MUSIC FOR MAY 2022

‘LET THE SINGER’

This early original is a paean to the live fast–die young lifestyle, which seems like a swell idea when one is 23, idolizes Gram Parsons and Hank Williams, and enjoys the robust constitution of youth. Singing about burning the candle at both ends seemed right and romantic back then, even as musicians like Parsons, who died of hard living in 1973, continued to helpfully offer object lessons in why it isn’t such a good idea.

Submitted to my bandmates in April or May of 1977, “Let the Singer” was the one original song that the Curley Howard Band ever played. Formed that year, CHB was a hard-rehearsing, hard-drinking, hardly-ever performing foursome that tried to blend country music, Sixties hits, California dreams and British pub rock.

CHB had a short life but a long tail. CHB begat the Mirrors, which begat the Fashion Jungle, which begat the Cowlix, which begat the Boarders, which begat Howling Turbines, which begat my current band, Day for Night. Ergo, a musical lineage spanning 45 years and counting.

Here, “Let the Singer” is performed by the Mirrors — that is, three-quarters of CHB: drummer Ken Reynolds, bassist-guitarist Mike Piscopo and me. It was recorded on the Sony two-track at Jim’s Night Club, 144 Middle St., Portland, Maine, March 3, 1979, early in the Mirrors’ run. I had a cheap piezo pickup plastered onto my Silvertone acoustic with putty, hence the distinctive guitar timbre. (Personnel notes: The fourth member of CHB was Andrew Ingalls. The Mirrors’ fourth member was singer Chris Hanson, not heard here, and multi-instrumentalist Jim Sullivan joined the Mirrors soon after this gig.)

Hear it below! Buy it on Bandcamp! (“Let the Singer” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

The Mirrors, 1980, clockwise from left: Jim Sullivan, Ken Reynolds, Christine Hanson, D. Hubley, Mike Piscopo. (Photo by Minolta self-timer)

 

MUSIC FOR APRIL 2022

‘WHY THIS PASSION’

This depiction of a lovers’ quarrel shifted shape dramatically over the years. (The links will take you to different versions.) I wrote “Why This Passion” in 1984 for my band the Fashion Jungle, an ensemble distinguished by its high romanticism. But my original arrangement was too utterly utterly even for me, so in 1985, after keyboardist Kathren Torraca had departed and bassist Dan Knight succeeded Steve Chapman, I turned the song into a musical hot rod, stripped down and sped up. (We kept that chopped, channeled and turbocharged format when Steve returned to the band in 1987.)

But “Why This Passion” received its final arrangement 10 years later with the Boarders, consisting of bassist Gretchen Schaefer, drummer Jonathan Nichols-Pethick and me. I switched from six to 12 strings and we worked out a rolling tom-tom beat with vaguely Middle Eastern overtones that was exotic (for us) and wicked propulsive.

Just to complicate matters, the version showcased here features that same galloping rhythm in a different pair of hands: those of Fashion Jungle drummer Ken Reynolds, who joined Gretchen and me in 1997 to form Howling Turbines (pictured below). Ken’s tom-tom work was a distinctive feature of that band, as you can hear in this rehearsal tape from 1998 or 1999.

Hear it below! Buy it on Bandcamp! (“Why This Passion” copyright © 1985 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

Howling Turbines on a blistering hot day at the Free Street Taverna, Aug. 1, 1999. From left, drummer Ken Reynolds, bassist Gretchen Schaefer and me — guitarist and singer Doug Hubley. (Jeff Stanton photo)

 

MUSIC FOR MARCH 2022

‘TROUBLE TRAIN’

There are signs along the Androscoggin River in Brunswick and Topsham, Maine, warning that operations at a nearby dam could cause the water to rise suddenly.  A good metaphor for the often unpredictable nature of problems, the signs got me going on “Trouble Train.” (The train simile came later and seemed to work better as the prevailing theme.) This was one of two songs I wrote for my band the Cowlix (1989–1994) — but the theme is better suited by the more ominous treatment heard here, performed by the Boarders, the band that came after the ’Lix.

And while that theme is never irrelevant, “Trouble Train” seems especially pertinent in these months of climate crisis, civic derangement and shooting war.

The Boarders: Doug Hubley, guitar and vocals. Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, drums. Gretchen Schaefer, bass. Recorded in 1995. “Trouble Train” copyright © 1994 by Douglas L. Hubley. Photos by Doug Hubley (above) and Jeff Stanton (below). Hear “Trouble Train” below, buy it on Bandcamp!

Toothy Boarders in 1994. From left: Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, Doug Hubley, Gretchen Schaefer. (Jeff Stanton photo)

MUSIC FOR FEBRUARY 2022

‘WHERE WAS I’

One day, sitting in the now-defunct Algiers café in Cambridge, Mass., I got the Grass Roots’ hit “Where Were You When I Needed You” in my head. I was captivated by the thematic potential of swapping the pronouns around: “Where was I when you needed me?” Finished some months later, the resulting lyric is cross-listed in the Themes of Country Songs index under both Cheating and Mid-life Crisis, making it a natch for our band, Day for Night, a country duo specializing in songs of love gone wrong. In this 2013 recording, Gretchen Schaefer sings and plays guitar, and I sing and play mandolin. Hear it below! Buy it on Bandcamp! (“Where Was I” copyright © 2014 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved. Photos by Doug Hubley.)

Writing “Where Was I” at the Senator Inn and Spa, Augusta, Maine, November 2012.

MUSIC FOR JANUARY 2022

‘SOMEPLACE ELSE’

Back when there were chilly sea breezes that could derange one’s springtime planting schedule in Portland, Maine, I once mentioned to my mother that my wife and I would like to move inland in hopes of getting reliable warmth earlier in the gardening season.

Hattie didn’t like that at all. “Oh, go ahead! Just move inland!” she said, peevishly.

In fact, perhaps more than many parents, our mother hated the idea that any of us kids would ever relocate any distance away — and we never did, though I don’t know how influential she was in that matter. (There are still good reasons to remain in Maine’s largest city.)

Like Hattie, I too am unreasonably bothered by the bugging out of people I’m close to. It’s exponentially worse when the escapee is both a good friend and a valued musical partner, which has happened a number of times, as if getting tenure at a prestigious Midwestern university, say, could in any way be better than working a crap job in Portland and playing in a dead-end band. It’s harsh to lose both a friendship and a fine musical chemistry. Both are hard to replace.

But “Someplace Else” deals with neither parental cling nor broken musical ties. Instead, I have transplanted my distaste for abandonment to the romantic sphere: This song, written and recorded in 2021, is the lament of a lover left behind.

“Someplace Else” copyright © 2021 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp!

Someplace Else

MUSIC FOR DECEMBER 2021

‘SCARY CHRISTMAS POLKA’

Late in 1990, I was barely employed and pretty worried about that and all kinds of other things. All the anxiety coalesced into “Scary Christmas Polka,” which I released as a solo performance on that year’s Christmas Greeting Tape, distributed to friends and family.

I was playing with a band called the Cowlix in those days and our repertoire, along with classic country and tunes by X, Neil Young and Nick Lowe, included a dollop of folk dances, among them a few polkas. Hence this musical setting.

Yet the Cowlix never played this polka. Instead, the version here was recorded five years later by another band, which comprised three-fifths of the Cowlix: Gretchen Schaefer on bass, Jonathan Nichols-Pethick on drums, and yours truly singing and operating the accordion. We were the Boarders, and the recording was made during a rehearsal as the trio prepared for a December gig at the Free Street Taverna in Portland, Maine. (See Gretchen’s poster for that gig below.)

In 1995, a song like this seemed an appropriately ironic ornament to hang on the tree of the American consumerist Christmas. I can’t imagine, though, what kind of song would serve the same function in the circumstances of 2021.

The Boarders perform “Scary Christmas Polka” in December 1995. “Scary Christmas Polka” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp!

Scary Christmas Polka

MUSIC FOR NOVEMBER 2021

The Nevada desert from the eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr, June 2016.

‘WHAT THE TRAIN CAN DO FOR YOU’

I’m lucky in that Gretchen Schaefer, my partner in life and in the Americana duet Day for Night, loves to ride trains as much as I do. Even in coach, they are reasonably comfortable, the sightseeing is pleasant and a person has no responsibilities other than showing a ticket and not being a jerk. Non-train people complain about trains’ slowness and lateness, but for us time is not an issue because the train, unlike the car, plane or bus, is as much destination as it is transportation.

Taking a sleeping accommodation, as we often do, provides still another benefit that, similar to the way caffeine enhances the effects of aspirin, heightens all the pleasures of the train: privacy. Gretchen and I are a reclusive and introverted couple who, it seems, travel through the world at all times in a virtual train compartment of mutual interests and fascinations, not least with one another. The Amtrak roomette is not just our conveyance of choice, but a perfect metaphor for us. — Adapted from Notes From A Basement, “Love Of Train,” by Doug Hubley

Here, Day for Night performs “What the Train Can Do For You” in a September 2019 rehearsal. “What the Train Can Do For You” copyright © 2018 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp!

What the Train Can Do For You

MUSIC FOR OCTOBER 2021

‘YOU KNOW HOW IT IS’

My day jobs since around 1980 didn’t provide much material for credible country lyrics, but at least I have this old number to fall back on. It’s drawn from my 1970s experiences as a sensitive young artiste sacrificing my soul as a “materials handler” (stockboy) at the South Portland, Maine, branch of the Jordan Marsh department stores (now Macy’s). Well, Jordan Marsh is gone, and I am still here. Even the title makes a virtue out of banality. Recorded at home in summer 2020.

“You Know How It Is” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp!

 

 

You Know How It Is

MUSIC FOR SEPTEMBER 2021

‘KEEP ON SMILING’

I’ve dedicated the Song of the Month feature during summer 2021 to my band the Fashion Jungle, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the band’s founding. And I’m ending that salute with a song the original FJ learned during that exciting summer of 1981 — but which I wrote eight years earlier. We launched the FJ, in part, to put our original material front and center. But because none of us was too prolific, I revived this old number.

I wrote “Keep on Smiling,” in 1973, simply because I was mad at one of my friends, although I was never so articulate in actual conversations with that person. The lyrics are melodramatic — I was 19 — but the overall sense of angst still works. And the big anthemic ending turned into something of an FJ characteristic. Moreover, the song turned out to be a fine showcase for the Farfisa rock organ, played here by the multitalented Jim Sullivan. Personnel: Doug Hubley, guitar and vocal. Mike Piscopo, backing vocal and bass. Jim Sullivan, backing vocal and organ. Ken Reynolds, drums. Recorded on the Sony TC-540 in summer 1981 in Ben and Hattie Hubley’s basement, near Red’s ice cream stand in South Portland, Maine. (Photo by Jeffery Stanton: The Fashion Jungle at Kayo’s, Portland, Maine, in September or October 1981.)
 

“Keep on Smiling” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp !

Keep on Smiling

‘LITTLE CRIES’

The summer of the Fashion Jungle’s 40th anniversary year continues on Songs with the first number I wrote for the band — a hard charger marked by vitriolic lyrics about bedroom dishonesty and by extremely restless chords.

Both characteristics seem more clever than meaningful now, which explains the absence of the piece from the standing playlists on the Songs site. But “Little Cries” is another entry from the original FJ that stayed with the band throughout its eight years.

It was exciting onstage, where the brittle lyrics got some protective cover from decibels and Ken Reynolds’ hot-yet-precise drumming kept hearts and hormones pumping. And that’s the case in this recording from April 1, 1983.

Our second performance with keyboardist Kathren Torraca took place at a Portland, Maine, nightspot called It’s Magic at the corner of Market and Middle streets. (That was the fourth of my five gigs in that building, but the businesses were different nearly every time and so were my bands. Such is Portland nightlife.)

We were a ways down the billing order, which I think was headed by Lou Miami and The Kozmetix — I’d like to think it was them, anyway, because Kozmetix and Fashion, no? The mix comes off the soundboard and is quite good — I wish I knew whom to credit for it. Personnel: Steve Chapman, bass and backing vocal; Doug Hubley, 12-string guitar and vocal; Ken Reynolds, drums and backing vocal; Kathren Torraca, keyboards. (Photos: The Fashion Jungle at the 1984 Maine Festival in Brunswick, Maine. Courtesy of Rhonda Farnham/Sweet Potato magazine)

“Little Cries” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp !

 

 

Little Cries