Category: Blues


What a great town, what a great scene, what great music! Kudos to Music Think Tank


Dispatches from Sarge’s Garage

Dave Sarge is the go-to guy for amplifier repairs in this area, the guy that knows electronics, tubes, and speakers inside and out. You know the type – if he can’t fix it, then it ain’t broke. So, I felt both disheartened and relieved when, after checking on the status of my busted keyboard amp, he began his response with “Well, I certainly will not be charging this on an hourly basis.”
Traynor K4 Keyboard amp
Apparently neither he nor the Traynor/Yorkville company amp tech in Canada has come across this particular issue of loud constant popping from the speakers whenever the amp is turned on.

(Cool, my amp is SO hipster).

So, whenever Sarge does get it figured out, I suspect there will be an addendum made to the Traynor K4 Service Manual, and I can feel happy that I was able to fund his latest opportunity to further contribute to the knowledge base of amplifier repair, and make the Universe a better place.

(For the record, I love this loud, aggressive, multi-featured keyboard amp and miss it terribly… It enables what happens on my side of the stage to be more than just support staff to the guitar-gods I’m fortunate enough to play with).

2013 >>> 2014

Of course I’m playing for New Year’s Eve!
This will be the 5th year in a row that I’ve had the pleasure of ringing in the New Year with Maxwell Strait and all our Phyrst Phriends. It’s been a real honor to share the stage with my amazingly talented bandmates: Molly Countermine, Rene Witzke, Ted Mccloskey, and Jack Wilkinson. Thanks so much for all the great music and great friendship. See y’all tonight!
Maxwell Strait's photo.

Drawbar Organ Voicings

OK, this post is just for me so I can easily find this webpage again. But if you’re curious, “drawbars” are the sliders on a Hammond B3 organ (or a Korg CX3 in my case) that you pull out or push in to mix the sound. Each drawbar corresponds to a particular tone or overtone, similar to a pipe organ. Most electric organs have 9 drawbars, and by pulling them out to different lengths you can create many different sounds.

The webpage I’m linking to has a list of many popular settings, such as the one used by Booker T for playing “Green Onions.”

Drawbar organ voice setting library provided by Keyboard Service.

The History of New Orleans Piano in 8 Minutes

This guy! Jon Cleary is the heir apparent to Dr. John, in my opinion, and this video demonstrates why. He effortlessly runs through a litany of piano styles, showing an easy mastery of each. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen him several times on the Bluescruise, and he is truly amazing. There are so many things in this video that I try to emulate in my playing, but I still have a long way to go. Click and enjoy!

Just Another Sunday…

Sunday’s jam got CRAAZY! I knew it was going to be good when I walked in just in time to see the Steelers roast the Ravens. And there was more heat when John Guyer brought his funky guitar to the stage, along with his harp-blowing-guitar-ripping friend Dave. Trevor twanged out some sweet riffs, and Anthony tore up the eight wires on his Schecter for maybe(?) the last time before he ships back Down Under. Jon and Nate thumbed some serious four-string bottomness while Joel & Josh & Arup kept a steady Mojo working.

But the joint really got to jumping when Natascha & Jackie & Joy & Eric put their voices to the microphones, powered by Cheech taking out his Ravenous frustrations on Stubby’s skins.

Of course, we couldn’t do it without Nolan keeping our glasses filled along with Phil’s tasty concoctions sliding out of the kitchen.  Sure beats sitting on the the couch tube-watching.

Just Another Week in Happy Valley

Rolling along, watching the leaves change, and playing music. Already have one rehearsal and two piano lessons out of the way, now it’s time for gigs.
Happy Valley Sunflowers
Thursday @ The Governors’ Pub in Bellefonte, 6:30-9:00. Stop in after the BHS Homecoming Parade; be sure and wave Hi to Grand Marshall Patti Hilliard, a fellow classmate.
Also Thursday @ The Phyrst w/Maxwell Strait, 10:30-2:00. Laying down the grooves w/Molly Countermine, Ted McCloskey, Rene Witzke, and Jack Wilkinson. Yes, we will rock you.

Friday @ Zeno’s w/The Triple A Blues Band, 7:00-9:00 – Serenading the PSU Homecoming Parade. If I wasn’t playing I’d be marching with fellow alumni in the Penn State Glee Club, along with Bill Besecker.

Saturday, PSU Homecoming – and I don’t have a gig. Really. What the hell am I going to do? Anybody need a piano player this Saturday?

Sunday we’re Jammin’, Jammin’, Jammin’ at the Darkhorse Tavern, 8:30-11:30. Bring your axe, sign in, and play some tunes. we welcome anyone willing to get up on stage. PA and backline (drums, keyboards, guitar and bass amps) all ready to go.

Thanks to WPSU for featuring my essay on “This I Believe”.
Like most people, I get to feeling bad from time to time about one thing or another. Things don’t always go my way, and the march of daily disappointments often leaves me in the dumps.

But what gets me through the blues is music — music simply called “The Blues.” Blues music emanates from the roots of our difficulties. It’s music that has its genesis in the blood and sweat and toil of men and women who worked hard in the dirt and the dust and the mud and the grime of fields and forests long ago; men and women for whom music was one of their few salvations.

Some people still work like that, but many more of us in this day and age do our work sitting on our butts, talking on the phone, staring at a screen, pecking away at a keyboard. Now, I happen to love my work – pecking away at a piano keyboard. It’s not backbreaking hard labor. But I still get the blues, and playing blues music helps me deal with the bad stuff that inevitably happens.

The rhythms and chords and scales of the Blues may seem simple, but to me the sound of the Blues is as complex and contradictory as our lives. Minor melodies of experience play against major chords of desire, over a groove that pushes fast and pulls slow, creating a harmonic richness full of dissonance and resolution. I find great joy and satisfaction in hearing and playing through these moods of the Blues.

The stories this music tells are those of the human experience: our woes and sorrows, our joys and triumphs. When I play the Blues, the music has a way of distilling complicated troubles. It addresses the thing that’s really getting me down and brings it to light, allowing me to sing and dance in its face. When BB King cries “The Thrill is Gone,” Charles Brown warns about “Bad Bad Whiskey,” and Otis Spann proclaims “It Must’ve Been the Devil,” I know I’m not alone. Someone else has suffered just as I have.

The Blues also brings me together with a community that is not distinctly liberal, conservative, religious or secular. Rather, it is all those things. It is universal – everybody gets the Blues. There are Blues lovers and musicians all over the world who support live performers, listen to Blues radio stations, go to Blues festivals, form Blues Societies. They publish magazines, create podcasts, sponsor competitions, and present awards.

They do this because the Blues means something to them and the music speaks to their soul – just like it speaks to mine.

So whenever something gets me down, I get down to the roots of American music and rejoice in the immortal words of Little Milton who sang, “Hey Hey – the Blues is all right, Hey Hey – the Blues is all right.”

So yes – I believe in the Blues.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Sorry, this post is not about sex or politics – it’s about communication.

Twice weekly a small restaurant in my hometown hosts live music. Wednesdays a 4-piece all-acoustic group performs Classic Rock and Americana, Thursdays I play Piano-bar style Blues and covers. One weekend a year several Jazz duos or trios play there during a local festival. We’ve each been playing there since the restaurant opened about 4 years ago. Nice place, good food, good owners to work for.

So I was a bit surprised when the pub manager announced “Hey, we have two bands from Philadelphia coming up to play here next Tuesday. Be sure and tell everybody so they have a good turnout.” Bands? Ok, that’ll be different, but I’m all for live music, so bring ’em on.

Tuesday arrived and I was out doing errands – walking the dogs, delivering a piano to the Beatlemania show, going to the bank, etc. For the evening I planned on stopping in to see the Philly groups a bit, then going to hear Carlos as John Lennon play my piano.

Then the call came. “JT, the bands are here, but they don’t have any mics.” I knew right away it was more than microphones they didn’t have. No mics = no mic stands = no mic cables = no mic mixer = no PA speakers. The bands showed up expecting a PA system to be at the club.

Nobody asked, and nobody told there was no house PA.

So I threw some equipment into my car, drove down to the club, and proceeded to set up my PA system. In the process, the band requested a keyboard stand and amplifier. Yes, I have them, so I drove home and brought those back.

But there was a bigger problem here from the start. As soon as the bands walked into the restaurant, they said “Oh no…” They realized it was the wrong venue for the music they play – hard-driving college party rock. As the manager watched them carry in guitar amplifiers and drums she said “Oh no…” Did they have to use amps? The regular Wednesday band uses no PA, no mics, no amps. Thursdays I bring one speaker for my vocals.

Nobody asked, and nobody told that the venue was primarily acoustic music.

But the show must go on, however, so the bands set up, and trying to be quiet, started to play. As several couples got up and moved their dinner outside to the deck, the first band finished their first song, and the manager, apologizing, told them it was way too loud for the room (which it was). So the drummer stepped out, the guitarists turned down, and they proceeded to play uncomfortably for only a few more songs before taking a break.

After setting up the keyboard amp and stand, the second group took the stage (sans drummer). Having had time to assess the sound of the room, they played a little quieter than the first band, and delivered a longer more enjoyable set. They finished their set, the five of us listening applauded and gave a few dollars in tips. The bands loaded out their gear, everybody thanked and apologized to each other, then the musicians hit the highway to continue their tour.

Nobody asked, nobody told what to do except show up and play.

So how did this happen, how did a pair of rock bands get booked into an acoustic venue? Ari Herstand, who blogs about the music business, mentions this in one of his posts, Book Your Own Tour. When looking for gigs, “get a feel for how your project could (or could not) fit in the venue.” Clearly, this was not done.

Nobody asked, nobody told whether the bands were right for the venue.

So there’s a little blame to go around here. First the booking agent, who cold-called the club and set up the show. A gig is a gig, any chance to perform, right? Second, the club manager who agreed to the deal without knowing anything about the bands. Two bands for the price of one? What a deal!

No, it was a bad deal for all parties. The bands didn’t get to play for the crowd they hoped for, the club didn’t have a crowd to make any money from. There was no relationship established for future bookings, no recommendation for the venue as a good room to play. The only good is a little education was shared, the bands and the venue each got a horror story, and I got a blog post.

So – Do Ask, Do Tell. You may lose a good story, but you’ll have fewer of those “Oh no…” moments.


I play some really cool gigs every week, and hosting the music jam at the Darkhorse Tavern on Sunday nights has become one of the coolest, because of all the great folks who come to play. And also, because a lot of music lovers come out just to see and hear their friends play.

We start each gig playing 2 or 3 tunes as the house band, (keyboards, drums, and bass), then other musicians are called up to join us, or to take over one of our instruments.

Sometimes other pro players come up to play, often its someone’s first time on stage, mostly it’s just folks trying to have some fun playing music onstage in front of a crowd.

We call it a Music Jam because anybody can come up and play what they know, be it jazz, country, pop, rock – whatever they enjoy, whatever they feel comfortable with. But mostly we jam on the Blues because 1) that’s what I like to play, 2) the house band IS a Blues band, and 3) the Blues has a framework that’s generally easy to follow even if you don’t know the song.

John Wise jams at the Darkhorse Tavern, July 28, 2013.
Last Sunday’s Jam had a great turnout as usual, but I’m sorry to say it was the last jam with John Wise, piano player with The Gill Street Band, The Project, and many other great groups. He’s leaving to take a job in upstate NY, and will be sorely missed here, not just because he’s a good piano player, but he could get up and run the Jam himself, giving me a little break. I know he’ll find some good musicians at his new home, so the music won’t stop. And, he’ll be welcome back here in the piano chair anytime.