Monday, April 04, 2011

Slowly but surely ...

Late in 2010, I made a vow to myself (see the last blog I wrote from August) that I would get back to my music and write more songs and maybe release an album. This was after more than three years of frivolity and pure joy playing the music of my heroes in separate bands devoted to Neil Young, The Kinks and Rockpile. It had been long enough and I'd had all the fun I needed. I was feeling the pull to create again. 25 years of being creative takes a lot out of a guy, so I used the time to let those wonderful songs sink in, learn how to play them and maybe learn a thing or two about songwriting from the best.

But just before I turned my attention back to The Ruins & Johnny Paul Jason, I found myself agreeing to play a tribute to my favorite album of all time, George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass". I can't begin to tell you how rewarding that was. I spent 4 months learning those songs from the original two discs inside and out. We began with a core band of me on guitar and vocals and a bassist and a drummer. By the time the rehearsals reached gig week in late February 2011, we had as many as 21 musicians on some songs (horns, choir, two keyboards, several guitars, ukuleles). We chose some of the best voices and performers in North Carolina to sing with us and had a crackerjack house band that delivered the goods all night long. We ended up selling out the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro NC and we raised over $7500 for the Caring Community Foundation. (Photo recreation of the All Things Must Pass album cover below by Bryan Regan). More on the week by week progress of the effort here, a blog by Toby Roan, my partner in putting on the show.

Perhaps the best review of the show is the following. I heard a lot of similar comments in the hours and days after the show:

“The concert was so great, I don’t have the words to describe how much I enjoyed it. And the really terrific thing is that Lisa seemed to like it as much as I did. The musicians were great, the love of George was palpable, it was a sell-out event and the place was packed. They did a wonderful job with his songs. The version of Wah Wah really was unbelievable…words fail me. And at the end all the musicians came on stage–there were at least 10 or 11 guitarists, singers, a pedal-steel guitar, horns, percussion–and did three songs not on All Things Must Pass. The last one was While My Guitar Gently Weeps and it was indescribable…they did it really as a rocker, loud and fast and powerful, really powerful, and I wished it would go on forever. The room was really transported. I want to use the word “orgasmic” when I try to describe what it was like, because the music just seemed to carry us over the top of normal perception and into a different space. At the end, after the last song, Lisa and I turned to each other and kept exclaiming “Wow! Wow!” We were so blown away we couldn’t think of anything else to say. I felt like I was vibrating the rest of the night. I drove home and went to bed and woke up hours later and my body still seemed to be vibrating with this terrific energy.”
Thanks for a great, great evening! Jessica Allen

Having something so large was running counter to what I had in mind for early 2011, as 2010 had been extremely busy gig-wise. I really needed a rest. But I put all projects on hold for four months and I don't regret a day of it. It was such a success that there's talk of making George Harrison's birthday an annual show. We may open up the show next year to his entire catalogue.

Anyway, it's been several months since I'd reported here. Just a stay in touch note. You can keep up with my gigs at my reverbnation site.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Stella, and how in the world did I end up in 7 bands?

The answer is "I can't help myself". I've had the rock and roll bug since hearing the Beatles (or The Chipmunks sing the Beatles) as a wee thing. My Uncle Dewey had a guitar in the mid-60's and also a band. I was fascinated by that thing. The only sounds I could make from it was bumble bee sounds by plunking on the bass E string and running my finger down the frets the way a surf guitarist would.

I didn't get serious about playing one till I was a senior in high school, the 2nd semester in 1980. My friend Tim O'Connell was about to throw the guitar into the trash one day when I was at his house and I begged him to give it to me. I wore that little guitar out.

To the side is a picture of the Stella he gave me. It's since been signed by several of my fellow North Carolina musicians when I co-led the NC Songwriters Alliance in the 90's. It still hangs in my home. The close-up at the top of the page is what Ryan Adams wrote on it when he played the Songwriters Alliance on one particularly bizarre night.

Anyway, back to the original question. For years and years, following the break-up of my first real band The Hanks, the only band I played with was my self-titled band Jeff Hart & The Ruins. Then later, the Panther Branch Boys and The Brown Mountain Lights. But after years of sort of vaguely trying to "make a go of it" while still holding down a day job, I slowly realized that simply playing live music in general was what it was all about for me. I briefly had a Kinks tribute band in the 90's and recently we revived it as The Kinksmen. But one thing has led to another and I'm in a Neil Young tribute band called "Young Neil and The Damage Done", and a very occasional Television tribute band (the NYC 70's rock heroes) called Amps Do Furnish A Room, and now a band called "Mockpile" which pays homage to Rockpile, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe and even some Elvis Costello and Big Star.

I just can't say no apparently. I'll soon get back to my own stuff (and even a sideways revival of my old band The Hanks, but with a few new members and a new name ie, Johnny Paul Jason), but this has been a nice detour and it's helped me get back in touch with what I really love about music anyway and why I got into it in the first place.

Monday, April 12, 2010

And now we're back where we started, Here we go round again.

Some of you will recognize that as the lyric to the Kinks' song "Do it Again". I had the good fortune to have my Kinks tribute band The Kinksmen receive an invitation to perform at the Full Frame Documentary Festival in Durham, NC on April 9. There's a documentary called "Do It Again" which screened there and it's about Boston Globe writer Geoff Edgers' quest to reunite the long dormant British band. The film has been getting lots of attention and the Full Frame Festival was an especially well-received viewing. (One note: in a similarly Kinky event, I opened a show as a solo act for Dave Davies' Kinks Kronikles at Cat's Cradle in 1999, a show I was thrilled to hear Geoff mention in his film).

Geoff's recap of the April 9th festivities:

"The short summary: Lines snaking around the corner, a sold out 1,000 seat hall, a smashing, post-screening set by the Kinksmen. A night that would have been perfect had Carlene (his pregnant wife) been able to come.

More detail: I was, frankly, terrified. Fletcher Hall is big, about 958 friends bigger than I have in the Triangle. And Full Frame is packed with fantastic docs, including two playing at roughly the same time, both films that are, frankly, a bit more socially important than “Do It Again.”

Adding to my anxiety is that two days ago, the Full Frame folks told me 400 tickets were sold. Then, we stopped getting updates as advance, Internet sales were ended. The buzz is incredible, we were told. Don’t worry about it. Well, that’s just not how I work. I worry.

In reality, I had done my job: A Sunday story on the front of the region’s big daily, a feature in the Independent Weekly, an appearance on WRAL Friday morning.

Still, it was hard to feel good until Rob called me on my cell – I was backstage watching soundcheck – and told me to meet him outside. That’s where I saw the line, which started near the front door of the Carolina Theatre and ran down the block, around the corner and up as far as I could see."

More here:

To add to the thrill of being associated with such a cool project and film, Geoff also asked NC favorite sons and influential indie rockers (all from Winston-Salem and with UNC ties) Mitch Easter, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey (the latter two from the heralded dB's and Mitch from Let's Active and as a famed record producer) to sing a few with The Kinksmen. If this sounds like your idea of a perfect spring North Carolina night, it really turned out that way.

We played to a packed sold out house in the historic Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham following the Q&A session with Geoff and director Robert Patton-Spruill. The curtain raised just as in the old rock and roll movies and we proceeded to kick things off with "Picture Book". We then brought up Chris and Peter as they did versions of Days and Tired of Waiting (video courtesy of SnoopDave)

The complete set list was as follows:

Picture Book

I'm Not Like Everybody Else

Days (Peter Holsapple)

Tired of Waiting for You (Chris Stamey)

Till the End of the Day (Mitch Easter)

Stop Your Sobbing

Set Me Free

Waterloo Sunset

Medley (You Really Got Me / I Need You / All Day & All of The Night)

Low Budget

Another video shot from the side of the stage is The Kinksmen on Waterloo Sunset (video courtesy of Phil Venable - he has several more clips of this show, click his name).

A night I'll long remember. To have three of my best musical friends along with three of my most important musical influences shoulder to shoulder paying tribute to The Kinks was something I could not dream up if I'd tried.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Long time no see. Some recent changes ...

Looks as if I've let this blog fall by the wayside. Been a busy year and even now, I only have time to post a few of them:

- I moved to Carrboro, NC in July. Lovely town, lots of friends already there, and like my 10 years in Durham and spitting distance to Duke, I'm next door to a major university (UNC).

- I have a new band that is getting really busy. We're The KinKsmen. We play Kinks covers, just like my old band in the 90's, the Dedicated Followers did. Mike Nicholson is also in this band as he was then.

- My original music band has sputtered and collapsed. Our last show was in May. Hope to have something going by year's end with some former Hanks, Ruins and Brown Mtn. Lights members. Meltzer-Hart are coming out of hibernation in late September at the Carrboro Music Festival with two members of the KinKsmen to rekindle our electric band.

- Made reverbnation my main band / music link. Visit me at

That's all for now. I will try not to be such a stranger.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yule & Holiday Greetings / Year End Wrap Up

It's been a busy last week or so leading up to Christmas. Some wonderful times with friends (see below) and some frustrating times too (for example, keeping up with the Mark Teixeira free agency saga on what seemed like an hourly basis on a Baltimore Orioles fan blog).

Anyway, a summary of the last few days (pardon the lack of caps, was copied and pasted to a note to friends in another forum).

friday 12/5 - my band (the original band that plays under my name with chris chamis, chad johnson and rocky colavito) played the cave in our last show of 2008. future kings of nowhere, in what appears to be their final gig, played the middle set before us. wonderfully attended show and lots of good feedback that this was maybe our best show ever performance-wise.

friday 12/19 - jeffrey dean foster's annual shalom benefit for an urban ministries type charity in winston-salem at the garage. jeffrey's band (whom some of you saw solo in april when he played with me at broad st.) had his band which includes durham's sara bell. they did about an hour of his tunes and closed with christmas must be tonight by the band and darlene love's big christmas hit from a few years ago.

saturday 12/20 - two christmas parties, one in duke park and one near the chatham / orange county line. at the latter, i played several christmas and 20's / 30's tunes on my new instrument, a ukulele. played till 3am.

monday 12/22 - jim watson's 23rd annual christmas show at the cave. it was so crowded, i remained in the pool room or the little tunnel between that and the main room for most of the show to avoid being trampled. still, a very heartfelt and traditional holiday event from the original red clay ramblers' mandolinist/guitarist which i try to attend each year. everyone is given a sheet of lyrics and all sing along with jim.

tuesday 12/23 - was feeling under the weather by so many late nights and was worried i was coming down with something (even canceled an afternoon guitar lesson - we'll make it up, sorry morgan!), but rallied enough by 9pm to join a jam in raleigh with my old friend mark enloe and new friend chris floyd. was in chris' basement. neither play in bands, but chris has his basement outfitted with a drum kit, a p.a. and a fog machine and strobe lights! was silly good fun. i alternated between bass and guitar and ukulele. we jammed for 2 hours on anything from linus and lucy (from charlie brown christmas), some replacements, oasis and even under the milky way tonight by the church, neil young, pretty in pink by psychodelic furs, run run rudolf by chuck berry.

today - drinking dunkin' donuts coffee, listening to my christmas ipod mix, tuning in an out of "christmas story" on dvd, browsing what my friends are up to on facebook friends, wrapping one more gift and finally going to my parents' place in garner for christmas eve dinner.

christmas day - hanging at tom meltzer's house with some friends and the plan is to watch movies and celtics/lakers at his place and then to the pour house for terry anderson's annual birthday/christmas bash.

happy 2009 ya'll.

Friday, November 28, 2008


There's so much sadness, war, terror, fear and downright meanness in the world right now. The economy has everyone on edge. It's a wonder we get out of bed every day. But we do. I do think the change in direction we voted for earlier this month will go a long ways toward correcting some wrongs. For that, I am hopeful.

But I just want to take a moment to thank my family, my friends and fellow Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill bloggers for what you all mean to me. I'm so fortunate to be able to play live music with great friends several times a year. I don't make a living at it, but it's my passion (well, one of many) and it pretty much guides my life. I'm very lucky and for this I'm so thankful.

I lost my sweetheart this year, truly one of the great loves of my life, but we're still warm, close friends. I do get sad from time to time and miss the bond we had, but I sincerely treasure every minute when we are together as friends now in this new situation. It's better to have loved ... you know the old saying.

I was just thinking back on the last year and remembering that today is a year since we lost our old friend David Enloe. My thoughts go out to Susan, Mark, Steve and their families. Other close friends have had tragedy and loss in their lives as well and my heart and thoughts and prayers go out to you as well. I won't name them here due to their privacy, but you know who you are and I just want you to know I'm thinking about all of you.

I'm getting ready to go to a party in an hour or so to celebrate some November birthdays (mine is November 1st and we had that great party to combine Halloween with it a few weeks back at Broad St. Cafe). I've been teaching myself ukulele the last few hours and until I started typing this, I had a warm kitty on my lap. Life is good. Sometimes it hurts. The highs and lows are all a part of the deal and it's how we get through it that counts.

Be good to each other. Love one another. And thank you.

Friday, November 07, 2008

This Is What Change Looks Like

County by county across the U.S. of A. (click for full map - courtesy of Huffington Post)