Is that a piano in your minivan?

Just got back from another Tuesday night show at the 400 Bar playing with Michael Morris and band. The instrumentalists morph each week, and tonight I was designated keyboard man. It was quite fun, and in the above photo you can see my little domain, positioned in the back corner of the stage next to the drums. I enjoy being surrounded by chord organ at my right and a digital piano at my left. In addition to the musical stuff, I also enjoy getting to sit down during the entire show, and it's nice to be up on a riser in the back which allows a great view of the other band members as well as the audience.

This past week was major (no pun intended) in my life as a keyboard player. It has been eight years since I had an acoustic piano in my home, and both Dawn and I agree that we've really missed having one. When we first lived in Chicago we had my Grandpa's old upright, but when we moved to a little condo the it was sent back to Upper Michigan, leaving us pianoless. A few months ago Dawn and I saw an ad for Carlson's Piano World so we cruised out to their warehouse to check out the scene. There I discovered a lovely little $99 (yes, that's the correct price!) acoustic Wurlitzer from 1959 that I fell in love with, but chose not to buy 'cause I didn't want to mess with delivery charges, etc. But ever since that day, the memory of the piano has been haunting me. My parents were in town this past weekend, driving in my Dad's minivan, so I knew I had the option of picking up the piano myself in the van and avoiding the delivery costs, and I thought "If that piano is still at the warehouse, I'll buy it." Sure enough, it was still there, in its $99 glory, and I laid my money down.

On Saturday's FREEZING cold morning, my Dad, my brother Tim, and I picked up the piano and stuffed it in the minivan. Of course, most pianos would never fit in a minivan, but this little baby is a rare six-octave model...missing eight keys on the high end and eight keys on the low end, resulting in a very narrow width, as well as a short height. It slid very nicely into the van and we took it home. Since it's so small, it also wasn't too difficult for us to carry into the house and down the steps to my studio, where it now sits, prepared for future appearances on a variety of recording projects! For their trouble, I paid my Dad and brother by taking them to lunch at Chipotle. The instrument still needs to be tuned (right now the whole thing is about a quarter-step sharp), but soon she'll be ready to rock. I'm thrilled to have a REAL piano in my studio. Maybe my next album will be piano-based. Hmmm...

In other studio news, I had the very rare opportunity these last few days to work on some unfinished recordings. Before I drove to the 400 Bar for the Michael Morris gig, I took a couple hours to finish vocals on some songs that have been languishing in the hopper for literally years and years and years.

One song is a minor key rock-band tune that I initially recorded way back in Fall of 1999 for inclusion on the Sound Theology album. I had played electric guitar while my pal Matt Thobe of the Chicago band Dolly Varden played drums. This recording was intended to be the song "Are You Speaking Through The Radio" but after I recorded it, I felt like the groove and vibe were a bit too close to a Sheryl Crow song, "My Favorite Mistake." So I scrapped the whole idea and re-set the "Are You Speaking..." lyrics to an entirely new set of chords, etc., which became the version on the album. The guitar/drums tracks I had recorded with Matt sat unused for years until I wrote a whole new set of lyrics and melody for them (in an un-Sheryl Crow fashion) was going to be a song called "My World is a Blur Tonight," another tune about the hassles of corrective lenses and nearsightedness. For years I intended to sing the vocals for this song, but I never got around to it, and as time went on I got less interested in the "Blur" lyrics. Finally, last Fall I had a lyrical brainstorm and wrote a brand new set of lyrics for that music, this time entitled "Daniel and Peter and Thomas." This was the lyric I sang today, and I'm thrilled with the result. It was eight years in the making! Now I've got to find some way/reason to release this song!

Also, I did an additional harmony part on an acoustic demo I made a few years ago called "I'm a Liar." The demo was pretty cool as it was (two vocals, two guitars) but it needed a third vocal just to wrap everything up. After I first made this initial demo I recorded a very slick full-band version of "I'm a Liar" in about 2005 that remains features the viola playing of my friend (and Svea's new Godmother) Anne Lindell, as well as some smokin' lap steel guitar courtesy of Scott Malchow. Who knows when the full-band version will come out, but I might leak the acoustic demo on my webpage sometime in the next couple months.

It felt great to finish those two songs that have been clogging my creative system for so long. I've got a stack of other unfinished tunes I'm gonna keep banging away at...and I'll probably end up banging away at my new piano for a few of 'em! I suppose in reality I'm mostly a guitarist, but since I started out on piano way back in 4th Grade, in my heart I'll always be a keyboard player.


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