This is a very special time for me right now as three years of work at the Appalachian Institute and with United Mine Workers of America have culminated in a very special project I call River, Rails or Road. The 18 track album is one that has evolved and has been shaped by my work and travels in my home state of West Virginia. And through it all, I had the interest of Jeff Sewald, a filmmaker who captured each chapter of this incredible journey. The accompanying film also traces my steps from my hometown of Wheeling to my Nashville songwriting days, the road that led to the priveldge I have today to speak for so many who are voiceless and to lend my talents for a cause I believe to be just. And the road goes on. And I'm ready to ride...
Music has been the one true, soul-uplifting, joyful constant in my lifetime. Everything I am and everything I have accomplished in my life I owe to music. My wife and our son? I met Janet in my teens at a New Year's Eve concert at the Stanley Theater.
My folks? My best childhood memories are associated with songs from those formative years, many of which we danced and sang along to, then.
My closest life-long friends? The ones I played music with, shared music with, or spent hours on end listening to music with.
The crazy, misguided days of my youth? That would be the adventures I shared with dozens of musicians in local bars emulating the lifestyles of the rock stars we so wanted to be.
My most poignant lessons in life? Contemplating my experiences while listening to artists with a conscience.
My contributions to society? I have shared my music and the history it reflects with thousands of school-age children; I have documented the struggles of American coalminers and their contribution to the American work climate we all are a product of; I have helped secure the health and benefits of 18,000 retirees; and I leave behind hundreds of songs on more than a dozen album releases that have touched the hearts of thousands.
My wildest successes? Writing on Music Row with famed writers and legendary performers, and being invited to share my songs along side of them at venues like The Bluebird; playing in front of crowds as large as 80,000 and spending precious moments with the special artists who brought them there; I toured Italy in a rock-n-roll band (enough said); I played my bluegrass flavored songs in my home late one night accompanied by Chris Scruggs with Rosie Flores sitting next me; I even played "Pink Cadillac" with Bruce Springsteen and my friends in The Houserockers.
My treasures? I have met and become close friends with the most creative, sincere, just, ambitious, talented, and beautiful people this world can offer.
Most importantly, I continue to help support my family with a career that I was given because of my life-long commitment to making music. One in which I bring young people from every corner of America to serve, help, and learn from the great people of my home state of West Virginia. And yes, I share with all of them my music. And not a day in my life has gone by where music hasn't brought at least one brief moment of satisfaction to me.
So yes, I may be idealistic; and yes, much of this is the result of 50 years, a time to reflect on the bright side; but every word is true - and so am I - because of this great gift of music. The business is tough these days, but hasn't it always been? My wish for my son is to enjoy at least half of the success I have found in this world of music, along with the wisdom to appreciate it. It is surely enough.
In closing, I wish peace, Love, happiness, and success to every soul I have ever met because of music. And right now, that would include you, my friend...
"Of all the earthly treasures and the wonders that they bring, may we find a place in heaven...with six silver strings."
This was one of those weekends that makes me so grateful to be a musician. Pit, Jeff, and Chris, the guys in my band American Son played a stellar show at Frankie and George's on Friday. We were honored to be joined onstage by some of the finest musicians I know: Bob Beach, Andrea Pearl, Sarah Hayes, and Wil Kondrich. Those in the audience who were unable to perform included Rick Malis and "Sudden" Steve Binsberger. To my fans and friends who showed up to make the night even more special, including our promoter Zeke, thank you so much.
The next day, I played my favorite standing gig, Songwriter Saturday at the Leaf and Bean. Another incredible day as I was joined by Joel Lindsay and an amazing guitarist whom I just met, Dan Marcus.
We all know the drawbacks of being a professional musician, namely the struggle to pay the bills, but making music with such fine muscians and keeping company with all the wonderful folks who came to join us at these two shows is worth more than any money I could hope to make as a musician.
Livin' the dream indeed....
I had an incredible visit to Shaler Elementary School last week where I performed two shows for 350 students grades four thru six.
I am proud to take part in tomorrow's Solidarity Day Rally in Waynesburg, PA. My songs have always documented and celebrated the trials and tribulations of the working class from which I came.
After I posted a free download of my new song Across the Tracks, which I wrote after a visit to Matewan, WV, my friend and bandmate Mike Mozena from Ohio sent me an email to explain their plight:
"Here in Ohio we state employees pay 10% of our salary toward our retirement, more than any other public or private employees in the nation. Soc Sec participant workers pay only 8.25%. We pay 20 % for our medical coverage, 95% of the general public pays less. We have collectively bargained and conceded much to get what we have. I most likely will lose my retirement and most of the medical coverage, as well as paid leaves (sick leave). I had planned on working another two or three years, but may be forced to retire, just to salvage what meager bits that I can."
It is publicized here in Ohio that we state workers are the cause of the 8 billion dollar debt in our state. Yet all of the concessions that we will now give as a result of the new legislation will affect only 1.1% of the deficit. It is just union busting and nothing else.
I have worked in several unions in my time........all protected the individual worker through collective bargaining, from corruption by owners and operators. Now it seems that we are portrayed as the villains. It saddens me to see this happening.... again.....in this country. These battles were fought many times in the past, but here we go again."
Have you noticed the tone of rhetoric and advertising recently? I played at an event recently and a senator, after heaping praise on workers and unions, began to rant about the Chinese who own most of our debt. Just days later (I swear there's a concerted effort here) I saw a commercial on TV that was exactly the same. I believe that while the government has never been able to manage our money, they want to scare us into thinking that collective bargaining is un-American and the cause of their financial mess.
Today AFSCME - who or what next?
How small does our middle-class have to become, and how many of us will eventually find ourselves "across the tracks?"
I discovered one of Pittsburgh's greatest treasures on Sunday, March 20th ...
Last Saturday I performed my program for the first time from the big stage...
Last night I performed for the folks at the Warrior Trail Association in Fordyce, PA, Greene County. I can't say enough about the civic minded individuals who keep this organization running...
What a great show in McKeesport this evening...