I cannot remember a time when I did not hear music or a beat in my head. There was a pattern of notes to everything around me and as a child very sensitive to sound, that translated into begging for a piano, dance lessons, a guitar, banging on the kitchen table, learning to play spoons, harmonica, banjo. I would sneak into the Congregational Church and play on the organ. Or play full concerts on the bed post at night. My first guitar, which I was given one Christmas when I was 7, was from Montgomery Ward and had a picture of the Lone Ranger and Tonto on it, with multi-colored nylon strings. By the time I entered high school, I had graduated to a Stella, with steel strings about an inch off the fingerboard, no case, no strap. I played in a trio called Les Chanteuse, singing folk covers from Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Pete Seeger.
Songwriting happened because of some modest success as a poet then, after I dropped out of college for financial reasons, became more of an obsession. I learned to finger pick (alternating bass or Travis picking), then figured out how to flat pick. I didn’t think of myself as a singer, but as a guitar player. I went through phases of intense study with a classical teacher then a jazz teacher. I applied to Berklee School of Music in Boston and was accepted but couldn’t afford to go. I worked for about 5 years at WGBH FM in Boston, hanging out backstage when the Boston Symphony was being broadcast or assisting with hanging mikes for a live performance at the studio. It was the closest I could get to professional musicians.
I ended up in New York City, writing songs, playing on the street, playing at the Cornelia St. Songwriters Cafe, Folk City (now gone), the People’s Voice Café. I was involved with an international artists’ cooperative called the Taller Latino Americano. After 3 years, I decided that the west coast was a safer place to be and I moved with 5 cats and boxes of record albums to Eugene, Oregon. There I performed in local restaurants, Mama’s Homefried Truckstop, Zoo Zoo’s, Blair Island, mostly solo but sometimes with a bass player. I did a few mini-tours of the Northwest. I gained a bit of notoriety for winning first place in the Willamette Valley Folk Festival Songwriters contest. I played at the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle. A “Fast Folk” recording, now enshrined in the Library of Congress, was compiled of Eugene area singer/songwriters and there I am, forever 35, singing “Wheel of Fortune.”
By that age, I realized that folk music was only going to get me so far financially. I went back to college, completing two graduate degrees before I finally stopped. In the process, I lived in New Hampshire and played open mikes and festivals all over New England, which is sort of like saying I rode a toy train in a circle with a 50-mile radius. I even played at the Black Fly Festival, at which there were more black flies than audience members.
Living on the Oregon Coast, I have played almost non-stop for the past 15 years, 10 years with Rick Bartow and the Backseat Drivers, solo for more than that. I now play in a 4 piece band called the Dalbey Gang (I play resonator mandolin, rhythm and lead guitars), as well as in a trio of my own design, with a clarinet and a bass player. I perform acoustically at a local restaurant every Thursday night and at a performance space called Club 1216 on the first Friday of the month.
A few words about my attempts at recording –
In a box upstairs, I have some reel to reels of my first attempts at a recording, cassettes, and even a demo CD or two, none of which sound very good at all. I have had engineers attach the wrong cables and not realize it until it’s too late to change the recording, sound guys who say they’re going to help and then don’t show up. Or a friend who volunteers to help, tries to help, then disappears. A friend who charged me $350 as he learned how to run his new, expensive sound system. So, I like to say that the current CD which is definitely in the works and on the road to being completed has been more than 50 years in the making.