I think of myself as a kind of preservationist, kind of like the people who were field recording blues musicians in the mid part of last century.
Much of my act includes cover songs, and they are songs written by people some of you are familiar with, but the songs themselves are kind of obscure. That’s what I do, try to find great songs (since I love to sing, it makes me feel good) by great songwriters and then interpret them vocally. I am not much of a guitar player, and I never was even when I was young. Nowadays my fingers are stiffening with age, and I am not ever gonna be a finger picker. I bash chords and sing.
I do think a good accompanist will make me sound better, you know someone who can play tasteful fills and take the occasional lead break. Don’t be shy.
The old blues players functioned in an environment of live music. Tunes were copied from player to player with each new generation learning the best songs of the previous generation. Sometimes new verses were generated, tunes and chords were altered. It was truly a commons and that is one reason why the blues are such a deep well of expression that is relevant up to this day. In an era when musical artists could openly take from each other and build on each others creativity it was easy to separate the wheat from the chaff, as far as songs go. The 12 bar blues pattern emerged. It fit the bill. It is embedded (or its pattern of melody and rhythm resonate) deep in the human soul somehow. That is not to say that ‘the blues” is the only musical connection to the soul. No. There are many musical paths there.
It is just that great songs have a life of their own, regardless of who is interpreting them. In the old blues context, good tunes and good rhythms and good chord progressions were easy to pick out and they got passed on. Less popular or less useful musical memes were lost. It is cultural evolution and it is better when the cultural commons is encouraged rather than restricted. Copyright laws are far too restrictive these days.
So I try to find a great song that I think I can sing. Often these songs have some meaning to me, some story behind them and I tell these stories in my live performances. I do my best to learn the song’s chord structure and melody, then I try to find a proper key for me to sing it in (not always possible.) I don’t try to do an exact “cover” or “copy” of the song. There would be little point to it, since many of the songs I do are obscure enough so people suspect that they are my originals. I do try to give credit during my shows to the original writers.
So I do the song Bill Style, sometimes the melody is a little different. I call it improving the melody. ha ha
I have something like 15-20 originals in my repertoire and I usually do one a set.
The thing is I have been playing on the street for six years now in Eureka. My repertoire is over a hundred songs. Some of them of course I haven’t done for a couple of years I would have to rehearse them a couple times to get the words back but you understand. In my first few years here in Eureka I did street shows every day in weather that was clement. When you play in front of people you find out very quickly which songs work for you and which don’t. In that respect I am like the old blues guys, who played in front of people EVERY DAY. These days, my health has been declining, and I don’t get out every day. I try to get out and play on the street once a week, still.
I am past the age where I take my “music career” seriously but I do take music seriously. I would recommend to any young singer who wants to get really good to go play on the street every day. Until you find out which end is up.
When you come to hear me sing what you hear is the distillation of a few hundred free street shows, and seeing which songs people liked and which they didn’t. You hear the survivors.