You’ve donated over $350 to Operation Homefront by pre-ordering Slaid’s new CD or downloading the new single,Still Fighting the War. If you’re digging the song and feeling good about contributing to a worthy cause, by all means spread the word!
Who coulda thunk it, 20 years ago, when Slaid Cleaves released his first batch of Texas-penned songs (on cassette only): that he’d someday re-release his album (plus 6 bonus tracks) world-wide, as a bunch of ones and zeroes. No plastic, no paper, no shrinkwrap, no postage stamps, carbon free. Happy Earth Day!
Slaid & Karen Cleaves
Welcome, all! It’s a new day at slaidcleaves.com. Brand new web site. Brand new CD available for Pre-sale starting today.
Big thanks to Lydia Hutchinson at Performing Songwriter for putting this baby together. And thanks to Mary Gauthier for hooking us up.
There may be a bug or two to work out as we go live, so let us know if something’s not working or if you see a typo somewhere.
You’re not going to believe this story. But it’s true. I was there. I kind of wish it hadn’t happened when it did. I’d appreciate it even more if it had happened more recently.
In the late 1990’s, I was headed up to Nashville for a gig at the Bluebird and some time with my old buddy, Rod Picott. Karen dropped me off at the Austin airport that afternoon and I stood in line to check in. After Karen drove off, it occurred to me that I’d left my guitar at home. Oh, well. I’ll use Rod’s. It’s always stressful trying to get a guitar on board anyway. At the ticket counter I was informed that my flight would be seriously delayed. The plane had hit a large bird on its approach to Austin, and the nose cone was damaged. They were flying a new plane in. It would be a few hours. I could rebook on a flight through Dallas, but it would get to Nashville at about the same time as the delayed direct flight. American would buy me dinner if I wanted to wait for the original flight. Free dinner! Woo-hoo! I was a seriously struggling musician at the time and I’d gladly wait a few hours to get a free meal. So I called Karen, had her bring my guitar to the airport, bought a Time magazine and went to get my free dinner. The gig wasn’t till the next day, so I was perfectly happy.
“Is that your real name?” I‘ve heard that question, oh, several hundred times I guess. The first time, the phrase was not in question form: “That’s not your real name; that’s your nickname. Richard is your real name.” This came from Mrs. McLean on the first day of first grade, and it pissed me off. It was my first encounter with fill-in-the-form bureaucracy. (How many times have you been asked for your middle name on a government or company form?) I had been writing S-l-a-i-d on all my drawings and finger paintings for about a year now, and I’d never been called Richard a day in my life. I didn’t know how to spell Richard, and I didn’t want to know. I knew what a nickname was, and I knew that Slaid was my real name.
1. Don’t believe the people who say you are good. Listen to the people who tell you where you are failing. You have to learn to be extremely hard on yourself in order to continually improve, or else you’ll just end up playing in your room. Everyone wants to be a musician, but only the ones who are self-critical, work the hardest, and stay with it the longest will succeed.
2. Songs are more important than anything else. There are thousands of great songs out there in the world. Why would people want to buy your songs if they aren’t as good as what’s already out there? You need to strive to write songs that say something interesting, something moving, something memorable, in a way that no one else has said it before. In order to get good songs you have to be hard on yourself. One of my favorite songwriters, Mary Gauthier, says she puts about 40 hours into every song she writes.
A conversation last week where my wife Karen works:
Jim, Karen’s co-worker: “How’s Slaid?”
Karen: “He’s in jail.”
Jim: “For what?”
Jim: (Shocked) “What drug?”
Karen: “Anti-fungal.” Karen has a good poker face, and Jim is now rather confused.
No, I’m not in the callaboose. This is my “day job.” Every real musician has a day job, right? Have you heard those Austin musician jokes? What do you call an Austin musician without a girlfriend? Homeless. How do you improve the aerodynamics of an Austin musician’s car? Take the Pizza Delivery sign off the roof. And there’s another one I can’t remember where the punch line is, “his other day job.”
“Time For A Haircut.” That phrase struck fear in my heart for many years. I’ve only had two professional haircuts in my life, and both were disappointments. My mom took me to get my first haircut when I was 3 or 4, I guess. And she hated it, for some reason. So she cut my hair for the next 14 years. And I hated it each time. I’d put it off as long as I could. I preferred having long hair, even though I was almost always mistaken for a girl. I identified with the hippies, for some reason, and wanted to look like one of the Beatles, not Homer Price, which is what you looked like when you got home from Reo’s Barbershop. I was so vain, still am I guess, that I would avoid the haircut till I was forced into the chair, the sheet tied around my neck, my little brothers gathered around watching. My mom would coo about how handsome I was. When the orderal was over, I’d look in the mirror and be horrified, every time. I don’t know why. I think it was just the trauma of my image changing, however subtly, that threatened my fledging sense of self. I would cry and complain that my mom took off too much. I’d wear a knit hat for a few days. Then I’d feel bad for my mom—she did her best, with love, and all I did was complain, ungrateful. I felt guilty and vain.
It’s hard for me to even image the devotion I felt for rock & roll as a youngster. It was a cause to live and die for. I remember driving my rustbucket, slant 6 Duster 15 miles of winding back roads through 8 inches of snow to make band practice in the basement of Mark Deeley’s parents’ house in Rochester, New Hampshire. I was 17. The drummer didn’t show up that night (intelligently, in hindsight), and I took that to mean he was not committed to this band. It was a cover band, practicing in a basement, gearing up to getting work in the local hotel lounges and Asian restaurants and bowling alleys. I would do anything for that band. One of our first gigs was a wedding, some relative of Mark’s. In the hall I was approached by an important looking man. He had an air of confidence about him. I had my leather pants on. He introduced himself as the owner of one of the big clubs in town, Club Victoire. They had bands every weekend. He would hire us if I would do him a favor, help him out of a jam. No, it’s nothing illegal. He told me about his problem. His daughter was in charge of the senior prom, which was two weeks away. Her boyfriend had just dumped her (“and if I ever get my hands on him . . .”) And if I would escort this young lady to her prom (tux and dinner—taken care of) he would give my band a gig at his club. I didn’t hesitate.
First, have your uncles sneak into the town dump and haul out a used 250 gallon heating oil tank. Then have your neighbor cut it in half with his arc welder. Buy them all a case of Genesee Cream Ale.
Order a crate of lobsters from a local lobsterman. If you invite him to the clam bake he will probably give you “boat price.” Call up some cousins and friends to help with the clam digging and wood carrying. Borrow Dad’s pickup to haul a couple of loads of scrap wood from the neighbor who has the saw mill.