Archive for July, 2015


When looking at the keyboard as an example of note patterns and the arrangement chart I used for the numerical assignment for each note, it might be natural to think that the Black keys or Shaded fields represent the ‘Half notes’ or notes that are not within a scale. This however takes us down the wrong path. The keyboard offers a clean representation of the note relationships at a quick glance but we need to be careful how we perceive this relationship. ALL notes – no matter what the color – are HALF notes. The color of each key means NOTHING if we are not in the key of C Major. Look at many other instruments and there are no color designators for scales, notes or keys. The guitar has other markings to help know what fret is being used, and this can be helpful for knowing the range of notes in any section of the guitar fretboard, but again, does not directly indicate notes within scales.

Play any adjacent note on the keyboard going up (higher notes – right) or down (lower notes – left) and it is another half step. Each instrument will have its own lingo but the structure is the same. Start with any note and if you skip a note or single key in this example you will be playing Whole notes. For guitar players we would say up one fret or down one fret…. up two frets or down two frets. Brass, wind and other players will talk about sharps or flats. From here it is better to be color blind until you get familiar with other scales and keys. If we start with a Black note for example, it becomes the Root and all notes will stem from that Root note. Some scales will include more Black notes, some scales will include less. The fact that the keyboard pattern has two white notes side by side has little value when thinking about scales, it just helps us understand the amount of separation from the surrounding notes. It is that separation and relationship that we need to focus on. The Perception is the distance between notes and the pattern helps understand their relationship to each other. The Deception can knock us off track if we begin to think the color designators represent a constant scale assignment.

In fact, when I look at a drum set I think the same way……. each tom, for example, should represent a tone or note and they can be tuned to fit within scales. For right-hand drummers or percussionists, the smaller toms are usually to the left-hand side and getting larger as you move to the right. Smaller toms are tuned to higher pitches and lower toms and the kick drum are tuned to lower pitches. YES! I will tune the drums when doing recording sessions so the tone of the drums will fit within the scale of the song. I might re-tune if necessary depending on the song, but that is fairly rare for bands to use dramatic changes. I make sure each tom, snare and kick drum is tuned to the project (that might be easier to understand than tuning to each song….). Like Gary Jefferson would often say to our audiences while the guitar player is silently tuning, ‘we sound better if we are in tune’! If the percussion instruments are not arranged properly and not tuned correctly, it will clash with the other instruments. The result can be unnoticed by many, but even those of us that are not professionals will notice that the recording or performance (as I mentioned I often tune drums for bands I am running sound for) sounds cloudy or awkward and not as tight as it could be even though the players are amazing and well rehearsed. We may not know why…. but we know something is getting in the way of a great performance.

This was one of those amazing events that happen in your life. You get thrown together with really cool and creative people and work on a project. There are so many stories here it is a good thing that I need to break it up into a number of segments. I have already credited a lot of the experiences I had as a result of working at the music stores. This was another one of those. The employees were musicians by definition and we also had band and instrument teachers working there. Everyone played but quite a number of us wrote our own material as well. At the store I managed, we were a diverse group with a wide definition of styles. I did not own it, but it was MY store. I had an agreement with the owner that he not visit my location while I was there. I would run it my way and do the best I can as if it is my store. He agreed and for years I did exactly that. I took care of the people that worked and shopped there. I gave people real advice and information. We developed long-term loyal customers. It was a great team and we had a common goal – do good and we keep the owner out of our building! Great motivation.

A local radio station WOXY in Oxford, OH sponsored a Local Licks radio segment I think every Thursday night for a few months. I had submitted a few of my songs and one of them got played one week. Nice feeling to hear your stuff on the radio. I submitted a few more original tunes and suggested one of the other employees to enter some of his songs. He had more of an urban beat box groove thing going and he did all his own recordings. He did not think anything would come of it as his stuff is even more eclectic than mine! So he gave me a cassette tape – yes, a cassette tape! – and told me to pick the best songs and send them in under his name. I took his tape home and consumed it for hours. Then I made my decision and picked three songs to submit.  This is one of those funny things too. I sent in a song I thought had a great hook a nice arrangement and was really catchy in the genre he was in. I entered my next favorite that really pushed the drum/percussion thing he had going. I thought they had a good chance.

For the third song I threw in something that in all honesty was my attempt at ‘comedic relief’. I figured if I threw something out there that was really bizarre and off beat, they would think the other two songs were great by comparison. Not that the song was not great, but not a match for this heavy-leaning college radio station (… “the future of rock and roll” …..) The third song of his featured a banjo player and an off beat kind of groove. The Local Licks segments lead up to a radio version of battle of the bands. Songs played on Local Licks weekly segments would be entered into an elimination round on the last week the program aired. The finalists would have their songs played one more time as the winners were announced and then the bands would perform for just under an hour in a well known club in Cincinnati for prizes and glory.

As we listened to the local radio station during the elimination round there was a funny feel to the ‘winners’ moving ahead. There was an unusual flavor where songs you thought would be a shoe-in were dropped, and unusual tunes were advancing. Some songs were down right off the wall. There must have been a shift in judging but there were songs with unusual instruments in them getting to the finalists position. There was a song by a band called Tuba Blues. Another one I can’t remember had another unusual lead instrument and to think of it, as you remember one of my friend’s songs featured a banjo player!. Sure enough……. his song kept advancing. We were floored when they picked my friend’s third song! That night on the radio they announced the four finalists that would compete in a live battle of the bands event at Bogarts. Without pulling out records I think the event would be in about three or four weeks time from the announcement.

None of us at the store expected any of us to go that far, let alone to finalist. But none of us could believe that was the song that won! It was a fluke that I entered the song and that the judge apparently was looking for unusual instruments in rock and roll bands that year. Who da thunk? Once we met at work and talked it over it became obvious my friend had one problem; he was a soloist and there was no band! HA! The guitar teacher had a band called It. Ellen and I would join on keyboards and guitar and vocals and another employee and great friend over the years would join in on keys, guitar, vocals and a mean shaker! Each of us put in original songs to perform as a band and we rehearsed for a solid two weeks to try to get ready for this show. We knew numbers-wise we did not have a real chance of winning, but we were determined to make a show and event out of it.

……. All the while in the depths of a cave far from civilization, a Master of Ceremony was writing a series of short speeches that would be an added theatrical presentation between songs. Only the day of the performance did we see how this fit together and we had no idea what he was going to say – with the exception of a few word keys that would trigger a response from the band members, and occasionally the audience in return.

Fortunately we were all musicians currently involved in original songs and live performance. We had pretty good gear and we knew how to use it. We knew how to learn songs and how we can add to them or subtract as needed. Practice went well and started to be fun. The writer of the winning song chose the band name, and we made T-Shirts for all band members with the band name and studio logo; Willie the Ferret Studios. We worked out vocal parts as we had a number of vocalists and lots of harmonies and added speech. The lead guitar player was killer. His drummer was awesome and the bass player in their band IT, was solid and blindingly fast. With that foundation we just had to do our thing and it would all blend in fine. So we were ready enough but nervous as hell. A lot of things could go wrong here.

We get there and listen to the bands that were playing before us and there is a pretty good crowd at this point. We have our equipment squeezed up next to the stage entrance so we can rush in as soon as this band is done and moves their gear out. We set up fast. My keyboard controller does something funny and it takes me a while to fix it. No problem – tune guitar and ready to go. We look around and there are only a few microphones so we ask for more as we have a number of vocalists. They tell us no, that is what everyone gets. So as you see us a little unorganized and running from one side of the stage to another, it is changing instruments and trying to find a way for all vocalists to sing – or speak their part.  After a while it was just funny and we worked it out quickly for the most part and had fun with it.

The audience is not sure and a little uncomfortable with the speeches at first, but after a couple times and solid music everyone got the idea and joined in. The band has to settle down a little and the monitors and the mix takes a while to get used to. It is hard to hear some of the keyboard and vocal parts in some parts but that is to be expected. The writer of our winning song does not perform until the last song, so he helps with the Main House mix in the club. We were a little more involved than the regular rock band so he was able to plan ahead. I wish the lighting guy had help too. They seem a little lost at times but over all still a cool event.


With your help and a lot of other social groups and individuals, we have helped raise money to help my friend John try to recover from the house fire that happened while he was away.  He still has not been able to get home to see the damage and to make plans for the immediate future.  I really want to thank all of you for great comments, spreading the word and financial support.   My guess is a number of people that do not know him offered support in a number of different ways.  I am frankly proud and grateful of the way this blog community responded.  Thank you again!

As many of you know I have been a musician for many years and met John when he was hired to work at the same music store I worked in.  It is kind of funny as you get older you can talk of personal experiences in terms of DECADES!!   Just saying.

Back on track, I wanted to give you an idea of the damage from the fire and the amazing group of local friends that organized without instruction and worked extremely hard to recover as many personal belongings as we could – and the restoration work that continues; and frankly, is really just at the beginning of that phase.  I wanted to give you a picture.  But we all know that is impossible.  You cannot describe the lobbies in Las Vegas hotels or what it feels like in the middle of the ocean to someone that has never been there.   We try.   We get close.   They get the idea, but until you have similar experiences it can be hard to know what those and many other things in life are truly like.

I have been to his house but I still do not have the big picture.  The closest I can get is reliving the feeling I had when I came home from one of those rescue missions…..  I walked up to my front door and as I started to put the key in the lock I thought;  what if all of this is gone?  In the difference of a day…….  Memories gone.      Pictures gone.      Music gone.        Furniture gone.     Everything.   Gone.

With those thoughts in mind and my keys in my hand, I wrote this song.  I thank all of you for sharing, in so many ways.   And while I am at it, thank you for allowing us to share with you.

It may take a few times through listening to this one.  A number of my songs might seem quite alien at first.  I hope you let them grow on you.  (OK, that sounded kinda creepy LOL!) This is a textured song where I did all the sequencing and drum programming.  There are no guitars on this song.  Most of this is Atari days using the Proteus 1 tone generator an the RX 15 drum machine.  I also use sounds straight from the keyboard(s) I use as controllers.   In this case it is the Korg Trinity V3.  Other than the vocals, everything is recorded via MIDI and plays back live sounds from the keyboards and tone generators (along with effects and other goodies).   From start to finish this is a dark piece.  Sparse percussion with a rolling sequenced bass line.  You have heard my wife before on “All Night Long” and “What I do at Night” and this is another one of her gems.  The intro and break vocals are from Phyllis Ann, who toured with The Personal Touch and sang on “The Touch” and “Our Bodies Move.”   As the song begins I try to use multiple melody lines in various instrument voicings to lay the chordal structure.  Plucky guitar sounds come from the Korg.  Slow trance – lulling you closer.   Then the message; “Who’s Following You?”.  But the subject quickly settles on the main issue; death.  Too many of us are waiting for that dream.

“It’s Easy to Die” (@) MSK 1990

I wonder, I wonder who

Who, is following you.

It’s easy to die

You just close your eyes.

And then once the dream begins

It will never end. My friend.

Don’t put up a fight

Just follow the light.

It’s not too hard

And once the dream begins

It will never end.


It’s easy to turn

Your life into lies. My friend

And once the dream begins

It will never end.

I spent a lot of time in smaller clubs with crowded stages and audience sizes varying from handfuls to standing room only capacity. The challenges come from each of them and have different resolutions. In some ways, I think the large clubs and outdoor events are the easiest to set up and run sound for. If it is a big stage or large arena, you turn everything up so it is in the main mix or no one will hear it. The smaller clubs you don’t necessarily put a microphone on every instrument. You cannot out-power a guitar player with a stack of cabinets. You might not be able to set up independent or multiple Monitor Mixes (stage mix for performers) and many times you have to share monitors (the cabinets or speakers themselves in this case…) between performers with various needs. Add keyboard player(s) or a horn section and it quickly over burdens the PA or sound system.

Setting up the stage with a few solutions in mind can help in each of these situations. In smaller clubs you might not have many options for the arrangement of musicians on stage. Some restraints may be obvious at first. Some will catch you off guard. Knowing what you are up against though can trigger steps to prevent problems.

These are basic but can avoid a lot of small-headache issues:

Place snake closest to center of stage if that is closest to where instruments/vocalists are positioned. Shorter cables are better if they allow performers needed mobility.

Make sure you know where the AC power outlets are. It is a drag to set everything up and not be able to plug in your power amps. (I also recommend bringing long heavy-duty extension cords for versatility)

Try to plug all stage instruments and PA gear along with the mixing board and external sound gear to the same AC breaker box.

Try to plug all lighting or other powered systems to a separate AC breaker box. (If it does not connect to the mixing board to make noise; plug it into another breaker box)

Use balanced (three wire cables) whenever possible. (I have been caught by 1/4″ audio jacks without locks getting knocked out in the middle of a gig more than once and hate anything that does not lock into position. rant now over)

Keep stage volume as low as possible (this is a couple posts all by itself!)

Consider cross-firing stage instrument amps like guitars and bass – rather than pointing at audience.

Make sure sound board is in the best sounding location and also close enough to the stage to connect snake and all gear – especially if you have to route the snake around the outside of the event area for safety or other reasons.

Cables are the first thing to go wrong even when properly handled and maintained. Bring a lot of SPARES.

Turn all power amps (including ones that are built into the speakers OFF or all the way DOWN when connecting or disconnecting gear. (there are shortcuts and general exception practices we will detail later).

Turn all recording gear OFF or down all the way until all devices and channels are connected and tested.

Make sure speaker cables (Mains and Monitors) are long enough to reach the power amps. I bring two long length sets of speaker cables and two short length sets (no matter how many total speakers I have, I will have two full sets….). If one side of the stage is where the power amps are, I use the short cable and the other one might require the longer cable. Sometimes you need both long cables. If I need a spare, I have two!

Drum risers could need low end cuts and even gates to reduce unwanted tones and resonances.

Color Code anything you can. Cables, Mic stands, Monitors, In-Put Channel labels or External gear/boxes. Make it easy to identify in low light. Green microphone goes with green cable goes to green snake plugs into green channel….. I also add a number to make larger sessions manageable. Vocal green 1, 2, 3…. Drum blue 1, 2, 3….. Brass white 1, 2, 3……

Not rocket science, just some thoughts. But if you get in the habit of considering these and other tips each time before you start hauling in equipment into a new venue, your set-ups will become quick and routine, even if the environment is new. If you keep all your gear in one place there are short cut power-up and power-down sequences I will detail soon.


After speaking with a number of people over the years I have gotten the impression that I have a few lucky and maybe rare experiences.  One of the common conversations revolve around dreams or rather nightmares.  Some people have nasty dreams, wake during the night and other symptoms.  Other than what I will describe below, I do not think I have EVER had a nightmare or what people would describe as a bad dream.

I do have repeating dreams or dreams with common themes.  As a kid, going to the playground was always a treat. Some kids play harder than others.  Our family used to compete on how fast you could get going on the swing so you could jump off and land the furthest from the swings!  I wish I had some of that wear-and-tear back, but it was a lot of fun at the time!  So we would swing really fast, let go and jump as far as you could and get back on the swing and do it again. The closest thing I have had to a bad dream is the dream of swinging as a kid.  Everything is the same.  Sometimes lots of other kids (I had a big family so us and a few neighbors was a lot) sometimes I am swinging by myself.  Beautiful day and I swing really fast and when I get to the fastest/highest point I jump.  But now I can see that I am at the edge of a hill, and as I am soaring off the swing the ground below me is dropping off really fast and I am in effect getting higher and higher, even though the swing set is still right behind me at eye level.  I am panicking at this point and cannot believe it. Before I have time to think of something to do I notice I am not falling at all but gently soaring, looking down at the valley below.  The two seconds of adrenaline are gone and I am enjoying a beautiful view on a sunny day.

If you are brave enough….Give me an idea of dreams (or nightmares) that you have.  I think it might tell us a lot about our blogging community.

I wanted to give everyone an update on my musician friend John (whose house was damaged in a fire).  Lots of effort and a lot of good news, even in this sad event.  John will be in town soon and will be able to look over the damage and take inventory of the surviving furniture and gear.  Until then Alisa has organized the gofundme project which has raised $10,000 so far in less than a week.  I think that is going to make a big difference in the next few days and weeks.

There are a number of people still working on cleaning and restoring items that were rescued in the search and recovery phase. Once John gets to look at the various projects, he will have a better idea of how to get back on his feet.  We hope to have information from the team that is working on organizing a benefit soon.  this is the original post about these events.

I’m also in the process of writing a song about the events using some guitar chords my wife was playing with recently and a little jam I was working on. Thank you all for getting the word out and helping as much as you can.  I have come home from those salvage missions and realize everything that I have could be gone in moments.  I am not rich, but the music and memorabilia would be irreplaceable.  I will need them when memory loss really kicks in!

This song is for John, everyone who donated money and time to help him and all of you really cool bloggers.  I’m going to post the lyrics first while I polish the song, but it will be up shortly.  

A Very Long Night”                                              © 7-13-2015  Lyrics MSK    Music MSK/ELK

Traveling for business

He is often out of town

From country to country

One city becomes the next

It wasn’t until he got the text

With pictures from the news

That he knew this was the beginning

Of a Very Long Night

He wasn’t home when the fire started

Everyone says it could have been worse

As we watched, broken hearted

Each tear became another verse

Unable to return any time soon

All my friend could do was watch

Phone calls and e-mail

The news from home was grim.

Some say it was best for him

Being out of town.

Some say it was best for him

He didn’t see it burn down.

Some say it was best for him

Not to see the damage from the flames

Some say it was best for him

As all that water did the same

It was a good thing he wasn’t home that night

It was a good thing he wasn’t home that night

It was a good thing he wasn’t home all right

It was just the beginning of a Very Long Night.

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. The first birthday since she passed away last December.

I spend a lot of time blaming my mother – and parents in general for my musical interests and open minded philosophy.  They each gave me a lot.  But my parents divorced in a day when that was not accepted or supported.  Six children and single mom.  Everything was a struggle.  During all of the less fortunate times she managed to plug away toward her goals with her gentle influence.  We would do a lot of things other kids would not dream of and she encouraged many of them.  But we never wanted to hear her say to us she was disappointed in us…….  Having her disappointed was the worst punishment imaginable.

There is no way to know how she guided each of us through early years and then through puberty, early teens and inevitably into kids who knew it all.   I am just now putting them together piece by piece, here and there.  When my younger brother Chris got really sick I lived close and visited regularly.  I was his medical power of attorney and took care of his end of life affairs.  Radiation, Chemo, feeding tube, surgeries.  Emergency rooms to ICU to Hospice he never lost his smile and wonder.  He appreciated everything.  At the end I described him as mentally, financially, physically and emotionally exhausted.  It takes resources to fight back and he just did not have enough left at that time.

My mother also found out she had a number of cancers.  She chose not to take the normal treatments. She chose not to have the normal tests.  She chose me to help her with end of life like I did for Christopher.  She did not roll over and play dead if that is what you might be thinking.  She read and stayed up on current events. She exercised and researched better foods and diet.  She got out and enjoyed the change of each season and the change in weather.

Pauline was more interested in making us comfortable and taking care of her extended family than she was in complaining or moping.  She controlled her pain and as it got really bad she wanted to be able to have final word; to be able to think and communicate for fear she would have a stroke or complication and not be able to tell them not to resuscitate her.  She feared being a vegetable more than anything.  She was smart and educated and proud.  That was something she did not want to endure.  She did not.

When I grow up, I want to be just like her.  Birthdays don’t mean much to me – ask my kids – but this one did.  Happy Birthday, mom.


I have shared a number of experiences that have been about loss. Unfortunately, when you get older, you have more experiences watching the achievements of a life’s work and loves dissolve.  There are many types of loss and a personal friend of mine has been going through a very difficult time.  I just needed to share my experience and thoughts. Over these posts I have often mentioned working at local music stores and the benefit of knowing some awesome people. One of the friends I worked with for years and formed a great partnership “co-owning” the music store with all those years ago has had a devastating loss. As social media is …. he found out from friend’s texts and e-mails that while he was traveling, his house burnt down. His job is demanding and a lot of people depend on him to be there. He could not get home and as we all need to do from time to time; he had to rely on his friends and family (many times they are the same thing).  He is still away and has not seen his home other than on the news and through social media.

I would like to let you know that we have successfully completed the ‘search and rescue’ mission.  We got anything we could out of the building during the days of rain with holes in the roof.  It was a scramble with trusted friends.  We hauled ass and a bunch of other things.  Some musical instruments are damaged beyond use or repair and some have hope of restoration or managed to remain untouched by the whole thing!   He is a musician and like me has an insatiable love for art, music, friendship and making the world better than it would be without us in it.  This has got to be devastating.  For me, carrying out each old and precious instrument or piece of gear,  had a deep impact.  Others worked on his art and personal belongings.  I have heard their stories and all have a deep sense of loss.  No one was hurt.  Many things can be replaced.  But as the fire and then the water took their toll, a lot of his life’s work did dissolve.

We are working now on cleaning and saving as much as we can.   As my daughter Alisa, who runs my blog, practically grew up in the music store and all my friends, she has known John Van Eaton almost her entire life.  She is creating a positive use of social media and spreading the word through this and other avenues.  We will have a number of benefits to raise money and support to help him work through this until he is able to come home and the resources he will need once he returns.  I will post more info as details come in and thank you – fellow bloggers – for letting me share this with you.  The sharing allows healing.

 For more details or to contribute to his fund, see below.  MIDIMike


Hey everyone!  While the question is open and I still hope people continue to post their most influential artists and bands at , I want to thank everyone for participating.  I have listened to a ton of new music.  With some I was familiar with the artist and others I was not aware of at all!  Even the bands I knew of, the suggestions were songs I had not heard before but were probably the best the artist recorded.  I would like to summarize the lists you posted and make a condensed suggestion article once I have listened to each suggestion a few times.   What music and band we like tells a lot about us in many ways.  This is a good community and we share a number of qualities and talents.  We have our own pulse.  A common foundation that is very cool.