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A long-time good friend of mine recently asked me why, over the twelve years I’ve owned and operated Blue Night Records (BNR), I’ve never asked him to join the ranks of BNR recording artists?  He’s an above-average singer, a pretty talented musician, and has a boatload of stage presence.  Here are the reasons his dream (and it really was one) never came true:

 

            Talent.  I used to think if I played guitar at least six hours per day I could be as good as John Carlini, Dan Crary, Jim Hurst, Jeff Jenkins, Uwe Kruger, or Scott Nygaard.  That was when I was in my 40s.  Now, in my (insert advanced age here), I realize that these guys have way more than chops.  They have the good sense to know when to use them and, more importantly, when not to use them.  They also have something special --- let’s call it talent.  It’s something extra, and it goes beyond playing hot licks.  Part of it may be physical (hand and arm shape, for example), but an equally important part is confidence.  I truly believe from my experience in the recording studio with A-list musicians that there is something special about our musical heros.  They have it; most of us don’t.  That doesn’t mean we can’t have just as much fun as they do when we play music.  It does mean, though, that most of us will never see our names on CD covers --- or even in the credits on the back.

 

            Intelligence.  In selecting potential employees, many sophisticated employers use devices to measure the extent to which candidates can “think on their feet.”  It’s a very specific type of intelligence, which seems to have no connection with the skills that enhance high scores on “achievement” or “intelligence” tests.  Consider Django Reinhardt for example.  He was illiterate, and he couldn’t read music either.  When a formally trained musician asked Django what key he wanted to play in, or if he knew a particular tune, Django would reportedly say something like, “Just start it off, and I’ll jump in.”  Not only did he jump in, he nailed it.  A-list musicians can do that.  They have minds quick enough to play brilliant solos in a tune after hearing it only one time through.

 

            Creativity.  The musicians you hear on the radio and the internet generally don’t limit their playing to what they’ve memorized; they play whatever comes into their heads.  I once asked noted jazz guitarist John Carlini what he thinks about when he’s playing a solo.  He answered: “Well, hopefully, nothing.”  It made me think that these luminaries focus on what comes to mind as they listen to the other players, and they don’t let themselves get bogged down by the mechanics of playing the notes.  Watch accomplished jazz musicians on stage.  After one plays a particularly creative solo that still reflects part of the tune’s melody, you might hear some of the others say “yeah.”  That one word speaks volumes.  It means: “Wow, that solo was brilliant --- it took the rest of us to a place within the tune that we hadn’t thought of going to ourselves.”

 

            Availability.  When I consider adding an artist to the BNR family, I want to make sure he or she is available to tour and willing to hit the road --- cheerfully.  We know from our geographical research that live concerts sell CDs and downloads, and that music consumers like to see and hear the artists live.  Touring also helps our radio promotion efforts.  If an artist is coming to your city, it gives your local radio programmers reason to put BNR tracks into their playlists.  That, in turn, helps your local music venues make a profit (this is not a bad word), it helps fans learn about the upcoming concert, and it helps artists build and/or enhance their national reputations.  There are lots of accomplished, talented musicians out there, but if they have full-time jobs or other obligations that take up an inordinate amount of their time, they are simply not attractive additions to a record label’s roster of artists.

 

            Humility.  Surprised?  I don’t know about you, but I’m turned off by prima donnas (i.e., those who are vain and tempermental).  Here at BNR, we’re blessed with a roster of artists who are real people, not nose-in-the-air “celebrities.”  Don’t get me wrong, they’re all accomplished, famous people in the acoustic music community.  But they don’t act like it.  They’re all friendly, down-to-earth folks who look out for one another as much as they do for themselves. 

 

            Money.  I saved the most controversial criterion for last, as I know some of you are critical of the profit motive.  After all, some might say, this is music.  It should be free.  It should flow from the heart of the artists to the hearts of the listeners --- without regard for monetary revenue.  While it’s true that there are psychic rewards to what we do at BNR, it costs anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 to record, release and publicize a good “album.”  That’s probably the main reason I didn’t hug my good musician friend and say sure, man, I’ll book some studio time for you next week!

 

We’re going to keep releasing new recordings because we love to do it.  We also hope that we’re contributing to the legacy of acoustic jazz and American roots music.  And I know from some of the letters we’ve gotten that our releases have helped people get through some pretty tough times.  I’m the first to acknowledge that those rewards are more special than monetary revenue streams could ever be.

 

Until soon,

 

Steven

 

Steven Briggs, President

Blue Night Records

THE PRESIDENT’S CORNER

 

CREATIVE:  “Resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc.”  That conventional definition includes Steve Spurgin’s thought-provoking songs, Dan Crary’s flights of fancy up and down the neck of a guitar, Don Stiernberg’s cerebral mandolin improvisation, and John Carlini’s masterful guitar chord solos.  We all know that musicians and songwriters are creative.

 

Let’s dig a little deeper.  After hearing Scott Nygaard (Editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine) play a great solo during an intimate jam session a year or two ago, I said something to him about “how mellow your guitar sounds.”  He flashed an impish grin, leaned the guitar against a chair and asked, “How mellow does it sound now?”  I got the point.  “Creativity” in music also stems from the unique “voice” that professional players develop on their instruments.  Stringed instrument players call it “touch”; horn players call it “tone”.  Some say that music is 80% player and 20% instrument.

 

But what about the guy who looks at an old burned out garage, saws up some of the charred wood, and makes a killer guitar out of it?  That’s Mario Proulx.  What about the guy who gets hooked on bluegrass music, follows his muse, and starts making some of the most beautiful, mellow mandolins on the planet?  That’s Ray Dearstone.  What about the fella who moved to Maui for greater accessibility to its native koa wood so he could fashion gorgeous instruments from it?  That’s Steve Grimes.  (Check out his recently released “Labor of Love,” a CD on which he plays electric and acoustic guitars and sings some of his own tunes.)  Finally, what about John Montelone?  His artistic, creative approach to making guitars and mandolins is legendary.

 

So let’s celebrate the luthiers.  Every time we play, those men and women are there with us, and they deserve accolades galore for what they do.

 

By the way, this site’s “Links” page includes one for each of the builders and musicians mentioned in these paragraphs.  Check ‘em out.

 

Cheers,

 

Steven

The President's Corner


When a new, and most likely young member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys would play a lick that Bill didn’t think was “bluegrass” enough, he’d reportedly often say, “That ain’t no part a’ nuthin.”  As much as I revere Mr. Monroe and the “bluegrass” genre he created, I respectfully disagree.


Music is music.  If it’s well written, it can by played in any style, and it still sounds great.  Take Lennon and McCartney.  Though their compositions were written in a rock/pop format, they have since been successfully transferred across musical genres into country, classical, bluegrass, folk, blues and even world music hits. 


So, while there are several musical genres, they are often artificial --- constructed not by composers and musicians, but in the minds of the listeners by the listeners themselves.  I was in a bar late one night in Nashville (go figure) when a Kathy Mattea song came on the jukebox.   The guy next to me says, “That ain’t country!”  The song was “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses.”  It was in the top ten on the country charts at the time.  I think the guy just heard a minor chord and dismissed it as “too folky” for him.  Maybe it was the third dropping a half step that freaked him out.  Who knows?  My point is simply this: it’s all music and it makes no difference what we call it,  so long as it moves us.


I do confess that here at old BNR we’ve talked lately about whether a particular tune is “too folky” for the bluegrass stations, “too grassy” for the country stations, or “too jazzy” for the Americana stations.  Fact is, even those of us in the music business sometimes have a hard time classifying the nature of a particular tune as we’re trying to decide what music to present to you.  I’m happy to report that we just record what we think is good music.  Period.  Call it what you like.


Cheers,

Steven Briggs

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