penn the story of two bulls. Take your time and walk down.
I seem to have forgotten a very important piece of info for those that have never released before. The means of distribution for a single and industry standard is via an online hub called DMDS. One can independently load their single and choose the market in which to deliver but I strongly suggest going through RDR Music Group. Joe or Trudy will pick up the phone when you call and walk you through the process. Good luck out there team.