Category: Treasures & Found Objects

“Better Off” in 2013

A friend from Eastern Washington (who goes by the nickname “Puck”) recently sent me a touching post, thanking me for a certain song that lifted his spirits, and sharing one of his own, thusly inspired.

Whenever I perform at Hogan’s Pub in Clarkston, (usually w/ Scott Cargill & 7 Devils) Puck requests my 12-year old break-up song “Better Off Without You.” I wrote it a dozen years ago — a paradox of anger & levity — and it got me through a difficult time. (It was cheekily deemed “the greatest break-up song ever” by a Eugene Weekly writer.) Here is a version from my former “Alternative Rock” incarnation (from Pollyanna Loves Cassandra):

The song seems to have helped my friend see the hard times through. That is the best news a songwriter can get. And, even better, Puck paid it forward by writing a similarly-themed tune “Better Off.” He graciously allows me to repost his video here:

As much as we performing/recording artists strive to get good reviews from the press, nothing gratifies like finding out that a fellow human being has been emotionally affected by the work we do. And even better, that someone would be inspired to put their own creativity to work and keep the collective torch burning.

Artists work for real human beings, not just Entertainment Biz entities.

Thank you, Puck. Keep up the good work. See you in April to celebrate happier times.

Here is the live acoustic version from the 2001 A Stealthy Portion, featuring Elisabeth Babcock on cello. (It was selected for Michelle Malone’s compilation of independent artists):

Meet TC Ragstix

For the past couple years, I’ve had a casual, informal writing partnership with a friend I made in California named TC Ragstix. Through my well-advertised dryspell, he has been almost as encouraging as Ehren Ebbage.

Looking over the material I’ve eked out over that wretched stretch, I dare say that some of it is my (our) best work. (Believe or not, this often happens to artists during their worst creative droughts. They keep poking and digging, seemingly without any inspiration, despising the execution of every stroke. Finally they step back and look at what’s there: “Hey! That’s not half bad!.”)

TC’s contribution is substantial enough that I will be sharing writing credit on my 2013 release (whenever that happens — hopefully before 2014).

I credit TC for getting me unstuck when it comes to creating absurd, fun characters. He said: “Don’t be afraid that humor is gonna overshadow whatever serious stuff you’re talking about.”

Me: “Yeah, but I don’t to write novelty songs.”

TC: “If you do it right, your songs will be more meaningful. You disarm the listener by creating something fun, and then you melt their hearts, or you hit ’em the gut… or maybe you just wanna make them think.”

He went on to say, “What is wrong with you Northwesterners, always so deep and meaningful… All that grey wet weather?”

When I ran these thoughts by Ehren Ebbage, he nodded: “Humor has always been a part of your work, Shipe. You didn’t already know that?”

No, I didn’t know that. But now that he’s mentioned it, I’m thinking of “Imitation Man,” “Villain,” “Honky Tonk Romans,” “Another Disaster,” “Junkies on Film,” “What Right Do We Have to Fall in Love,” “American Wisdom,” “Livin’ in Exile,” and “Better Off Without You,” “Surfin’ the Shock Wave.”

But what’s really funny is that, in every one of those songs, I was being deadly serious, broaching subjects that i find profound and unsettling, if not downright dark. It seems like every time I dive into stuff that affects me most deeply, at my best, humor naturally arises.

It reminds me of what Bruno Kirby said about acting in comedy: “You can’t really play a result (comic effect)… I just play the character’s point of view…”

The humor comes from fully and sincerely embodying a characters value system and all of its associations. The humor is almost unintentional, which is the best kind of comedy.

Anyway, I am convicted into sharing songwriting credit, even though he doesn’t want it. If it weren’t for him, my live solo acoustic sets wouldn’t be kickin’ forward with “Jesus,” “Beast is Back,” “The Decider,” “A Drinkin’ Man” (he preached me into playing on ukulele). Oh, and “Pit Bull Rescue Woman” which was originally the brainchild of John Grimshaw.

Shipe Tour Day 2: Pleasant Surprises in Coeur D’Alene (Moon Time)

I’ve been playing Moon Time for 15 years, and I never discovered the hiking trail along the lake until this this afternoon!?

20-minute lakeside jog, followed by a shower, a Moon Time Lamb-burger, load-in, set-up, a dollar pint of pale ale, and I inconspicuously launched into Mark Alan’s “Don’t Pass Montgomery By.”

I say, “inconspicuously,” because, as I have blogged so many times before, Moon Time is one of the loudest busiest of the dinner venues. Hardly anyone faces the stage; few are there specifically for the music. It’s dollar pint night in a place where people come to converse. I’ve learned not to fight it, and to start the night by blending and easing into their space. I would appear positively silly if I busted into my “show” with: “Hey everybody! How ya doin’ tonight! I am John Shipe! All the way from Eugene, Oregon! I’m here to rock you!”

“Montgomery” is a good opener in this atmosphere. It’s simple, with a steady, deep groove — even acoustically — when I play it right. Feels good, especially when I’m in the gospel-ish vein. Whether they end up riveted or not, they get the idea that I’m a solid decent singer & player — at the very least, they’ll appreciate the professionalism.

Another surprise: a friend & former guitar student of mine, who just happens to be the area, showed up out of the blue. I love it when this happens. (It does, more often than you would think.) Familiar faces mean a lot to traveling musicians. I discard my set list when old friends show up, and play any Shipe song they want to hear. The performance obviously improves, ’cause I have someone relate to. And this probably had something to do with the entire room being more responsive than usual.

Among the more attentive patrons was another Eugene musician, Matt Buetow, with a night off from tour with his band The Royal Blue. I am listening right now to a beautiful song of theirs called “December.” (When I get back home I will see them live.)

It’s funny; we performers can always tell which audience members are musicians. This used to make me nervous, until I realized that, for the most part, fellow musicians can be the most generous listeners of all. So I thank Matt and his CDA friend Jeff — and my friend Gina — for giving me some love at Moon Time.

Shipe in Lewiston (Idaho)

Back in my surrogate home of Lewiston/Clarkston, last night was a superlative, truly unplugged, gig at La Boheme.

When I say unplugged, I mean no microphones, no amplifiers, and no P.A., in an intimate venue, with an audience accustomed to listening quietly. I gotta tell you it’s lovely.

I was a accompanied by Scott Cargill and his lineup from 7 Devils, who nailed these arrangements on the fly. Outstanding musicians, and great friends, they had brushed-up shortly before my arrival. We had minimal discussion, ran through a couple songs, and called ourselves ready. It could not have gone better.

The Devils: Nathanael Tucker on Fiddle, Jim Laws on percussion, Scott Cargill on mandolin, and Ryan B. Gibler on bass (who managed songs he has never even heard before.)

My close friend Scott is the perfect musician to do this sort of total acoustic set-up. As a deep, knowledgeable fan of roots combos driven by mandos, banjos & stand-up basses, he has the attitude for it. His mando strumming is relentlessly in-the-pocket! Together with Jim on the percussion (handling such quiet volume with authority, emotion and dynamics) I felt comfortable rhythmically — more than usual.

Fiddler Nathanael, in the unplugged format, marvels at “being the loudest instrument in the ensemble.” But with such sweet tone and phrasing, it’s a good thing. The country-ish material went particularly well with fiddle: “Villain,” “Honky Tonk Romans,” “Like Some Folks Do,” and “Some Hidden Things ” (which features a whole string section on the studio album).

We closed the show with “What Right Do We Have to Fall in Love?” The Devils didn’t know this one at all, but damn if they didn’t turn it into the big finale!

Nathanael is also the owner of La Boheme. I exhort my acoustic colleagues to get in touch with him sooner than later. A great, relaxed host, he produces special shows, taking care of both the audience and his fellow artists. He comes from a family of musicians (brother of Simon Tucker), so he knows what matters.

Tonight, Scott joins me for a duo show at Eichardt’s in Sandpoint. Come Saturday, we get take the 7-Devils/Shipe combo to the next level @ Hogan’s in Clarkston.

Superlative APBF concert for Shipe (7/16)

Before I delve into this extensive blog full of delight and gratitude about last weekend’s Pit Bull gala, let me just get one thing out of the way:

Lucky Five. Remember that band name. Lucky Five could become the best rock-n-roll band in the country. I won’t waste time describing them, only to say that if The Allman Brothers had a secret love child with Gnarles Barkley, Lucky Five would blow it off the stage at battle-of-the-bands. For the time being, Lucky Five belongs solely to Charlotte as their darling local band. But if and when they tour, watch out!

Okay, in the wake of the posting of my recent video Pit Bull Rescue Woman, I am aptly impressed by the Sara Enos, the director of American Pit Bull Foundation. This was a large, multi-dimensional event — a 6-act music festival/fundraiser that included vendors and booths outside the venue. (Amos’ Southend.) Although Sara has a bright cadre of volunteers, it’s clear that the buck stops with her on nearly everything. She handles it flawlessly, and pleasantly with no drama.

While driving me to the airport, Sara mentioned to me how “gracious” all the artists and celebrity guests were. I had to let her know that she was the reason we were on our best behavior.

“We artists are like children,” I said. “We need structure.” When we know what is expected, and when the situation is organized & professional, we don’t want to be the cause of it all devolving into chaos.

(Somewhere in there, I think, love of Pit Bulls may also have something to do with it.

I refer to “celebrity guests.” Indeed, I was a little starstruck. Pinups for Pitbulls was there. I found myself circling their table incognito several times before working up the nerve to approach them. I’m normally not so shy, and we already know each other from our online association. But I thought I should change into my stage attire before I met them personally. Plus, I wanted pictures, and I feel awkward asking for such things. It was sort of funny the way I went into my head just then. (It must have been that Southern humidity.)

The Pinups are so sweet you wouldn’t believe it. Lovely, bright, and committed to the dogs. They have wild & crazy tattoos on the outside, down-to-earth wholesomeness on the inside. The three ladies who were representing each have husbands serving in the military — one whose husband was coming home for R&R from Afghanistan the very next day.

Also there was Shorty Rossi, to MC the event. Just in from Nicaragua, en route to Vegas, with his dog Hercules (and assistant Juan), Shorty the Pit Boss was in splendid form for such hard travel. A professional, with a sense of humor.

I mention Ken Foster (author) in a previous blog. He’s from New Orleans, with tales to tell about canines and hurricanes. I had the pleasure of dining with him the night before, so I got a taste of the human voice behind his writing.

And, oh yes, the bands. Top notch, every single one of them, leaving me with the impression that Charlotte has a brilliant music scene.

I’m listening to The Situationals right now. A fine work — excellent songs. But like so many bands, they have more power on the live stage. Loud, with a fine female vocalist and a pair of aggressive Americana guitarists. (I thank Mike for his tuner, ’cause I had no room for mine in my carry-on luggage. Sorry I kept it up there on stage, Mike. I hadn’t expected Shorty to introduce me while I was tuning up.)

Jared Allan & Company. If I had known what they sounded like, I would have asked to sit in. Jared is a singing voice to be reckoned with. (Not many can get away with covering Ray LaMontagne.) With mandolin accompaniment, and being from the South, Jared’s brand of acoustic Americana makes me envious. It makes me wish my family had kept me near the Ozarks where I was born. (I can strain that loose association all I want, but damn me, I’m a Yankee!)

Charlotte has a Reggae band called Jah Fishermen. While they jammed, Situational Mike and I sat outside ruminating over how difficult Reggae Music is to play. It’s simple sounding, but it’s hard to play. Most musicians can’t. They think they can, but they can’t. Jah Fishermen get it right. And a good reggae band is always a peak spot on any multi-band bill.

Porcelain Mary is temporarily deserted by their Germany-bound lead singer, so they were unable to play their originals. Nevertheless, in true “the-show-must-go-on” ethic, they plowed through a set of classic rock covers–as a power trio–including Big Head Todd’s “Bittersweet.” Two things: 1)This guitar is good enough to pull it off. 2)I’ve thought that some of Big Head Todd’s music would be better with a less-busy rhythm section, as this one is.

Lucky Five!

My own set? I frickin’ love playing solo on big stages — especially to an audience who is waiting for particular songs to sing along. (That would be “Pit Bull Blues” and “Pit Bull Rescue Woman”) The question is always, “But will they like my other songs.” I think this audience did. Having been invited to come so far, I really wanted to please. So I didn’t hold anything back. It was honestly the best I could do.

One last thing: Thank you to Sara’s family for the bed in which I got my best night’s sleep in months.

And I haven’t even yet begun to talk about the things I learned at the booths outside the concert. Stay tuned.

All choked up on Flight 2211

The day after the American Pit Bull Foundation Summer Concert. Flying home from Charlotte, North Carolina.

On the flight, I read, in its entirety, Ken Foster’s memoir The Dogs Who Found Me.

This is not a book for a grown man to read in public. Unless such a grown man doesn’t mind being seen with tears in his eyes.

Ken was one of the APBF Concert’s celebrity guests. I found him gracious and forthcoming, I had to dive right into his book before I returned home to the distracting vicissitudes of life.

It’s a big deal for me to be fraternizing in the greenroom with a published working author. (A lot of folks don’t know that I went to college to become a writer… a real writer. But once I started writing songs, I my challenged attention span led me to 4-minute pieces containing a mere 3 verses, chorus, and a bridge. I remain envious of anybody who does the sublime work of authoring an entire book.)

Ken answered my “professional curiosity” questions. Then he accepted in trade 2 Shipe CD’s for his book (The Song Clearance of course, which has “Pit Bull Blues” on it, and Yellow House.)

I tend to be an awkward fan, and I find it hard to ask for autographs and photos, etc. I recounted an embarrassing story about meeting Al Franken, to whom I once gave a Shipe CD and then thanked him “for accepting my CD as a gift.”

So Ken signed his book: “Thank you for letting me give you this book.”

I spent most of the flight sheepishly alternating between laughter and crying. I finished the book, recovered somewhat with a few deep breaths, and struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me. I told her that I had just performed at a benefit for pit bulls.

She replied, “I have Pit Bulls. Two rescues. One of them has three legs.”

The combination of fatigue and delight must be getting to me. I started laughing, and my eyeballs abruptly starting squeezing out all of their liquid contents.

Shipe Loves McMenamins

For a lot of reasons, it’s good to be back in Oregon–like gigging at McMenamins venues. (This weekend I play a pair of their elite locations: The Grand Lodge in Forest Grove and The Edgefield in Troutdale)

Here is a company that could only bloom in the Northwest, where we have a taste for “from-the-heart” business ideas and a holistic approach to development.

A while back, two craft-ale-brewing brothers started out with pub. They got a tavern and then a cafe. Soon they got a passion for buildings with intriguing local history. This led to old hotels, ballrooms, pool halls, movie theaters, poor farms, defunct elementary schools, churches, brothels, even bathhouses. They turned each location into an outlet unique to its building structure, its history, and its neighborhood. They had local artists paint stream-of-consciousness murals on the interior walls–telling the buildings’ stories.

Some are fine-dining restaurants, some are gritty dive bars, some are fancy resort hotels with spas and golf courses, some are hippy enclaves

The movie theaters are still movie theaters, only with ale & wine. Each outlet is totally unique, and bright spot in its community.

McM’s is also very important to Music–nationally and regionally. While they have big high profile shows at The Crystal Ballroom and The Edgefield, they keep the local music scene thriving with a roster of incredible Northwest talent to play the smaller venues nearly every night of the week.

You’ll find some of these artists on their Great Northwest Music Tour. (My other band,The Renegade Saints, got to be part of GNMT, and we got a live album out of it.)

Now, I’m bragging on this company, because I keep coming back to these things in my home state that I can’t take for granted. In these uncertain economic times, one is proud of a local business done good.

Furthermore, Looking back into my past, I can’t help feeling partly responsible for their success, considering the massive quantities of ale I quaffed in my younger days. Terminator Stout, Hammerhead, Ruby.

I urge my friends from afar: If you visit Oregon–and you should–you will likely see a few McMenamins dates on my calendar. You should come.

Shipe Vid w/ Lisa C. Pollock at Voodoo Lounge

Here is a video, filmed surreptitiously at the House of Blues Voodoo Lounge (3/31/11).

Lisa C. Pollock joins me on “Hard to Believe” (from Villain).

Lisa is my Hollywood go-to lady for duets in L.A. She is the daughter of a great fellow Oregonian from KLRR in Bend–Dori Donoho, champion of independent Northwest Music.

Filmed by Jeff Fleiss.

The song is available here: CD BABY

(FYI: The studio version of “Hard to Believe” is sung by Eugene colleague Halie Loren. I am lucky to work with the best.)

Musical Instrument Museum amazes (Phoenix)

After my protracted CD Release/Promo Campaign, I find myself creatively drained, waiting for the well to fill up again.

Whatever starts those juices flowing again, one never knows what it will be: a good read, a special gig (like the Mayday Pitbull Rescue benefit I just played) …a vacation, or maybe just time. (Time enough to get utterly bored and sick with your idle self.)

Last Saturday, I was moved by a visit to The Musical Instrument Museum, in Phoenix.

If this place doesn’t inspire you, you’re heart has hardened to its core. This is Tony Bennett’s favorite museum in the world. (When it comes to all things musical, you can count on Tony Bennett’s opinion as God’s final word.) Carlos Santana, who is featured in a display, is overwhelmed by it.

The place is huge, exhibiting the music of the entire world–thoroughly and in depth, with reverence and affection for all cultures. With your headset on, you walk through several gigantic rooms–one for each continent–listening to incredible music from all over in the world. Each and every country–even those smaller European nations recently re-partitioned after the break up of the Soviet Union–has its own booth, with video and signage explaining its culture, history, and the engineering of its instruments. This place is a geography and anthropology lesson through music.

When I talk of being inspired, I don’t mean that I am merely enhanced, intellectually, by introduction to unfamiliar and obscure musical forms. I mean that my very soul is touched, swollen with emotions.

As you take in each country, one-by-one, you can’t help think about the human connectedness that defies the boundaries on the map. Moving from Central to North Africa, you witness similar instruments, similar sounds–gradually changing as you head towards the Middle East. Turning East towards India and the Orient, and it changes further, retaining vestiges of what you left behind in Africa. Or continue North, to those “Stan” nations, and to the Himalayas, and the Mongolian Steppe, and hear high mountain jamming Asian style. Or go West, and hear those exotic sounds mutated into Eastern European style among Mediterraneans, Slavs and Czechs, and Gypsies and Balkans.

These micro-thin common threads running through our musical DNA are unmistakable. Back in Africa room, I watched video after video of desert-dwelling and bush-dwelling virtuosos picking handcrafted stringed instruments; I knew I was listening Appalachian banjo-picking. Paste 300-year-old Scottish, Irish & Welsh folk tunes onto African banjo meditations, and you end up with Ralph Stanley.

Let’s face it, music has always been way ahead of us.

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Blue Rebekah video gets posthumous shout out

This morning, it came to my attention that a folk DJ from El Paso (Dan Alloway, of KTEP Folk Fury) posted the “West of Eden” video from John Shipe & The Blue Rebekahs (circa 2005).

This does my heart good. I was in awe of that lineup’s imaginative proportions, and proud of that album’s creativity–knowing it had little commercial value.

It’s surprising that Dan chose this video. But I’m glad he did. While I’m an Americana artist, pushing an Americana CD, I have an alter-ego who grew up on the British Artrock of King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and Moody Blues. “West of Eden” is a dark, epic art-rocker about taking the difficult path in life. We placed it last on the album, destined to wallow in indie obscurity for an eternity.

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