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John Shipe: Villain

Shipe SW Tour Days 9 &10 – Race to Austin: gig un-booked!

Insomnia hit me bad after my Thursday night Pecan Grill show. I tossed and turned in an El Paso Motel 6. On one hour of sleep, I was awake at dawn to drive 8 1/2 hours for my opening slot at Gypsy Lounge in Austin.

As I drove out of El Paso, along the Rio Grande, I was suddenly hit by a an unpleasant surprise. Although Mapquest had promised me that I would arrive in time, I hadn’t noticed that the drive time was based on West Texas speed limits! Sure, you can drive 600 miles in 8 hours… going 80 miles per hour!

I don’t like riding my beat up 1990 Toyota Corolla Wagon so hard, full of gear. But what could I do? I’m a professional. I pony-expressed it all the way through “no-country-for-old-men,” freaking out the whole time, listening to my car’s every rattle, whistle, squeak and any utterance of old-automobile pain. By the time I got to Austin, my beloved vehicle had acquired 37% more rickitiness. (Isn’t that the technical term? Or is rickiticity?)

The good thing about the drive is the condition of Texas roads. They are so smooth. Either the great state of Texas has impeccable road priorities, or Rick Perry makes good use of Obama’s Recovery Act funding.

When I arrived at the Gypsy Lounge, guess what!? I was not slated on the bill. In fact, there was no “bill” at all. A dj was scheduled to start spinning at 10:00 pm. For the moment, however, I wasn’t even thinking about performing. I wanted a refreshment. Like range-riding cowboy just off the dusty trail, busting through the saloon doors. “Bartender, give me a drink!”

I played anyway. The owner asked me, “Are you good?”

“Yes, I’m good.”

For the time being, I have no will to get angry at my booking contact. I’m mostly here in Austin for the Pit Bull Events this weekend, hosted by Austin Love-a-Bull.

The V.I.P. Kickoff Party is tonight at 7:00. And the Texas-Size Pittie Pride Parade & Festival is tomorrow.

Shipe in Las Cruces @ Pecan Grill – SW Tour Day 8

My first New Mexican gig.

I heard four differing accounts of Las Cruces: a tiny border town, a lonely desert outpost, an art community tucked away in the mountains (like Jerome, AZ), a resort town (like Taos).

Nope. It’s actually a University Town. Pretty big, pretty regular, pretty spread out. Looking at the Pecan Grill website, I imagined a quaint little adobe Bistro/Brew Pub, with a tiny stage in the corner of an intimate engaging room. I was mistaken. The place is huge, with several spacious rooms and high ceilings. It’s more restaurant-like than pub-like. And chock full of beautiful people looking spectacular.

Although the intrinsic intimacy quotient isn’t high, an artist can make a connection one of those rooms. I, however, felt like leaving the patrons alone rather than “talk at them.” I was told by one listener that I could have afforded a bit more engagement had I been in the mood.

I was well-paid, and well-taken care of by Shawn the manager. He is a musician himself, from a reggae/ska outfit called Liquid Cheese. So he knows the travails of the touring artist. In fact, that’s why he booked this out-of-town road warrior, on an off night, in lieu of his regular roster — out of respect and the desire to help a traveller on his way. (Liquid Cheese, although base in El Paso, did much of their work in Northern California where Reggae reigns supreme.)

As a touring artist, I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: When you greet us well, treat us well, and make us feel at home, it means as much as paying us well.

Interesting side-note: In New Mexico, it is against the law to serve alcohol to musicians during the performance. They can drink as much as they want before the gig, and plenty more after the gig. But they cannot drink during the gig, not even at set break. (New Mexico cares about the quality what they put on their stages.)

Shipe Southwest Tour Day 6 – Tucson

Mix desert hospitality w/ Southern hospitality, and you get my Tucson homestay experience. I was going to camp in the highlands last night, but I got such a late start out of Phoenix (catching up on business in a Starbucks for several hours). I decided to take it easy and impose on some old friends. They had waiting for me: shrimp & mushroom quiche, Black Russians (the drink, not the ethnic group) good conversation, a comfortable bed, and the promise of sausage & biscuits in the morning.

I should be ashamed of myself. But camping can wait for New Mexico and West Texas.

Meanwhile, I gotta say I’m impressed with Tucson. I didn’t expect it to be quite so “alternative.” I found my way into a coffee shop called Shot in the Dark, with anarchic political paraphernalia, edgy art all over the walls, and a half-naked moustachioed barista with a giant tattoo covering half of his bald head. I suddenly felt I wasn’t as far from the Pacific Northwest as I thought. (Although a barista in Portland or Seattle is probably in a sweater and raincoat by now.)

I am looking forward to my solo gig tonight at Plush Lounge.

Shipe in Phoenix @ Turf Pub – SW Tour Day 5

This being my first Southwest tour, I’m not expecting huge turnouts at my regular venue gigs. So, I thank my Mayday Pit Bull Rescue friends for adding up to at nearly half the attendance last night at Turf Irish Pub. In gratitude, I gave them my best musical effort. And I left out most of the canine-oriented songs, which they had heard the day before anyway.

A note about how I got this gig. The owner of The Turf — Andy — is fan of my old band The Renegade Saints, and a good friend of my longtime bass player Jerry-Groove Abelin. Andy was there when Jerry introduced himself to me over a decade ago, having heard that I was looking for a bassist. (The particular Saints’ tune that Andy is a fan of is “Know By Now.” What a softie, huh!)

So, like I said, attendance was sparse. (Let’s blame it on Halloween weekend.) That was expected, so I appreciate the booking.. I wanna come back and fill the place.

I had a nice moment with a new fan. Shortly before I went on, I was explaining to Richard (of Richard & Kyleigh the homestays/auto repair shuttle) that I rarely play “Sun Dog Ranch Road,” because I have trouble with the fingerpicking. I wrote that song — and many others like it — with musical hooks meant to be played by other instruments. When performing solo, it can be difficult to suggest those hooks with complex “right hand” work, while holding down chords and basslines. (Not to mention singing along with such guitar work.) At the end of the night, a fellow came up to me and said, “Man, you have the greatest right hand!”

Yes! Hard work and concentration pay off.

Shipe Southwest Tour Day 3? 4?

Woke up in a Motel 6 in Blythe, CA. By the grace of desert hospitality (that should be a bluegrass band), I will make my gig tonight in Phoenix at Frank Murray’s Turf Irish Pub.

Yesterday’s Pit Bull fundraiser (at the Franciscan Renewal Center — a real-life monastery) went smoothly, although I was sleepwalking through much of the day. (I shared it with an original band called Arbor Circle, the kind of act that would fare nicely sharing a bill with The Renegade Saints. The singer reminded me of Jerry Joseph, but with a happier vibe.)

Afterwards, I was fixin’ to catch a Greyhound back to Blythe. But a couple of Mayday volunteers had a different idea; they would drive me. (This means 5 hours out of their weekend, after working their assess off for free all day.)

Ducati Motorbike-mechanic-John & Baja-cycling Curt escorted me back to AZ-CAL border, bought me dinner Denny’s while I waited for Blythe Ace mechanics to finish Saturday races at the local speedway and bring my car to Motel room at 10:30 pm. On the way, John & Curt schooled me on motor sports, both of them experts — John working for GO AZ motorcylces. (Did you know that you get sent to Italy to learn how to work on Ducati’s? And by the way, the owner of GO AZ is also the owner of

That’s what I love about this life. Every where I go, I meet all different kinds of folks and learn about all different kinds of stuff. John & Curt tell me that I should write a book. But all I ever learn is just how ignorant I am about what goes on around this huge country.

Broke Down in the Desert

I left Sacramento at 7:00 a.m., in order to make Phoenix on time for a good night sleep before Saturday’s Mayday Pit Bull Rescue benefit.

I was making good time. L.A. of course slowed me down, but sportstalk radio about the Cardinals’ Game 6 kept me in a good mood.

East of Palm Springs, almost to Arizona, I was listening to Game Seven. Bottom of the 6th inning. Suddenly, the radio died. Dash lights dimmed. Headlights started to fade. And finally, my trusty 1990 Toyota Corolla Wagon died altogether — Alternator.

The streak is over. Not a single on-the-road breakdown since I went solo, until now. (My old Subaru Loyale broke down several times back when I had a band.)

Now I’m sitting here at Denny’s in Blythe. The Arizona-California border. Day 2 of tour. 8:00 pm. And the gig is tomorrow is at Noon! 160 miles away.

But the show must go on. And I’m trying to figure out a way to make the gig. If it were my own gig, in a bar or coffeehouse, I might feel free to cancel and get a hotel room. But this is a benefit performance for some good folks who are counting on me. I’m figuring out a Greyhound bus schedule. Or maybe I’ll just go out onto Interstate 10 with my guitar, a flashlight and a big sign that says “Gig in the morning in Phoenix!”

The car was towed — with all my gear in it, everything that’s important to the basic infrastructure of my life! Merle the tow truck driver, who also goes by Dale, has taken care of it. It’s in the Ace tow yard, secure, instead of the Ace Auto Repair parking lot. (Also, he isn’t fazed by my black nail polish. He used to be a DJ in Pennsylvania where my wife grew up, and in Daytona, FL where he rocked Spring Break.)

So, what happens next? A solution I didn’t even consider. The Pit Bull Rescuers in Phoenix are coming to pick me up. 2 1/2 hours each way! Richard & Kyleigh, my homestays.

Although it sucks to be broken down in the middle of the desert, this is the kind of treatment that really makes a guy feel worthwhile. A thick thread of gratitude runs through the frustration and anxiety of the situation.

Shipe in Sacramento – The World Series Gig

It was only the most exciting post-season game in the history of major league baseball — between the St. Louis Cardinals & the Texas Rangers. It ought to have ended earlier in the evening, but the game went into extra-innings as the Birds fought and clawed, red in tooth & nail, to come back — thrice — and win the game.

Doug Cash & I shook our heads in disbelief and exasperation as we traded sets at the Fox-n-Goose. (I like to stagger four 35-minute sets — two each — at double solo bills. That way, both acts get to play in front of both the early sober audience and late intoxicated audiences… There are advantages and disadvantages to each.)

Now, I am a rabid baseball fan. And a boy from Missouri (although I bleed Royal Blue more than Cardinal Red). So I was fully engaged in the ballgame from the stage. I shared the moment openly with my would-be audience. Why fight the World Series for attention? Can you imagine playing a solo set in a corner set at Hooters during the Superbowl? (Well, it wasn’t quite like that.)

This has happened to me a few times before, in certain bars or pubs that wax sports bar-ish on select evenings. I once watched the Oregon Ducks lose to Boise State from a stage in Central Idaho, when our fullback punched a BSU Bronco in the face.

Regardless of the night’s divided activity and interest, we performed enthusiastically. We are professionals after all. I get the impression that Doug Cash never phones in a performance. He has an amazing, professional singing voice, like he could have worked at Motown. He sang mostly original, semi-jazz pop tunes with unique lyrics, from his CD Tough Nut to Crack. Among his cover tunes, however, his Paul McCartney is impeccable. I found myself tossing out my own “Michelle” just for kicks, feeling a bit sheepish about it.

Southwest Tour – Heading Out

Woke up in Ashland, OR where I paid a visit to my good friend John Grimshaw (director of “Pit Bull Rescue Woman & “Yellow House”). I got here via a highway adopted by NORML. (Something you’ll only find in The State of Jefferson, which includes Humboldt County. Ah, the Great Northwest!)

Good to see John again, who had to leave Hollywood behind — temporarily — just as I have, until further project infrastructure is robustified. We commiserated, planned, theorized, and encouraged one another, and assured ourselves that we would soon release the second episode of Laurel Canyon Back Porch Variety Hour.

First gig of tour is tonight in Sacramento, with Doug Cash, at Fox-n-Goose Pub. I will be well rested, having taking a few hours off the long drive from Eugene.

Shipe w/ 7 Devils @ Hogan’s

Once again Scott Cargill’s musical cohorts (7 Devils) lifted me up for a good time at Hogan’s. I won’t go into it too much, lest I keep repeating myself. But I must mention what a pleasant surprise were Fiddlin’ Nathanael Tucker’s un-rehearsed harmony vocals — especially on “Villain,” which is appropriate, ’cause he sports a for-real dastardly moustache.

Attendance was lighter than usual. (I hope Chef Tony wasn’t disappointed.) Too bad really, ’cause y’all missed a funky-grass acoustic version of Al Toribio’s “Million Dollar $mile!” (Damn, that hook is hard to play on medium-gauge bronze-wound strings!)

Disappointing was the absence of Jim Laws on percussion. (Family emergency — turned out okay.)

Next Gigs: Dublin Pub (PDX) Friday, Boon’s Treasury (Salem) Saturday