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Sittin’ in on Lap Steel @ Bend Roots Fest (Sunday 9/29)

An entire weekend of sitting in with friends as a side-man! What better way to kick myself back into gear? This afternoon was my third guest spot in as many days.

Friday night I was at Ninkasi in Eugene, perched on my Fender Twin wearing a strapless stratocaster for The Stagger & Sway.

Yesterday afternoon (Saturday), at the Bend (Oregon) Roots Festival, my old friend Brad Tisdel spontaneously invited me to accompany him on lap steel. It was an hour of sweet, sublime, rainy-day folk music, on which I trod delicately. (Mostly swells, paddings and eerie, moody melodies.)

And this afternoon, third and final day of the festival, again I was on lap steel. Sean McGowan let me wade sonically through a diverse dozen-song-set of originals. (In case you’re asking what a few others have asked: No, this is not “Shane MacGowan” from The Pogues who used to give drunken interviews and was in the news for having his rotten teeth fixed.)

Sean McGowan, is a Eugene songster colleague. And like Brad, he is a longtime friend going all the way back to high school in the 80’s. He’s also the Radio Americana DJ at KLCC.

I did have solo slot of my own, after playing with Brad. It was one of my best, deeper and smoother than ever, thanks to a generous audience and a well-warmed-up space. I didn’t even have to make a set list. It felt like a house concert, where it’s easy to read the emotional trajectories of the room. (And that is the sweetest spot to be in.)

That said, what I’m really taking away from this weekend is that I’ve fallen in love with my lap steel all over again, and I will be looking for more opportunities to caress it. And… I dare say, I am re-thinking the bad attitude I have towards my beast-of-an-amplifier: Fender “The Twin,” 35 years old, road-ugly, weighing in at something like a thousand pounds. I can’t tell you the countless times I’ve left it on the sidewalk hoping someone would steal it. But now, it’s sounding pretty frickin’ good!

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“Love Ain’t Easy” (for Valentine’s Day)

Here is a close-up of my latest song. A gift to struggling lovers on Valentine’s Day.

Critically praised Shipe release “Villain” available!

5 Stars on CD Baby!
#1 song on Radio Marabu Hot Rotation.

John Shipe: Villain


Well, the Rapture came and went without much fanfare. I expected trumpets in the sky and four fierce horseman galloping over the heads of us cowering minions. But it seems to have been a quieter event than foretold.

My theory is that the Rapture actually did happen. But so few of us were heavenly qualified to get called up — only a handful of ascetic hermit-types who live off-the-grid. None of us noticed when they were suddenly gone. No pilots vanished into thin air, their planes full of hapless non-believing passengers plummeting to the earth.

I hate to wax glib and snarkey about anything that has to do with religion. So I’ll stop there. Aside from the embarrassment some folks are feeling this week, a few of them are now without jobs, savings accounts, and the belongings they donated to their local church. Rapture-believing students are about to “Incompletes” or “F’s” in their final semester of the school year. These are real people, who are now obligated to accept that they are just like the rest of us, stuck here slogging away to face life’s vicissitudes — both material psychological. I feel bad for ’em, and a little pissed off on their behalf at the charlatan who mislead them. (Lord knows, they’re unlikely to muster up their own righteous wrath against him. Back in my Christian days, we called them “false prophets.” And back in the bible days, men like that were killed in nasty ways.)

Me, I’ve got enough in my life to keep me humble. A failed Rapture appearance is merely another bump in a long a rough road, like fizzled record deal, a poorly attended show, a video that gets only 43 views, or an argument with my wife that I lost.

That’s life isn’t it? Why not keep it simple? (Like those hermit ascetics I’m talking about?)

Northwest Indie Music puts “Villain” in top 10 of 2011

I’m glad I still qualify as a Northwest Musician, so I could be reviewed by a young man named Andrew Fickes of Northwest Indie Music.

Andrew says: Villain” is hands down among the top 10 releases of 2011.”

Villain has been reviewed more than any I’ve released so far. Most of the reviews are kind, some glowing. None, so far, are blanket pannings. But I am truly glad that Andrew likes it, because he’s one of the few critics who pays deep attention to the story-writing. Most critics talk about the “sound.” They refer to content only in passing. And this, in some way, tips off the lack of time and attention lent to the material. Read more »

Shipe in hot rotation

Thanks to a warm referral from Lord Litter (Germany), “Love Belongs to Everyone” is still no. 2 of Radio Marabu’s hot rotation. (In addition to Lord Litter, I should thank Rachel Harrington of Emerging Artist Resources for introducing me to Europe’s supporters of Americana Music. She helped me send Yellow House across the pond, and luckily they remembered me when I sent Villain)

Shipe: ‘Villain’ gets 5 Stars at CD Baby!

Brad says it “chill(s) to the bone.”

Shipe at BMI Koffeehouse loves R & B

A month ago, Tavi from BMI gave me some professional advice: “Go to the BMI open mics!”

So I did. Last night I got a slot at BMI Koffeehouse in Harvelle’s in Santa Monica (thanks to Mouse, the mistress of the venue.)

I was a little nervous, I admit. I would be sharing the stage with L.A. BMI songwriters. But I acquitted myself pretty well in this positive, welcoming environment For damn sure, the songsters were top notch. But they were all different, and comparing them isn’t very instructive.

As my turn approached, I hadn’t decided on what I was gonna play. I planned to connect with the vibe in the room, while playing a different style from the songwriter before me.

The result was “Some Hidden Things” and “Hours Go By.” which was a risk, because they both have the same groove. But I had good reason. “Some Hidden Things,” while maybe not my best song, has compositional trajectory. That is to say, in songwriter lingo, “it goes somewhere.” It’s in the relaxed part of my vocal range, and the chord progression builds tension and releases. A good way to introduce myself as a songwriter who, at the very least, makes musical sense.

I played “Hours” ’cause it has vivid story-oriented lyrics and a catchy melody. But I completely changed it for this spot. Slower, and finger-picked. This served two purposes: 1) It varied from the “Hidden Things” groove, and 2) I needed to sing my frickin’ ass off! ‘Cause before me, a woman named Heidi Rojas raised the bar like a vocal Olympic high-jumper, with two sexy, velvet-funky, original R & B tunes.

I felt that a slow version “Hours” would give me room to do some emotional Americana style crooning of my own.

It felt good. And by the end of the night, I was invited to participate in another event of Mouse’s hosting.

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Shipe compared to Elvis Costello!?

You know you’re doing something right when you get compared to Elvis Costello. This from Tuneraker:

“If you are hankering for mid-period Elvis Costello with a fresh lick of paint then ‘Villain’ is the album for you… his brittle voice delivers cutting asides as astutely as Costello in his prime. Yet, like Costello, he can sound vulnerable and desperate the next moment.”

(Click above for the entire review.)

Shipe with Holly Brook @ Cozmic Pizza

In some ways, Cozmic Pizza is not Eugene’s hippest, most desirable venue. It’s a big, vaulted echo chamber, so you don’t want to bring your rhythm section, unless you’re certain to fill the place with bodies to absorb the excess sonic boominess. However, it’s a right nice place for a Holly Brook / Shipe pair of intimate solo performances. Other venues in town have more built-in attendance, but it’s good to play for an audience that came to listen.

It was a decent crowd, between Holly’s considerable Facebook following, and my local cronies.

As for my set, it was a solid short one, with two highlights. First, I tried a new song: “No Use Crying Over a Spilt Life.” It’s a sad piece about dreams slipping away, musically influenced by the Irish musicians I chummed around with in North San Diego County.

For my second trick, I forced my wife Amy Wray to join me on the debut our country duet, “Hard to Believe.” This brought the house down. Video for this is forthcoming, and you’ll see why.

About Holly:she is a special artist. Looks good, sounds good. A consummate professional–on piano mostly, but adds guitar and lap dulcimer. Her voice is impeccable, haunting. With a theatre background, so she knows how to make the stage her home.

I met Holly’s mother, Candy, back in November while doing a two-night stand at Bandon Bill’s in Bandon, Oregon. She too is a professional musician–an acoustic diva in the style of Joni Mitchell. (She joined her daughter on stage for an amazing version of “Both Sides, Now.” It was one of those cover-tune moments when you say to yourself, “Wow, I forgot how good this song really was.”) Candy warned me about Holly, that she would be coming through the Northwest, and would probably impress the hell out of me. Parents are predictably proud, but in this case, they come off like colleagues just as much as family.

At one point, Holly introduced a song as being inspired by the “Twilight” series. That movie has the potential to make me vomit in my mouth a bit, but her song was outstanding–the best of her set, with Radiohead-like cadences in a soprano voice. Chills. (She is forgiven for the lapse in pop culture taste.)

Before the show, Holly was not very talkative, sitting quietly with her mother. Everybody is different in the way they deal with pre-show tension. I tend to be excitable and gregarious–if in a distracted way. (Let’s go ahead and call it manic.)

What impresses me is when artists take seriously their presentation, taking care of their performance to the utmost, even in the humblest of venues. Coffee Houses, taverns, restaurants… It always matters, especially when people pay to see and hear you.

After the show, she was more chatty, as if released and relieved. I was glad to hear more of her story.

Holly Brook was a signed Warner artist, frustrated in that major record labels typical frustrate their artists. Now she is on her own, managing her own career, which she seems ready to relish–particular the ability to release her own music any time she wants. She records on her own, at her home studio, which intrigues me, because, guess what, so do I.