Monday, March 6, 2023

A Concert for Bill

I've written a few dozen songs over the course of my musical life, some good, some clever, some... not so much, you know? I recently got it into my head to perform some of them and post them on the innerwebs, Part 1 and Part 2.  I describe each song a bit in the video, but I thought it might be fun to go a little deeper here, where words go to, if not die, then to languish. (In all honesty, I am really pleased that Blogger has hosted this sight for almost twelve tears now, that's pretty cool.) The images are scans of the tabs I use for each song, some are very old.




Dancin' Girl

This first song is pretty straightforward - I saw a pretty girl walking down the street in front of our off-campus college house Junior year, and I wrote a song about it. I make it sound as if I knew she loved to dance because of some sort of cosmic connection between us. No, I'd seen her in the Dance building a few times.  For decades I called this song "Kari's Song" (yeah, clever) but, I'd lost the original song sheet and actually forgot her name and changed the song's title. I was later reminded of her name, but that's a story for another time.

Tears in Texas

I was living in New York City, Queens, in the nineteen-eighties and, back in those days, most everyone subscribed to magazines. I got several; Newsweek, Life, Psychology Today, Popular Mechanics, The Utne Reader of all things, and National Geographic. You might remember that the magazine came in a brown paper bag sort of covering. I pulled the newest issue out one day, and a young, good-lookin' cowboy was staring right at me, all macho and rodeo-ready, holding a pretty girl, both beaming. All the main title said was, "Austin!" The first thought I had was the opening line of this song.


This Old Cracked Guitar

I could linger long on this one, a whole damn book, probably - stories of pear trees and wedding restrooms, ill-fated roses and sweet summer seas, an actual very cracked guitar, and tender naive love. I won't. Two things: this is the most important song I've ever written and... she said "yes!"

What I Got (The Butt-Wigglin' Song)

I don't know if I've ever admitted this before, but that previous song was not the original one I wrote to ask Marci to marry me. This was.  Yeah, I quickly decided against it, it's a little rowdy, and the diamond ring thing didn't really work. But, I think it's a fun song. 

(Here's something I'd like you to know about why I am doing this. It's hard to admit, but... I, really - I just choked back one of those silly mid-sentence sobs we all get - anyway,  I am not sure how much longer I will be able to play these songs. My hands are going fast, and some of them are sort of difficult, and when you can't play your own songs it's sorta sad. At least they'll be here.)


Double Lines

I've sometimes wondered if this song was a little too show-offy and literary, what with its many references and general cleverness. In the past several weeks, as I've been working up these songs to do all this, I've just decided it's a pretty damn good song. I had the opportunity to drive a bit of the highway itself, west of Flagstaff, I believe. You could actually get off the road you were on, some interstate, and scooch over to what was actually "Old 66." I stopped off to the side and took a real look around. It was there I noticed those double yellow lines and the feel of the whole place - it seemed like you could feel all them souls passin' by. It is pretty special when giant, complex ideas get distilled to a piece of pavement and a dusty parade of ghosts.


This one's sort of self-explanatory. I don't think all these images were in the same photo-book, but other than that, I believe I could find all these photos in the albums my mom made for us, Bob and Don and I, growing up, thanks, Mom.

Missin' Mason

This is a song about my hometown. A bit of literary license has been utilized; everything is not true here. Except that... well, it is all true; the feeling behind every word is as true as rain. A couple of times, the accuracy of this song has been questioned - a little advice here for ya, don't do that. As you listen to a song, hear the notes, cipher out the words, ride the melody, be in the story, but never, never, question a song's truth.

 Sing Out

I spent a great deal of my teenage years hunkered down in a basement bedroom on my unmade bed, learning songs. Actually, I still spend a great deal of my time now hunkered down at a basement work desk learning songs. I suppose the artists have changed but I guess I like it. This one is for Woody Guthrie, John Denver, Jim Croce and Bob Dylan. I think I wrote this in the late nineties. I didn't include Gordon Lightfoot, but the songs are already too long so I am sure that's why. I worked in references to many of the artist's songs here, which I find clever. Those names sure do take me back to a time that was so formative for me. "That's the boy I was," says the man I will become to hisself. Time is a big, damn mess of noodles and intersections - and a liar.

The Rhythm of the Rain

This is the last song of the first part - side A if you will - of the video. It is also the first song I ever wrote. It's precocious and sappy, treacly, you know? But, but... I've been playing it now for awhile, after not even considering it for decades, and I've got to say it's pretty good. I really dig the droning sort of verse, those minors and all, then a happy full major chorus. It circles back and ends well. I wrote it in the summer of nineteen-hundred-and-seventy-nine on the same bed I learned the Dylan and Lightfoot and all, on the then new, not-yet-cracked guitar, a few months before I was off to college in Athens. In a way, I think it was a goodbye to, uh, maybe myself, there was certainly not a girl I was that enamored of at the time. I guess I was scared and thinking I'd once loved so much - fictionally, albeit - was comforting... I don't know where this tune came from - probably Gordon and Bob and Woody, Jim and John. An homage perhaps?

And, here - just to add a little verisimilitude - is the original copy I went to college with, in my songbook. Man, why does rememberin' hurt so much sometimes.


Where the Indians Danced

I've spent a lot of time in my life outside, often in places where there aren't a lot of folks, and so often I have sensed the long shadows, heard the faded echoes, felt the joy of those who were there before me. I spent some time alone on the Mogollon Rim in northern Arizona, on two separate occasions, and never exactly felt alone. Here in Ohio, probably not ten miles away from where I am right now - perhaps in my backyard - serpentine earthworks remain from the early indigenous peoples here, often referred to as "The Moundbuilders."

 Down on Jimmy's Farm

Another place that has that ancient, important vibe of pasts long gone is my friend's farm. He's a private guy so I won't dwell on him or how good and steadfast a friend he has been or his lovely family and all... it does seem I sorta called him out there in the title and I may as well have given global coordinates to his place in the song. Suffice to say, it's a damn nice place to sit and, well, sit. I've haven't been down there in years, I better do that soon.

In A Little Boy's Soul

"Some days you know just how it goes, Some days you have no clue. Some days you write the song, Some days the song writes you." Guy Clark wrote that in a song, and he titled a whole album on that truth -  Some Days the Song Writes You (2009). This one definitely wrote me. It's about the inherent hope and even happiness in longing and loneliness, a lifetime foe of mine. Also, again, time is a fucker, sometimes I can't find myself on my own damn timeline.

Ballad of Jane Doe

This song is based on a story I heard once at a conference in Cleveland. A women told this story and a few days earlier I'd seen the movie Days of Wine and Roses - a very rough watch about a couples' descent into alcoholism - and I remember thinking, "where were her days of wine and roses." The phrase comes originally from an 1896 poem called Vitae Summa Brevis by Ernest Dowson which is really quite lovely. I mentioned that it was written in a different tuning and on a big dreadnought guitar, but, I didn't mention that I wasn't sure I'd be able to pull this one off.

The Ballad of John and Paul

(The similarity between this tune and the previous tune is because they are indeed similar. They weren't originally what with the different tuning and all but, well, here we are.) Todd Snider a wonderful singer, songwriter, storyteller you should check out if you'd care to, always talks about his original tunes as songs he made up, like, "here's a song I made up about a beer-run." This song is like that, it just came out nearly whole one summer afternoon many years ago. I don't know who these cats are but they're as real as anyone I've ever known - sorta my Pancho and Lefty - with apologies to TVZ.

Whatshername's Song

Do you remember the first song on Side A here, Dancin' Girl? I told you for a number of years I couldn't recall her name. About twenty years after I wrote that song, well, what happened in this song happened; we were reacquainted, remembered each others' names and a few other things. In case you're wondering, I ended up with the shirt.

The Day is Done by Longfellow

In the late nineties maybe I was binging on a lot of Romantic poetry and such - as one does - Wordsworth and Longfellow and Whitman and Keats and the like. I got it in my head to put one of the poems to music. This is the result. During the Days of Covid (now there's a song title), my good pal Spoon Phillips helped me with a version of it for Play Music on the Porch Day - a real thing - it's really a better version because of all his fiddle-dee-dees and pretty do-dads he adds over me rather utilitarian rendering of the song, Here's a link: now. Ooh, this tab is in color... fancy.

The Nick and Zack Song

I guess I had to write this song. I was worried about being a Dad, getting it right and all. That's all I've got to say about it for now, I think I went on and on about it once in my blog but today... I guess it's, well, a little overwhelming somehow. There's a line that sort of summarizes my parenting: "I'm gonna teach you everything; how to sing and dance and love and live and pray." I am particularly glad I wrote this song, it's sorta hard to play though.

Princes of Loveland

An old buddy of mine penned these lyrics and I set them to a tune and that's about all there is to it.

That's a wrap, I guess. Thanks for sticking around, perhaps for listening in and all  that.  This took a lot of work and time but, I am very glad I did it.

Peace to you all.


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Leather Journals and Weathered Campers

This piece was originally publish in City Dads Group in July of last year. There is an added paragraph that was edited out (for good reason, it's weird) included at the conclusion. I just wanted this here in my blog-cum-journal because it means a lot to me and I want it with my other musings.


I am going through a long and sentimental (bordering on mawkish) ending of sorts that involves a 20-year-old Coleman pop-up camper.

My wife and I bought it new just after we were married, well before we had the twins, well before I ever dreamed that was on the horizon. It’s old and worn now, ravaged by time and memory, many miles and many backyard sleepovers. I am trying to figure what to do with it as it’s barely roadworthy.

We were so delightfully young and naive when we were purchasing it. We spent weeks looking at floor plans, considering size and amenities, finally deciding on a smaller sized one that could be towed by my six-cylinder Chevy S-10. A smaller size would also made it a little easier to back up and, truth be told — ‘cause I suck at backing a trailer — could actually be hand pushed into a space when necessary. It never really occurred to us that we might be camping with twin toddlers or giant teenagers, so we based our needs on just us: no toilet and an interior set up to accommodate two newlyweds and a guitar.

The camper’s been in the backyard for sometime now. The boys like to hang out in it as the WiFi reaches that far. I’ve got to put it down before … well, I can’t.

You see, at the same time we bought the camper, I purchased a very nice leather-bound journal. I put it in a drawer inside the camper and vowed to write a bit about every night we would spend in it. And I did. The writing is not very good, few metaphors or deep insights, but the years are covered, each trip dutifully noted. Through the pages, the boys grow up, I age, the relationship with my wife deepens and a continuity and connection is established. Over the years, it has held the stories and hopes of a young family growing up together. Stories of thunderstorms and frightened toddlers, scraped knees and sleepless nights; hopes for the future in the young minds of 6-year-olds and my own hopes for their lives moving forward.

leather bound journal
“Through the pages, the boys grow up, I age, the relationship with my wife deepens and a continuity and connection is established. Over the years, it has held the stories and hopes of a young family growing up together.” (Photo: Bill Peebles)

I am very glad I bought that journal. It sits to my left as I am writing this right now.

I spent a couple of recent evenings in the old camper, looking through what was in it when I came across the journal. I, of course, knew it was in there, but with a curious urgency — fueled perhaps by the beers — I put it with the pile of things to take into the house along with a nice bag of ropes and twine and three fire-starter type lighters — you know, the long ones.

Here’s the thing, the “ending” of that old camper is a new “beginning” for that journal. It is done with its long present and now can begin to show me my past: a past where I hoped for my boys’ future. It is so strange how, as one writes in diaries and personal journals, how prescient we can be. There’s an entry from 2011, written of an early morning at a state park in central Ohio, where I say: “The boys are getting along surprisingly well. They rarely fight or bicker and are good friends, it seems. Who knows how long that’ll last, but I really hope it does.”

How could I know then that, nine years later, they’d still be best friends?

Or, that at the time I was watching the beginnings of what I think will be a lifelong friendship?

How, perhaps, would I know that camping and close proximity and bonding in the close quarters of that little camper would help that along?

And how, perhaps I had helped it through sheer happenstance and in a leather-bound journal I’d noted it and can now look back upon it?

Recently, a fellow father and writer, purchased a used camper and solicited advice from a social media group we are in. I typed a long answer — advice on gear and the such — but I deleted it. The real advice I had for him was too ethereal and came from a place I’m at now, a place he’ll get to, a place he already is. Camping, like so many other family adventures and hobbies, are about memory making. Their worth can only be revealed later, but, at the time you’re making them, you still somehow know that even if you don’t realize it then.

Anyway, we all seem to be currently living lives that seem to simply be in the present.  Asking ourselves to consider what is ahead, or even close examination of what was just behind us is, if you’ll forgive me, untimely.  Literally, now, this now, is not the time. But, for me, this journal seems to be both future and past, a thing long gone, but ultimately to show its future self, uh… later?  Now?

Oh, nevermind…



This post was originally published on City Dads Group in April of this year, I am reposting it here because, as an archive of my writings, I like to get most everything I've written in one place. The original Editor's note precedes it.


Editor’s note: Pope Francis has proclaimed 2021 as “The Year of St. Joseph.” Pope Francis describes Joseph – the father of Jesus and spouse of his mother, Mary, in the Christian tradition – as “a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father; a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, a father in the shadows.” Contributor Bill Peebles wrote this tribute.

A young man holds an infant in an oak rocking chair. The baby fusses and cries, uncomfortable in its new surroundings, inundated with sights and sounds so new and unfamiliar. The father soothes and smiles, his rough hands stroke the dark hair and chubby cheeks and the baby calms and begins to coo and eventually nods off. The room is dark, but a simple lamp fills it full.

The toddler, two-and-a-half, now laughs and chases a kitten across the wooden floor of a dining room. The same father watches, a warm drink in his hand, and encourages the little one to be gentle. He lifts the kitten and teaches the little one to pet it with care. A morning glow fills the room and speckles the orange and black calico with a light that seems from within the kitten and kid.

That toddler, a boy now, 7 and full of energy and boundless love watches as the father makes his breakfast of bread and milk and sweet honey. He dances in his pine chair in happy anticipation and sighs at the taste of the honey and milk-soaked loaf. He knows he is safe even as a storm blows up in the trees outside the home, unafraid even as the room explodes in the flash of lightning close by.

Ten now, the boy runs and chases and tags and tackles his friends as they play outside the school. They rejoice in the temporary freedom, away from the hard wooden desks and dusty classroom. Another boy falls hard, and a sharp stone slashes his forehead, our boy runs towards him pulling off his garment, unafraid of the blood and pain of it. He comforts and tends the wound. The father watches, not proud but sure, sure in the lessons learned and taught, from both to each other.

An older boy, a young man perhaps, the rings of his years building up around him, protecting, comes into his age. There are celebrations and woodfires and wine and cheese and incantations. Some blood, perhaps, is let. The time is upon him now to look to the future – outwards, forward and in, always in.  The father knows, though, the rough and wondrous way ahead.

A job — a workshop, a woodshed, a quarry, a brewery, a bakery, a sanctuary – where is not important, but the boy is gone, his own man know. But, he is also his father’s son and shall always be.

The tenderness he shows others is in indeed his father’s.

The grace he has seen is only illuminated through his father’s eyes.

All that he finds sacred in the wood, and in the thorns and in the sorrows; all that is sacred in the sky and lakes and clouds and smoke is through the father.

All that he finds holy, the very whole of it all, is the Father.

After a time apart, both seconds and eons, they meet again.

The boy, always a boy to the father, smiles and simply says:


The joyous father beams and whispers back, “My son …”


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Sideman's Dream

Do ya’ll know what a “sideman” is? I looked it up and I didn’t get a good feel for the word: “a supporting musician in a jazz band or rock group.” That’s really not enough, but I am sure I have layered my own connotations over this simple meaning, as one does.

When I was in my early teens, I tried to learn some Jim Croce songs since he was in the fashion of the times. “Operator,” “I’ve Got a Name” and “Time in a Bottle” are just a few of the tunes I tried to mimic.
I got them down alright, but I never really mastered them. I just assumed I didn’t have the skills to do them.

And then, in the late seventies, I saw Jim perform on a variety show with another guy. I was all, who’s that dude, and, as I watched, I came to understand he was doing the guitar heavy lifting and Jim was just strumming the rhythm. The realization came over my adolescent-addled mind like a storm, one of those, oh, ohhh, OH! moments. Yes, of course, I should have figured it out, but I hadn’t.

He was a long-haired, lanky guy named Maurice T. "Maury" Muehleisen. In fact, here they are together in what I think is the very show I was watching a repeat of. He was killed in the same plane crash that killed Croce and others.

 Jim Croce

After the initial surprise, and, honestly, the shocking fact that I didn’t know this, I watched on. Besides the extraordinary fingering skills and the airy background vocals and the absolute calm he exuded, I could not help but notice how damned happy he looked, as though he couldn’t get over the fact that he was playing for a legend, as though he felt honored to be doing it. That stuck with me.

Forward now ahead to the last few years. I’ve taken a strong interest in the songs and legends of the inimitable Guy Clark. I guess you could say I studied him and his music. I read a wonderful authorized biography of him by Tamara Saviano called Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark. I watched a bunch of videos, many from his later years, and one fellow kept coming up, Verlon Thompson. I won’t go into the details of times and places; they aren’t necessary today.

But what is important is how he felt about his job. Over and over again, he states that it was the great honor and joy of his life to be Guy’s sideman. You can tell he means it as well. He took Guy’s death awfully hard, as you can imagine. He also wrote this song, “Sideman’s Dream” for Guy.

I did a lot of living between Maury and Verlon, but I’m not sure I was ever very far away from the idea of a sideman, a helper, a supporter, a “lifter” if you will.

I worked in restaurants for most of my life as a busboy, a waiter, and a bartender. I came early to the conclusion that my job was not about me, but to make others shine.

I never tried to upstage my guests, I always tried to make the whole experience about them. I cannot lie, this approach worked well, and I made a lot of money because of it. Others in the business, however, often were the star of their own show. Beautiful flirty waitresses, flamboyant gay waiters, Canadian dudes with “outrageous French accents”, stuffy sommeliers, overly enthusiastic hostesses and semi-celebrity chefs - they all fill the dining rooms of my memory, and I am sure their own styles worked well for them, but, it never felt genuine to me.

I spent most of my career in fine dining establishments most of which utilized a system of front- and back-waiters, especially for larger parties but often just on a regular night. In most cases, both could perform either role, but I preferred being a back-water. The front-waiter usually did all the talking and gave the “spiel” and took the order, though it helped if both remembered it, and basically ran the show.
The back-waiter took care of all the little details. When a guest left the table, I folded his napkin and, upon their return placed back in their lap. I made sure the Missus had a fish fork and the Mister a steak knife. I kept the water and wine glasses full, removed the salad or soup course, helped serve the entrees and lifted the cloches, and kept the whole thing rolling so the front waiter could look as cool and effortless as possible.

I loved it. I was useful and helpful and had every opportunity to be kind. I enjoyed the elegance and grace of it all. It was very dignified.

And there, I think, might be my point. There is dignity in every line of work that we all must recognize. I don’t want to list all the jobs that I think don’t get the dignity and appreciation they deserve - fabricate your own list - but I know everyone deserves my respect. Are there exceptions? I suppose so, maybe… not really.

In all those years back-serving I often was asked by a guest why I wasn’t a front-man, their assumption being that there was a hierarchy and that I seemed pretty good at it all. I’d smile and deflect, saying it was a pleasure to work behind John, Heidi or Sebastian or whoever. I never felt it stick in my craw though. We split the tip evenly and the work sharing seemed fair, so I just felt we were so-workers, team-workers.

Which, it occurs to me, might be a better point. No role is in any way subservient if it’s agreed upon that the goal and outcome serve the mutual need.

I return to Maury and Verlon and so many other great sidemen I’ve noticed over the years. After the initial thrill of the front-man and the excitement of a favorite song, I find my eyes and ears drifting to the sideman. A great guitar lead or a soaring fiddle solo, the studied beat of the drummer, the bassist soft and slow, the pianist’s quick arpeggio - all seem to lift the front-man, raising him higher than their singular talents. This would be the outcome of serving the mutual need: To present the song as perfect as possible.

One last, quick story and I’ll let you go.

I sometimes play and sing in a local bar called The Plain Folk Cafe of a Thursday night, open mic night. Now, I could write a novel about what I’ve observed in the goings-on there, but what most strikes me is the level of decency everyone offers each other. And these are different folks, with different geographical and social backgrounds, “hillbillies and hippies” my friend Ron once said. But this is no place to start a novel…

I know his name, but I haven’t asked him if I could use it (I didn't think Ron would mind), and, as a memoirist, I might not have all my facts correct or may have assumed things in my subjectivity that aren’t there. Anyway, he plays harmonica and is remarkably good. He sometimes sings and plays guitar but mostly he the house harmonica guy. Folks invite him up to play or he’ll play a bit as someone’s doing their set and they’ll ask him up. Which is what happened to me.

I was playing a tune, “Paradise” I remember, and I heard this plaintive call coming from close in the crowd, I saw him and motioned him up. He grabbed his harp case and hopped on up, playing the whole time, I might add. I’d really just started the song so after the second chorus I played a verse and chorus just on the guitar. A head bob to him and he understood instantly and took the melody on his harp. 

He soared. Adding more, in all honesty, than I would in the subsequent verses. He found that lonesome, lost sound that mirrored the mood and sad beauty in those haunting Prine words. I was a bit gobsmacked and I think he was, too, at me giving him such a long solo, I barely knew him at the time.

I finished that song and did a few more ending with a song I’d written called “In a Little Boy's Soul”. Mind you, he could never have heard this song before, guaranteed. One chorus and verse in, he was playing it like he’d know it all his life. He really lifted my song, made it shine brighter. I will be always indebted to him for that.

We got off that stage and do you know what he said? “Thanks for letting me play with you. I truly enjoyed that.” And then he thanked me for giving him that lead and telling him what key the songs were in. He’d just transcended my set, made it better, you understand? He made it better. I thanked him, of course, and complimented his style and connectedness but he’d have none of it, genuinely humble.

He started to the bar to get a fresh Yuengling and I thanked him one last time, and then he said something that still echoes, “It was my honor.”

So, I guess that’s my advice today. Sometimes, you’ll be a sideman, sometimes you won’t, (and sometimes you just won't be sure), but I have found the most satisfaction in being one. 

I am a sideman to you boys. 

I am a sideman to my dear wife, Marci. 

I’ve been a sideman to friends and musicians, chefs and CEOs, infants and the infirmed, priests and roofers.

And it has been, and shall forever be, my honor.

Peace and thanks for stopping by, I know things are pretty tough the days, I appreciate your time.

There's always more, isn't there?  Years ago, over ten I'd say, Marci had this mouse pad made for me. It's Zack holding the water fountain on as Nick gets a drink, they later reversed roles.

 It's nice to have a sideman, ain't it boys?