Final Dispatch from Texas.
We are almost finished packing up all of our stuff for the move to St. Louis. Tonight will be our last night at the house. I’ve got Vanna White packed up with 2 pianos and 4 keyboards and my studio is all in boxes. Before I boxed up my computer I figured I should send out one last newsletter from Texas.
I moved to San Antonio, to this house, on June 27, 2011. During the two weeks prior to moving here I quit my career as an attorney and married Julie. The day after our wedding we were on our way to Texas.
When we got to our new house (which we rented sight unseen), I was excited to find that it had a separate coach house which could serve has my music studio. Soon after moving in Julie started work at the Air Force hospital. I drove her to work most days since we only had one car (Vanna didn’t come until 2012). Every day after dropping her off I would find myself sitting at this desk, in this executive office chair, next to my old Yamaha-120 keyboard wondering how the hell I was going to make a career out of my fervent, but mostly sporadic passion for music. I didn’t have any completed, original songs. I had no music gear. I didn’t know a single person in all of Texas. But I was determined to figure it out.
During 2011 and 2012 I learned about 250 cover songs and played mostly solo shows with my keyboard at various open mics, and then patio restaurants, and then bars. I wasn’t playing any original songs at my shows. It did feel gratifying to get gigs at new bars, hear the applause, and make a little money, but I really wanted to write my own songs. The problem was that my original songs were pretty terrible. Long, complicated, and really difficult to sing. Not a recipe for stardom. It turned out that learning all those covers inside and out really taught me a lot about how to structure a song and write melodies.
During 2011 and 2012 every day was basically the same: spend 3 or 4 hours day at this computer typing up new chord charts and learning new cover songs and then spend 5 or 6 hours writing songs. Not just working on ideas for songs….but actually FINISHING songs. I quickly realized that I had spent the last 25 years of my musical life compiling a million “cool” song ideas but had ZERO finished songs. You can’t go out there on stage and play cool ideas for people. So my goal became finish, finish, finish. And finish I did. A whole slew of really mediocre tunes rife with show tune-ish melodies and cliches. But things slowly got better. Ooh, I cringe when I listen to those old demos.
In 2012 I started working with my first producer, Mack Damon, who was instrumental in tightening up my writing. I wanted to record with him, but he wouldn’t let me record any crappy songs. Finally, I had 5 songs that were up to snuff and we recorded The Chicago EP in 2012. By 2013 Mack and I finished a full-length album called Sun City (many of the songs on Sun City were later remastered and released on the album Before I Forget).
After the release of Sun City in 2013, I became more confident writing and playing my own songs for an audience. Each time I wrote a new song that I liked, I’d replace one of the cover songs from my setlist (by 2015 I had replaced all of the cover songs with originals – I was playing 3-hour sets of nearly all original songs).
In 2013 I also began playing with my drummer Mike Gomez (the DMG). Mike and I played a ton of piano-drum duo shows and I discovered that I really enjoyed playing in a band setting, as opposed to performing solo. Mike easily matched my passion and intensity on stage and he inspired me to keep improving my musicianship, shows, songs, everything. He also forced me to stop rushing like a runaway train. For the next few years we added various musicians to our band, Will Kelly, Matt Franke, Matt Zavala, Matt Adler, Ryan Shortt, and James Tommey, among others. Most recently we have been playing with bassist Justin Schneider and I think it’s the best band I’ve ever had. The DMG and Justin Schneider are truly un-replaceable. It’s hard to leave them behind in San Antonio. Mike and Justin will continue to play with me when I tour, but it will invariably be a whole lot less often than the 3 or 4 shows we’ve played every week for the last 6 months.
As I sit here in my studio getting ready to pull all the plugs, I am overcome with the memories of the thousands (yes thousands) of emails I sent to booking agents, bars, clubs, producers, labels, publicists, radio promoters, and event planners. I am overcome with the thought that every song you’ve ever hear me sing, I wrote, edited, re-wrote, scrapped, revised, and finished sitting at this desk. Every rehearsal happened on the drums, piano and PA packed up behind me. All my music videos were edited here, clumsily, as I learned to work Final But Pro. All the imperfections were edited from my press photos as I slowly learned to operate photoshop. I created my first website. I started a Facebook page, joined Twitter, joined (and promptly abandoned) Pinterest. I planned tours, made posters, sent newsletters, schemed, dreamed, all at this desk. Thousands and thousands of hours. It was all worth it.
Last night was my last show in Texas. It was at a venue called Random Beer Garden in the city of Boerne. I’ve been playing shows there about once a month for nearly 3 years. The owners, staff, and patrons have been overwhelmingly supportive. To my complete and utter surprise, the entire bar and beer garden was decorated as a going away party with streamers, cards, posters, and hundreds of hand held fans with life-sized cut-outs of my head. Hundreds of people in the audience each wrote me a note, which they gave me after the show. They made me a piano cake. There were toasts. There were speeches, gifts, tears, hugs, photos, dancing, picture books. And did I mention hugs? There was an afterparty planned with champagne and more toasts. It really left me speechless. I”m certain it was the best send-off any band has ever received. I’ve had my share of doubts about my decision to play music for a living. Last night’s show silenced them. It’s all been worth it.
Finally, I’d like to thank Vic and Margaret Sylvia for all their love and support over the last three years. If you’ve ever been to a show in Texas during the last 3 years, you have seen them. They have come to EVERY SINGLE SHOW. I know you are thinking…oh they must come to a lot of your shows. No. They come every single night I play within 200 miles of San Antonio. Sometimes 5 shows a week. We’ve had days where we played two shows in one day and they come to BOTH. Easily 175+ shows during the last 3 years. Easily. They first saw me playing solo at the JW Marriott hotel lobby in 2013 and they’ve never missed a show since (Margaret made a video collage of photos of all the venues they’ve seen me play at over the years, check it out here).
Last night, the band took a short break and Vic came to the microphone to make a toast. After a thousand hours of watching me scream into the mic, it was his turn. He simply quoted a Dobie Gray song that I used to play at most of my cover shows. Vic poignantly summed up his and Margaret’s untiring, unwavering support for me over the years: “Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me. I want you to know that I believe in your song.” You could hear a pin drop. It about knocked me over.
We decided to close the show with that Dobie Gray song (“Drift Away”). Everyone in the audience came up to the stage and sang, and clapped, and hugged, and it was just perfect.
I can’t tell you how much Vic and Margaret mean to me. I’ve never had anyone believe in me more than they do. I don’t even believe in myself that much. They are what I will miss most about Texas.
Oh, all the feels.
It’s time for the new chapter to begin in St. Louis. I plan to return to Texas to play about 3 times a year. We will be playing Dallas, Austin, Waco, New Braunfels, San Antonio, Boerne, Corpus Christi, and Houston. So y’all don’t forget about me. I’ll never forget y’all.