King of Soul

I learned today that Solomon Burke died. I had the chance to meet him some years ago at a festival I was playing. He was funny, engaging, and in a lot of ways the character you’d expect to meet if you’d read about him or his amazing life.

His 2002 record Don’t Give Up on Me changed the way I think of and approach music. A lot of that had to do with the beautiful production by Joe Henry, but Solomon took an idea that could have made any other record interesting and made it magical. He had some hilarious stories about how he and Joe got together to make that record, and he put a really human and approachable touch to the memories I have of that record and that time in general.

I’ve only met him once, but I’ll miss having the King of Soul around.

Work is Personal

I came across this on the other day:

As a creative person, you’ve been given the ability to build things from nothing by way of hard work over long periods of time. Creation is a deeply personal and rewarding activity, which means that your Work should also be deeply personal and rewarding. If it’s not, then something is amiss.

Your muse can only be treated as the secretary of a subcommittee for so long before she decides to pack up and look for employment elsewhere. If you aren’t able to own the product and be creative, then you aren’t able to do your work, and if you’re not doing your work then you’re negating a very real part of your personality, which is no good for anyone. No good for you and certainly no good for your employer.

As a musician—especially as a sideman—I think it’s an interesting and relevant point of view.

Keep It To Yourself

Speaking of records, my friend Erik Koskinen just released his latest, Keep it to Yourself. It’s got some great musicians on it, cool songs, and Erik’s totally unique, J.J. Cale-meets-Daniel Lanois guitar work. If you find yourself in Minneapolis on a Wednesday night, you should go check him out at Nye’s, where he plays weekly with Molly Maher.


Summer is drawing to a close, I’ve worn a sweater for two days in a row, the leaves are piling up and the question of whether I rake them or mow them looms—all the signs of autumn are showing up and this means it’s time I type something into my little website.

There are a few great albums making their way into the world. My good friend Carl Broemel has just released All Birds Say, an album which is very special to me, not only for the music—which is spiritual and mellow, reflective and exciting—but for people involved and the way the record was made. I met Carl about five years ago while living in Nashville; he, producer (and equally good friend) Teddy Morgan, and I started working on his record shortly thereafter and only finished it up a few months ago. Not to say that I’ve been working on it for five years, or that anyone’s been in the studio for that long, but between everyone’s schedules and the general intrusions of life…well, sometimes things take five years. I’m pretty proud of this one and excited that these songs are finally seeing the light of day.

On the opposite side of this story there’s Lately, a new record coming out soon from The Alternate Routes. A few months ago I did some recording with singer Tim Warren, we hit it off, the chemistry was great—the next thing you know we are back in Nashville working on a record with the band. Tim and his co-conspirator Eric Donnelly locked themselves upstairs writing something like 100 songs (give or take); we tracked drums and basic tracks over three days; six weeks later the album was mixed, mastered, and going to print. I guess sometimes things can also take six weeks. I had a lot of fun making this record and there might be a thing or two in the future…

In local news, I’ve spent most of my summer touring with the New Orleans-inspired, genre-redefining Davina and the Vagabonds. I’ve had a really good time playing with them—they (Zack Lozier, Darren Sterud, Michael Caravale, and Davina Sowers) are all crazy-talented and fun to be around—but like summer closing it’s time to move on. I wish them all the best, lord knows they’ve earned it.

The Minnesota snow hits in a few months…time to get my drum igloo happening!

There is a very fine line separating the worlds of art and employment. Do you want to say something to the world, or do you want to help someone say it?

While in Nashville last week I had a few friends play on Dave Olson’s upcoming record. Recorded upstairs at Barrio East on my iPhone.

That sounds terrible! I love it!

Teddy Morgan, about five seconds ago at a session I’m playing with Tim Warren. Woo hoo!

Tomorrow is what feels like, and just might be, my fifth day on four hours of sleep. My brain is totally exhausted, but is still churning along with lists of things to do and choices to be made. I am completely giddy and every five minutes I giggle under my breath.

What the heck is going on, you ask, and the answer is I am producing a record for my friend Dave Olson, a sweet and gifted songwriter from Iowa City now living here in Minneapolis. We’ve rented a renovated barn in Buffalo, MN, assembled gear and an amazing crew, and have been living here for the last few days cramming as much music as we can fit into a hard drive before the money and time dries up.

The longer stories will probably be typed here later, when I have the luxury of time and sleeping in. For now, the short story is it’s been pretty incredible. The musicians (so far)—Dave, Ben Ramsey, Chris Bates, Cody McKinney, Ryan Young, Erik Koskinen—are playing really well and are making these pretty songs of Dave’s come alive. Our engineer, Adam Krinsky, is a fucking superstar and if our session was the Tin Man, Adam would be Dorothy with a can of oil.

I’m sorry, but those are the metaphors you get out of me at three in the morning.

Anyway—the only time I’ve had to grab any photos was tonight after everyone had either left or gone to bed, and this is what it looks like when that happens.

If a player is operating at the far frontiers of his or her ability, pushing the envelope so to speak, it seems to me that a certain amount of failure is inevitable. Maybe even desirable.

– John McNeil