Jim Mathis

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bob the Painter

Bob loved to go to art museums, so he decided he would become a painter. He studied the art of the old masters and began to learn to copy them brush stroke for brush stroke. He learned about color and texture and became a very good painter.

Bob’s favorite artist was Van Gogh so he decided that he would copy all of Van Gogh’s paintings. He became very good at copying Van Gogh and eventually could make exact copies of Van Gogh’s painting without even looking at the original.

Bob entered his paintings in an art fair, but the judges just laughed and said, “These are just copies of Van Gogh. These have already been done.” Bob was sad, but he went to the art fair anyway. There he found all kinds of exciting new paintings, things like he had never seen in the museums. Wonderful new exciting things were around every corner. So Bob sat down to think and listen to a band that was playing as part of the art fair.

The band played all of his favorite songs that he had heard on the radio many times. Then the headline band got up to play. They looked and sounded just like his favorite band from 1964. They played all the great songs from 1964 to 1968. They sounded just like the original band.

Bob soon learned that this band was paid hundreds of dollars to sound like the old band, but the artists had to pay hundreds of dollars to show the new and exciting art.

Bob was very confused. He decided to become an accountant where cents makes sense, and he did not have to decide if he should copy the old masters or make new art.

Bob died that day, and he was buried fifty-four years later.

The End.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Weighty Issues

When I was a young person, my folks would often go to friend's homes to play music and jam. When big name artist were in the area, we would go to their concerts. Before long, it became obvious, even to me, that there wasn't much difference in the ability of the people who played in their living rooms or local clubs and the people on stage at the big shows.

I have spent a lifetime trying to figure out what seperates the guys and gals at the local clubs from those that pack the big arenas. The obvious thing is showmanship. Putting on a good show is a hard concept to grasp and takes a long time to learn.

But recently I've notived another huge factor. (Pun intended.) The big difference between the guys and gals that knock around the local clubs and coffeehouses and those that play at the Sprint Center is not talent, but about 75 pounds.

When music promoters talk about someone being a "complete package," what they mean is that they can play and sing as well as the next person, they have a good personalty, and they are not overweight.

My friend, Sunny, and I were talking about this this morning, and the only exceptions we could think of were people who got fat after they were famous - B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Aretha Frankin.

Just something to think about before you have that extra cheeseburger on the way to the gig.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Midnight Special

It is funny how little turns can make a big impact on direction. In 1984 my wife and I decided to buy a new television and sign up for cable after years of fighting rabbit ears. The installer asked if he should hook the cable up to our FM receiver as well. He said the local stations might be clearer plus there were a few out of town stations that came in on the satellite. (This was a little known service and when Time-Warner dropped it later they said that they had never had FM radio available. It was not listed in the program guide. Weird?)

We quickly found WFMT out of Chicago. WFMT is a classical station but they have a weekly three hour aberration they call “The Midnight Special” named after the old Leadbelly song. The Midnight Special is described as three hours of folk, farce, show tunes, satire, madness, and escape. The Midnight Special host, Rich Warren, plays songs by little known or local artists that are self-produced or on small labels. Some are from live recordings at concerts or local clubs. I loved it.

I began taping the show on Saturday night so I could listen to it during the day while working. After a while I began making what I called a Midnight Special Highlight Tape of some of my favorite songs. Over the next ten or fifteen years I accumulated about thirty hours of highlight tapes. We hardly ever shared this wonderful music with friends because it seemed that few of the people we knew shared our eclectic taste in music.

I began to realize that it wasn’t fair to the artist to listen to their music for free, so I began to seek out my favorites and buy their CDs. This was no small task before the internet. My wife and even had a “Midnight Special Weekend” where we drove to Chicago and patronized all the show’s sponsors and went to some of the clubs mentioned on the air. A record store in the loop, I believe it was Tower Records, even had a bin just for Midnight Special artists.

Because of the Midnight Special, I heard about “The Old Town School of Folk Music,” as well as places like ”The Earl of Old Town,” and “Somebody Else’s Troubles.” I think I probably first heard about the Kerrville, Texas Music Festival on the Midnight Special. I have since had the privilege of going to the Old Town School of Folk Music, the Kerrville Festival and others as well. It was through this exposure that my musical taste grew wide and deep.

When it was time to open my own music venue, “Homer’s Coffee House,” because of my trips to Chicago’s Lincoln Avenue, I had a pretty good idea of how to showcase local singer/songwriters and bands to a discriminating audience. When I decided to start writing songs myself, the Chicago “superstars” like Steve Goodman and John Prine were my guides.

WFMT and its long time host, Rich Warren, are now on XM satellite radio and can be heard over the internet. But I often wonder how my life would have been different had that cable installer not suggested that I hook the TV cable to my FM receiver.