Offerings & Riffs

Birdsong is a vast and scattered family, each one of you whether we’ve ever met or not a part of the story… but there are a few characters that have become part of the mythology. I have a couple and another Birdsong brother I would like all to be in your thoughts or prayers – whichever you offer and however you do. Some of you have noticed Greendog has been kind of quiet out there in social media land. Greendog’s been in the hospital - he had a stroke, then influenza which brought on a pretty good sized heart attack. He might be slow to respond, or not at all because of the situation, but a little note to him at would go a long way in a difficult time. 

Our sweet friend and legendary Birdsong enthusiast Ben Bernales is “Thinking positive and thankful for all the experiences I have enjoyed in my past.” He is endlessly strong and full of will, but he could use some good energy directed his way at this time; let us all in our own way offer outward that we would wish for, on his behalf, an easing of his discomfort. And closer to home in south-central Texas, a Birdsong bass has been blues-rocking brethren backing up Merlin in and around San Marcos. Merlin is suddenly battling end-game cancer and I don’t know the man, but I know his Birdsong-flying bass player well, another Ben. So for Merlin, his compadres in the trio, and his circle of family and friends we pray, on their behalf, for peace within this traumatic turn. Merlin, the music is on sir.

The blessing in any of these situations is that we get to tell people what they really mean to us and that everything here will be OK, we are given time to put them at ease as their situations change so they can concentrate on healing or accepting, whichever and whatever THEY need to think about and focus on, with a heart full of others’ love and fewer burdens and concerns to be carrying. I wish their favorite music upon them all, and that their lives – their songs – become a part of ours as we continue to go forth, create, and offer our best. Then it will be theirs too, and they will be with us.

It always comes back to the music. Groove on this, brothers and sisters. Music and laughter are sometimes the last things you can share with someone… let’s not wait.

10 of my favorite riffs you may never have heard…

Black Sabbath Hole In The Sky – the mother of all riffs, and I’m not using the term in the matriarchal sense.

Los Lobos Mas y Mas -   If this doesn’t make you flail around the room like a muppet, at least on the inside, we might need to check YOUR pulse! This whole album (Colossal Head) has gotten a bunch of play in the workshop over the years. Full of texture and groove, tones and soul. Love it. WAAAAA!

Veruca Salt Seether – the ‘90s were cool because non-rock-stars absolutely wiped clean the mess '80s metal had become after it had overstayed its welcome and became a parody of its own worst attributes... hey, it happens to every genre. Weaving Beatles melody with punk attack and Black Sabbath crunch, here came those kids with the guitars again to hit the reset button. This time though, they showed up with big ass riffs. Grunge certainly turned too, but for a time a whole lotta misfits found a whole lotta love and bought a whole lotta guitars and had a whole lotta fun. This track always was a favorite. Here’s a version from a huge festival in ’95 and they bring it and ROCK this crowd and that, to me, is rock and roll.

Van Halen Take Your Whisky Home – Good God what can one say about this riff except it has balls so big they were last seen rolling down cavern tunnels behind Indiana Jones. Choosing between Unchained, Running With The Devil, Mean Street… man. Tough. But when this one hits, in some ‘70s car with mags and side pipes and fat tires, through the 6x9s God intended for this kind of stuff to be blasted through, it’ll turn your nipples inside out.

Miles Davis So What – There is little as beautiful in this beautiful existence as the entire Kind Of Blue album. Just go buy it OK? It’s the least I can do for you. When it’s my time and I know it’s near, if it’s the last thing playing I ever hear, that will be fine with me. Float me into the great mystery, oh man with the horn. This riff may not be crushing guitar and earth-shaking electric bass but it’s heavy with a different kind of power, a little deeper and less tangible, like the movement of waves of healing inside us.

Soundgarden Spoonman – Another of the '90s that has stood the test of time, and one of the best riffs of all of a riff-heavy band. There are fewer songs more fun to play than this drop D tuned odd-time ride for the fingers. Here’s the actual video – and who knew the singer from Tool could play such great spoons? KIDDING. That’s the actual spoonman, Artis The Spoonman from Seattle.

Atlanta Rhythm Section Homesick – Here’s another one most won’t know, from a groovy band that caught my ear as a kid. There are musical moments that pry us out of the background on the way to be called to participate, and this song was an early tug.

Neil Young Hey Hey My My (Into The Black) – Yes. There are tugs and then there are epiphanies. I noticed this riff on the radio in the same way one day you awaken to who you’re personally attracted to… yesterday they were what’s-her-name and somehow today something inside you has started to boil. The tone of those nine sonic syllables, their movement, the sheer impact, all triggered a hunger in me, a lusting in my ears for some deeper intimacy with whatever that sound was and the tools of its making were. It can still, played loud enough with my eyes closed, raise the hair on my arms. Here is a great live version; I saw Neil with crazy Horse twice in the ‘80s, one time even helping push the Principal’s daughter onstage. How about that?

Blue Cheer Summertime Blues – there is no possible way to overstate the impact this had on me. Even before I knew it was a cover of a '50s song by a late '60s band in 1982, I knew I HAD to make this kind of noise. The guitar of Leigh Stephens literally rearranged my molecules and set the course of the rest of my life. This video as a “Closet Classic” came on a then brand new thing on cable called MTV and suddenly I was gape-jawed, my dinner falling out of my mouth, and nothing was ever going to be the same. Of important note, that’s not Leigh in the video as he had left the band. The audio IS Leigh Stephens on the guitar, though – and for the most out there guitar of the psychedelic era, one could do worse than to grab that first Blue Cheer album, Vincebus Eruptum. I mean it can’t even be described, only experienced. And, decades later at a reunion, here they are again... Take a WILD GUESS who built that guitar Leigh is playing? Yeah. Life’s magic circles right there, pal.

Starship Jane –  As cheesy as you may think this is, there is no way you could have come of age with this blaring out of the radios of cars cruising in the summertime without wanting to pick up the guitar and make some noise. And without that, the goofy kid in Massachusetts doesn’t get rock star dreams, there’s no rusty black van headed to Texas, none of the at times completely surreal path that followed, and thus – no Birdsong. No news page blog. No “This moment we’re sharing.” So while it may not register in any big way on the Richter scale of world happenings, you ARE here reading this right now so it DOES mean something to you, and you most definitely mean something to me. Here we are grooving together, my highest and your highest, on common ground. We have this. And we owe it to Starship to make the best out of it!!! Ok, that’s a stretch, but not totally… we do owe all of our experiences good and bad, our victories and losses, life’s bliss and its beatdowns, and all those who have been with us on the ride in whatever role, for whatever beauty we know right now and our being awake enough to savor it, and our strength to keep walking onward through the storms.

Listening to: Dub Reggae, mainly Rasta Dub ’76 and Skin Flesh & Bones Dub In Blood; Ten Years After Cricklewood Green; Willis Alan Ramsey.