Songwriter's Square

Songwriter’s Square Newsletter – May 2016

May The Fourth Be With You

In this issue: Remembering Merle Haggard, Podcasts,
Music & Magic, City Roots, RMF’s MTV Days and more!

May 15th Songwriter’s Square features three incredible songwriters
as they talk about their music and perform in an intimate “in-the-round” setting.
PHIL WARD: One of only a few artists in folk music performing comedy and probably the only person in folk music doing comedy this twisted and unique. His risky, rapid-fire rhymes, oddball topics and deadpan delivery bring to mind Tom Lehrer and Loudon Wainwright III.
– Sing-Out Magazine
NORMANDIE WILSON: From San Diego. She’s frequently compared to vintage classics (Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, Astrud Gilberto). Her sound falls sweetly on the ears of fans of classic 60’s pop, lounge, bossa nova, and modern jazz chanteuses like Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, and Diana Krall.
ERIC KUFS: Los Angeles based singer/songwriter Eric Kufs is one part crooner, one part protest singer and every part artist. He’s main songwriter for indie folk band Common Rotation and has released six full-length albums.
With your host, Bill Berry!
Songs, stories and surprises with three terrific songwriters
and one mediocre host!
Don’t wait! Order your tickets online right NOW! CLICK HERE
You get 20% off your online purchase with discount code (Bill)
Songwriter’s Square 
Sunday, May 15th

Seating at 6:30PM – Show starts at 7:00PM (sharp!)
Always at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre and Cafe
in Silverlake, 2106 Hyperion, LA, CA 90027
And now, on with the show!
What’s Happening…
Gary Stockdale just finished his crowdfunding campaign for the new musical, Bumpersticker. Casting is happening now and the show will have it’s premier during the Hollywood Fringe Festival… Our pal, composer, guitarist and rock icon Wayne Kramer played some zesty guitar on the new Cheap Trick album. A benefit for his charity Jail Guitar Doors is slated for September 9th at the Ford Theater in Hollywood… Artist, writer and songwriter Charlotte Dean (she’s co-written lots of tunes with mom Tracy Newman) has started an Indigogo campaign to raise funds to help pay for the filming of her very funny show, Charlotte’s Shorts during this years Hollywood Fringe Festival for a TV pilot. There’s lots of very fun and funny perks available too. Check it out HERE… The songs of Harriet Schock will be celebrated in a concert by singer Pat Whitman on May 19th at the E-Spot. Details HEREAlex Stein is directing a video for the title cut of Bill Berry’s new album, Awkward Stage (CD release date is July 22)…

A Memory of
Merle Haggard

It’s 1975 or so, and I’m sitting in my car outside The Groundling Theatre on Melrose with Rowena Muldavin  At the time I was teaching song improv and Rowena was my student. We were both big Merle Haggard fans and he had just released his umpteenth record. I put the cassette in my car player and we actually sat and listened to the whole thing in my car, occasionally nodding to each other in mutual awe. I loved that Rowena and I had the same level of appreciation for the Hag. How often do you sit in your car and listen to someone’s whole album these days? Rowena eventually became a country DJ and now has a sweet show called “All Things Country” on Heartland Public Radio. She plays a lot of Merle Haggard, and sometimes my stuff too.
One of the new songs we heard that day was “Always Wanting You,” a Merle Haggard original. I know it’s not his most popular or well-known recording, (it was #1 on the country charts for two weeks back then,) but for me, that dreamy song, in that particular recording, serves up perfectly everything I love about Merle Haggard’s voice: His easy vibrato – like it’s just falling out of him, his luxurious low tones, his natural phrasing. If you want to understand why most country music fans love Merle Haggard’s voice, listen to this song. I can’t find a live video from that time, but here’s the album cut. 

I once heard him say in an interview that one night he was hanging out with Dolly Parton and they were attracted to each other, but they were both attached and didn’t act on it. He went home (or back to his hotel?) and wrote two songs. “Always Wanting You,” and another called “I’ve Got a Yearning.” I don’t know if he was telling the truth, but the songs sure tell that story with simplicity and clarity. Here’s “I’ve Got a Yearning” which is a hard recording to find.
In case you live under a rock, Merle Haggard just passed away – April 6, 2016. It was his 79th birthday. I’m not going to write about his history, his awards, hits and personal facts. (Randy Lewis  LA Times, April 7, 2016) wrote a wonderful article about him covering much of that.
Here are videos of some of my favorite Merle Haggard songs. First, my daughter Charlotte Dean’s favorite Haggard song: “What Am I Gonna Do With the Rest of My Life?”
Here’s early Merle on the Porter Wagoner show, playing acoustic guitar. His style is still forming. The song starts at around 4:52. “Today I Started Loving You Again”.
Here’s Merle (introduced by Glen Campbell) doing impressions of Marty Robbins and other country icons.  Look how Glen Campbell towers over him! Merle does Marty Robbins and Hank Snow. Then he does Buck Owens and Johnny Cash who both join them. Everyone towers over him!
I always loved that Merle Haggard had the smarts to record this next song, because it’s such a woman’s lyric, but it’s great sung by a man, don’t you think? “You Take Me for Granted,” written by Leona Williams.
Here’s a great version of Merle’s much covered song, “Silver Wings:”.
Here’s Ben Haggard, Merle’s youngest son. He’s been playing guitar in his dad’s band for the past few years, so he’s pretty seasoned by now. I look forward to watching his development.
And finally, how can I write about Merle Haggard without including my own tribute song to him? Here’s a live video from 2009 with the Reinforcements. (Lorie Doswell, Gene Lippmann, John Cartwright, and in this case, David Stone on piano.) We’re at the now defunct Talking Stick. Here’s “Table Nine” (from my CD “I Just See You.”) Video shot by the father of the girls  in Ramekega.

A Word About Making Your CD 
by Art PodellAs songwriters, we all have vivid imaginations.  It’s our inspiration and our reward all wrapped up in one package. Then finally, you’ve somehow put the money together to record for posterity – heaven.
Be careful – it’s a trap. Who and what you really are as an artist may not be what you are hearing in your head when it comes to a final recorded product.  “I’ve always wanted to hear myself as the lead singer of “(fill in your favorite artist here”) – so here’s my chance!”.
Here’s some reality.  With the exception of a few self-contained bands, almost none of the great artists we’ve come to lionize over the years were ever allowed within ten feet of a record company recording studio without an assigned producer. Not Ever.  From the Beatles to Dylan.  The ability to write and sing and the ability to make the decisions that result in a unique and representative recorded product are two separate and distinct talents and just because you may have one, this does not mean you have the other. You most likely don’t.  Qualified producers are very rare.
So please take it from an ‘old record guy’ who’s performed and produced on dozens of chart albums, demos, and singles, and an FM radio DJ who listens to scores of new CD releases each month. Scores. If your head is bursting with music and you’ve decided to become the next Paul Simon or Joni Mitchell, etc., look for a qualified producer. Pay him or her so your final product will be pure you for better or for worse.   Remember, great singers are very rare. When you hear one, you know it.  You may or may not be in that category. That’s for you to decide. You may be a better writer than you are a singer. The law of averages seems to indicate that. Either way, a simple and honest representation of who you are is the arrow that reaches the heart.  If you make sure that anyone listening to your recorded music instantly recognizes you, then you’ve done your job. The rest most likely will be money wasted on self-indulgence that just clouds the message.  Find a producer who agrees with the above. You’ll be grateful.

Music & Magic, Fingers & Hands

by Craig Lincoln

It was billed as a private afternoon “Music & Magic House Concert” featuring singer-songwriter Ali Handal and her “magic husband” – the Magic Castle’s own Andrew Goldenhersh
In a beautiful backyard setting, Ali showcased well-crafted, songs with strong melodies and lyrics seasoned with poignancy, humor, heart-felt wisdom, and combinations thereof; impressive command of her powerfully expressive voice; and rock-solid guitar chops worthy of rhythm or lead in any band.   Bassist Bikki Johnson anchored Ali’s acoustic guitar, and provided just the right amount of groove.

Ali’s “Magician man” Andrew began his delightfully mystifying act by humorously engaging us all in his own “warm-up” exercises for fingers and hands.  “Clasp your hands together, fingers interlaced,” he said, demonstrating.
“Now, reverse your fingers,” he commanded.  Laughter rippled as we all struggled with how weird it felt to clasp our fingers “the other way.”“Now alternate, back and forth, increasing your speed!”  His moving hands smoothly became a blur while I kept tripping over my own fingers.  He then gave a brief demonstration of “finger fitness” exercises before proceeding to produce butterflies from tattoos, silver dollars from thin air, and surprised gasps from the audience.I cornered Andrew after the show, to get the low-down on his hand exercises.“Actually, he said, that’s how I met Ali.  I once mentioned HandHealth in my Magic Castle show when she was in the audience.  She came up after and told my that she, too, had been using the exercises.  The rest is history!”

I checked out the website, and after only five days of fun and challenging “finger fitness” a few times a day, I can already feel the improvement in my hand and finger strength, dexterity, and flexibility on the guitar.

I’ve picked up tips from guitar players before, but this was the first time I’ve improved my guitar playing by “magic!” Check it out for yourself at

Having caught brief performances by Ali here and there over the last couple years, I have been eager to catch a full set.  And with magic added to the mix, I was determined to wrangle an invitation!

Confessions of a Serial Songwriter
Farewell CD
by Shelly PeikenLast week someone handed me their EP. I tossed it into my purse and the next day when I went to have a listen I was perplexed. I walked all around my house looking for a slot to slip it into.
Continue reading

Theatre & Cabaret
Theatre Tidbits
by David Holmes
As we head into the theatrical award season, here’s a few tidbits that caught my attention from the musical world.ORIGINAL CASTING
The Hollywood Bowl concert production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid has added a third performance, for Monday, June 6 in Los Angeles starring some of Disney’s original musical stars including Jodi Benson, (the original voice of Ariel), Susan Egan (Meg in Hercules) and Brad Kane (the singing voice of Aladdin) among others.  The performances on June 3 and 4, with a 71-piece orchestra and 12-person choir led by Michael Kosarin. The company for these shows will be led by Sara Bareilles, alongside Rebel Wilson, John Stamos, Tituss Burgess and other Broadway stars.CAN DO NO WRONG
On the heels of his Pulitzer award, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is officially on board to star in Disney’s upcoming film sequel to Mary Poppins, opposite Emily Blunt in the the title role (above). Set in depression era London 20 years before the 1964 film, it reunites the team behind Disney’s recent cinematic adaptation of Into the Woods, with Rob Marshall directing and John DeLuca and Marc Platt as producers.  No word on who’s going to be writing the script, music and lyrics although with the casting of Miranda…are we about to see a rapping Mary Poppins?ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR…SHARING?
Speaking of “Hamilton”, (and everybody is now-a-days) the most interesting and far-reaching story is that the producers of this hit show bowed to pressure last week and said they would share some of the musical’s profits with original cast members. The deal is a major victory for the cast and could have ripple effects in the theater industry, where the huge success of “Hamilton,” and the lack of profit-sharing, has catalyzed a growing debate about actor compensation.The agreement means that actors will have a piece of “the profit stream” from a show that is generating close to $500,000 in profits every week. Details need to be hammered out but the profits from “Hamilton,” will only multiply as it spins off tours in other cities and around the world.  Of course, this has prompted an uncomfortable debate within the theater industry about money and credit for performers who help create hit shows.

As expected, this issue is already having a ripple effect elsewhere in the business.  Disney and the Public Theatre have already postponed and/or changed their initial developmental contracts for several new musicals.  As for the future, who knows…but it appears as if that Broadway profit “pie” is going to be chopped up into ever smaller pieces.



Welcome City Roots
Getting a new series up and running.
by Dana Charnofsky
Buddha said that all life is suffering and the struggle to overcome suffering. Well, we’d probably all agree that music is one of the greatest healers. We are so fortunate to be part of a music scene with quality live music events all around us! If you’re suffering — paying taxes, achy back, out of work, broken heart — you can go out and hear live music and maybe you’ll have a shift in perspective. Of course, with more venues where musicians can play and audiences can enjoy music, the more opportunities we have to heal! Well, not only is Bill Berry’s Songwriter Square back in full force, but another wonderful series is poking it’s new shoots out of the fertile arts soil this Spring: City Roots.This new monthly Americana music series is being held in Hollywood. The venue, Hope Lutheran Church of Hollywood (above), is a cozy space with a stage and a good sound system. There will be featured acts, guest artists, dinner and beverages provided with the price of admission AND a community song-circle after the concert. If you’re a musician feel free to bring your instrument and join in the post-show song-circle! This is like a jam, but everyone takes turns playing and usually people play their own original tunes. Another chance to share and receive the healing power of music!City Roots was created by Alexia Salvatierra who has been innovative in our music scene for years, producing singer/songwriter concerts all over the greater LA area. When I first brought her to hear the music that had become so integral to my life (it was at Garret Swayne‘s weekly Main Street Songwriter Showcase, which he faithfully produced for eight years) she was blown away, saying, “Why didn’t I know this existed?!” Within a couple months of attending shows and mixing with musicians she stated, “This (community) is where I can be myself, this is Home.” Now, years later, she wants to recreate that powerful sense of “coming home” for others by producing concerts that help build community.Each show is a performance and it’s also a chance to come be with old friends, make new friends, eat together, heal together, and also make music together. I’m co-producing the May show with Alexia, to help it take root! I believe this can be a great new series and if we ALL make an effort we can look back proudly and say, “I helped get that series going! I came to the first shows.” When you give you get and supporting a brand new venue is a perfect way to create more options for you, whether you’re a live music fan or musician.The May 14th concert features a co-bill of the illustrious Mark “Pocket” Goldberg and stunning go-getter Jaime Wyatt. They’ll surely breathe some life into this new music series! Come hear them and you’ll be grateful you got up off the couch. And you’ll know you were a part of a community helping City Roots take root.

Dana Charnofsky is a local scene maker and veteran show producer. We’re excited to have her writing for the Songwriter’s Square Newsletter. Welcome Dana! -BB

Gig Guide
May 2016

5/1 – Paul Hefti
5/1 – Adams’ Pack Station Barnyard Jamboree
5/1 – Jane Kinsey, Mitch Ellis, David Lucky
5/2 – Jelly
5/3 – Annie Boxell, Blue Dolphins, Jaq Mackenzie, Non Duo, Tearaways
5/6 – Prince Tribute

5/6 – Severin Browne, Beth Fitchet Wood
5/6 – Eclectic Music Festival Kick Off Party
5/6 – Mason Summit, Hazel Moon, Spencer Shapeero, Church Lieu, Samantha Ozeas
5/6 – Lois Blaisch, Jon Woodhead Band
5/7 – Tracy Newman, Rich McCulley, Ed Munter and Jeb Lipson
5/7 – Belles of the Levee
5/7 – Bowie Tribute
5/8 – Steve Postell & All-Star Band
5/8 – Jeff Berkley
5/9 – Gregg Sutton
5/12 – Note By Note Songwriter’s Night
5/13 – The Luckys
5/14 – Amy Obenski
5/14 – Mark Pocket Goldberg, Jamie Wyatt
5/14 – Bill Berry Band, Cynthia Carle, Richard Byford
5/14 – Alice Wallace
5/14 – Ragged Union
5/14 – Cherry Bluestorms, Plasticsoul
5/15 – Supertokes
5/19 – Pat Whiteman sings songs of Harriet Schock
5/19 – Marina V
5/20 – Lovers & Poets Album Release
5/21 – Tom Kell & Paula Fong, Lauren Adams
5/28 – Seb
5/30 – Deb Ryder
5/31 – Tiffany BaileyOther Venues:
Kulak’s Woodshed
Coffee Gallery
Pasadena Folk Music SocietyGet your next gig in the Gig Guide!
Invite me to your Facebook event.

Songwriter’s Square April 17th

Great thanks to the folks who came out to support Songwriter’s Square this past month. We featured the excellent vocals and guitar wizardry of Ali Handal, the grizzled folk and blues of James Houlahan and the always entertaining and hilarious David Lucky.
We also recorded the show for an upcoming podcast! (Keep yer eyes and ears open!) See a ton of fun photos from the show HERE. -BB

New Album Release
James Houlahan Multitudes
by Steve Wagner

I was driving in my truck, which is where I do most of my music listening. The volume on the radio was down because I’d been on the phone (using a hands-free device, of course). The call had been over for some minutes when I suddenly became aware of an infectious groove somewhere in the cabin. “What’s that?” I thought, as I reached hungrily for the volume knob.

It was Houlahan’s new CD, Multitudes, which I’d left in the player the night before.

I turned it up. The song was “Rock Star (Dedicated to the Ruined Heroes of the Sunset Strip).” I danced along to it, as much as one can dance and still stay between the lines on the road.

Don’t be fooled by that song title: Houlahan’s groove is anything but hair metal. What you get instead are choice bits of late-sixties Dylan, Let It Be, Let It Bleed, early Creedence, the clanking of Rain Dogs-era Tom Waits, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco noise.

James Houlahan blends his influences with a strong melodic sense and vivid imagery to create a strong (and sometimes strange) brew: a trumpet duets with a violin over throbbing bass and distorted vocal on “Mystery Earth Song”; a grinding slide guitar fights to escape an angry beehive on “Marcy’s Lament”; and fat, seventies lead-guitar wailing blots out the string section on “Rock Star.”

Lyrically, Houlahan’s lines have an almost biblical or mythical sense of mystery and beauty, such as in “Mystery Earth Song,” where he sings of how “from my chest grew a purple rose that fire could not destroy.” His imagery captures the imagination while his music tickles the backbone.

Multitudes swings and intrigues. You might even shed a tear. (I did.)

If you’re like me, you listen to podcasts like This American Life, Radiolab, The Nerdist and WTF,  among others. I love ’em. I listen to them when I walk the dog, drive, or just hanging out at home. TV is so lame. Podcasts are great! Entertainment for the mind.
In my search, I’ve found some terrific podcasts for songwriters and indi musicians. One of the best I’ve found is the DIY Musician Podcast. Presented by the good folks at CDBaby, the DIY Musician’s Podcast offers episodes on the Top 5 Album Release Mistakes, How To Double Your Merch Sales, How To Craft Your Story (PR), and Tips On Fan Funding. And so many more!

The DIY Musician’s Podcast has great knowledgeable hosts and a fun, fast moving format. Recommended for finding out a few new tricks while you’re walking the dog. I download mine at ITunes but you can listen to them right here at their website. Happy listening! – BB

The Numbers Game
by Peggy Glenn

We’re all chasing numbers: ticket sales for a concert, views of our YouTube videos, CD sales, ranking in Reverbnation, subscribers to our newsletters or mailing lists, likes on Facebook, followers on Twitter, contributions to a fan-funded campaign, endless variations on 8 notes.
The best way to boost our own numbers is to reach out to a friend and boost theirs – the reciprocal action is magical.
Streetlight Cadence, (above) a young quartet I discovered at a music conference, is nominated for EIGHT separate Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards for their THIRD album done with a Kickstarter campaign that raised FIFTEEEN THOUSAND dollars. One category is Entertainer of the Year. That’s a fan-voted award, one per email address until May 6. Please vote NOW! They’re also asking all fans to sign up and boost their video likes in AireLive an online/app music popularity/fan contest with a $300,000 cash prize that could pay their rent for a year. Deets in this quick YouTube tutorial.
Did you know that YouTube has free production facilities right here in LA for anyone with 10,000 subscribers? I’m at 856 right now and could use just a hair over NINE THOUSAND more. Please click and subscribe.  NSFW, don’t open with young or offendable ears around.
Did you know that the Lyric Hyperion seats 60 people? If you’re headed to the May Songwriter’s Square show, invite a friend. NO EMPTY SEATS!
Britta Lee Shain, she of the brand new memoir about her life and love with Bob Dylan in the late 1980s, is a twitter newbie. Please show her some love in the twitterverse right here. She’s got a brand new music CD coming out at the very same time. That girl has been putting in 20 HOUR days for months. Let’s show her some LA love.

Mom Hen’s Tips
Please Don’t Invite Me To Your Facebook Event
Seriously.  Don’t.  UNLESS you live in or are touring near Eugene, Oregon; then by all means, please invite me to your event. Otherwise, please don’t.  It’s not that I’m bothered by them; I’m not.  I’m flattered that you want me to attend your show.  But what you are doing without realizing it, is limiting how many of your actual area friends you can invite to your event. By inviting anyone who does not live in the immediate area of your show, who cannot possibly attend, you have used up a precious slot that could have included someone from your area who COULD attend.  And they may never get the notice in their newsfeed … and there’s a missed chance.

Another reason is that Facebook has now limited how many invitations you can send in a month which depends on how many Facebook friends you have.  Those with 3,000 to 5,000 Facebook friends can only invite up to 500, but if you have multiple events in a month, you are then limited to 50 invitations.

In addition, if there are multiple acts playing one event, it really works to everybody’s benefit if there is one event page (created via your business page; see the April Songwriter’s Square newsletter for my post about that) used by the venue, the showrunner, and all of the acts being presented.  When everybody involved in the show invites their area friends, more people are reached.  And when each act posts to the event page wall to talk about the upcoming show or give a sample of your music, you are reaching everybody who has been invited except those who have declined the invitation or opted out of notifications.  
An easy way to make sure you are only inviting people in the area of each show is to create location lists.  For those states that you frequently tour in, it’s best to break down the lists into neighborhoods (like CA LA Hollywood, CA LA West Side, CA LA Valley, CA LA Thousand Oaks area, CA LA Simi Valley/Moorpark area, etc.)  When you break down your friends list into location lists, it’s also easier to invite your friends from those areas especially if those lists are for 200 or less friends – then you don’t have to click one by one by one and you can just press “Select All” making your potential carpal tunnel syndrome disappear with one click!
Another way to make sure that your fans are alerted to your events, is to request (via your monthly mailing list posts as well as on your Facebook profile every so often) that your friends subscribe to your events so that they will be alerted as soon as you add a new show.  They can accept or decline immediately without having been invited, which frees up more precious invitation space.  Oh, and always give them the direct link to the events tab from your Business Page.
For more information please contact Jeannette at Mother Hen Promotions.

Writing Authentic Fiction
Diana Weynand

I was working on a new song recently that I just knew was a man’s story. He – the singer inside my head – sang, “Just tryin’ to be a better man.” It fit the line in my verse just right and held the meaning of the song. The only problem was I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable performing the song. And it was a good song that I wanted to perform.

So I found ways to neuter the song, to tell the same story but without it needing to say “a better man.” I played the revised version for a friend and asked if it felt more like a man or woman’s story. She said, “It’s definitely a woman’s story.” LOL. The entire time I was writing and recording a rough demo, I was still hearing that man singing inside my head. What made it a woman’s story to my friend? Was it the mention of not liking snow? Or hating rodeos? What made it a man’s song to me? Being stubborn? Who knows?

These days, I see a lot of emphasis placed on writing authentic stories. Stories that ‘ring true’ in a personal way. I like it when one of my songs can evoke feeling from a listener – any listener. But since I can’t experience everything in this world, I’ve come up with a mantra for my songwriting. Write authentic fiction. Authentic fiction is a story you make up – but decorate with familiar realism.

So the next time you write a song, here’s a prompt. Take a walk on the wild side and write from the perspective of the opposite sex. Just be as authentic as you can as you tell your fictional tale.

I’m Not Hearing A Single
Confessions of an MTV Reporter
by Robert Morgan Fisher

My very good friend and imminent superstar, Rod Melancon (above), has a new video and new album, LA 14. Watching the video for “Perry” put me in mind of how this all got started.

Yes, I was there when Video Killed the Radio Star.

It was the early 80s and I was working as a nightclub DJ in Houston, Texas, for a national chain (McFaddin-Ventures) that pioneered the cavernous nightclub concept with Élan and then Confetti (both would go on to inspire The Palladium in NYC). At Confetti, we weren’t just DJs, we were artists; mixing rock into disco into country into oldies into punk—and having it all make sense. Our inspiration was a guy named Grif Palmer, a native Texan who’d gone to LA, completely absorbed the KROQ culture and had been lured back to Houston to serve as Program Director for all MV DJs.

Grif was (and still is) tall, handsome and charismatic as all get-out. He had a fearless, swaggering cocksurety about him when he’d say things like: “I’m gonna slam into Tainted Love and you’re gonna go crazy.” This was hardcore, Technic 1200 turntable vinyl-mixing. My fellow DJ pal Wyatt Magnum and I emulated Grif’s ability to seamlessly keep a dancefloor going by using, say, the moment where Fee Waybill in Talk to Ya Later by The Tubes sings: “I’ll just see you arouuuuuuuuund—!” to slide into the drum intro of I Fought the Law by The Bobby Fuller Four. Then, on the cold end of I Fought the Law, execute a flawless BPM backflip-downshift to London Calling by The Clash, followed a disco segue into Let it Whip by The Dazz Band. You get the idea.

Music videos were all the rage. ZZ Top frontman and longtime Houstonian Billy Gibbons was rumored to have written the entire Eliminator album, while sitting right outside the Confetti DJ booth. Every Friday night MTV would have a “world premiere” of a new music video. Thriller by Michael Jackson blew everyone’s mind. Some videos were dynamic and highly cinematic—Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams, for example. Others cost about 75¢ to make—but were amazing (B-52s, Yello—a lot of Chroma Key, greenscreen). Videos from songs/groups in the 50s, 60s and 70s were rescued from obscurity and brought into the mix. We mixed videos in and out of records; Grif came up with the idea of video and audio “comedy drops” from movies, standup comedy and TV. It was off the hook and wild.

“I’m not a jukebox,” Grif would say, “I’m an artist. I create—the dancefloor is my palette.” We all wanted to be just like him.

So, when the local QUBE Cable affiliate held auditions at Confetti for a “local host” to do two-minute hourly news segments about the local music scene, I was shocked when I beat out my mentor, Grif. But Grif was magnanimous and said “Congrats! You’re gonna be great, Doc.” (That was my DJ handle, Doc Roc—I’m still trying to live that down.) They also selected a female co-host named June (who’s on-air name was June Sparks) but she soon left.

QUBE caught a little flak from MTV Corporate for what they were doing. But MTV quickly realized that having a “reporter in the field” (me) could be advantageous. I began interviewing acts passing through town like Ratt, Romeo Void, Patty Smyth of Scandal (I’m still infatuated), Adam Ant, Deep Purple—it was quite an ego trip. My segments aired nationally—but never with me in the frame. Locally, however, it was my show every hour on the hour. I’d get recognized in public. I had an MTV silk jacket. I met Martha Quinn. She and I were fellow “VJs.”

After a couple of years, my boss at MTV (Doug Herzog) called on the morning of December 31st, 1984, and said, “Hey, we’re starting up a sister channel for MTV tomorrow called VH-1. It’s like a grown-up version of MTV. But we have zero news segments in the can. Willie Nelson’s doing his New Year’s show at the Summit—why don’t you go down and cover the press conference at noon?” My co-producer and best friend Michael (“McDog”) McDugald and I dutifully dashed down to the Summit and said, “We’re with MTV.” They looked at my silk jacket and let us in.

We covered the press conference, which was a big yawn, and hung out for the sound check. No one booted us (“We’re from MTV!”). I asked if we could interview Willie for “the new MTV channel.” They said, “Sure, you want to interview Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash too?”

Now, let me explain something. When I became a nightclub DJ, I left my dreams of being a singer-songwriter behind. It just didn’t seem like a viable career path anymore. I couldn’t beat ‘em so I joined ‘em. Willie, Waylon, Johnny and Kris were skeptical when they saw me with my MTV silk jacket—but I had been preparing my whole life for this moment. I asked questions and referenced songs, events and artists that pretty much blew their minds. Johnny Cash especially warmed to me and shared a story about Kris Kristofferson landing a helicopter in his front yard in order to hand off his demo tape. I recently saw this now legendary event in the annals of songwriting reenacted on the TV show Drunk History. But I was the one who broke that story nationally and it was the first news story ever to air on VH-1. (We covered lots of ground that night, here’s a sample.)

At one point, I mentioned to Willie (on the bus, in a cloud of herb) that I’d played many Austin bars back in the day while attending the University of Texas. He asked, “Do you happen to have any songs I need to hear?” In that moment I realized that I very much needed to get back to songwriting—music industry trends be damned. I realized how much I missed it and how much I hated spinning records by The Thompson Twins. Within the year, the Texas economy tanked, I fled to LA and found further work as a DJ and as a VJ on The Movietime Channel alongside Greg Kinnear and Richard Blade. But from then on I reclaimed my dream to be a singer/songwriter and when the coffeehouse resurgence of the 90s hit, I was more than ready. Thanks, Willie.

Grif Palmer became a big wheel in stage lighting and sound; Wyatt Magnum filled in for me on a couple of MTV assignments and is now CEO of the LA-based The Magnum Music Group; McDog is a wizard in home automation; Billy Gibbons is a gazillionaire who lives not far from me. The night Confetti Houston closed down for good, Wyatt Magnum and I made a tape called “The Night Confetti Died” with all our patented “Pop-Slamma-Jamma-Segues.” Billy Gibbons can be faintly heard in the background banging on the door—he’d heard us playing all these oldies and wanted to hang out by the booth, but club was shuttered, the doors were locked and we couldn’t hear him. Sorry about that, Billy.

Not sure what became of Doug Herzog—oh yeah, he’s President of a little outfit called Viacom.

MTV and VH-1 are out of the music video business. But their influence is still strongly felt on YouTube and the Internet.

Which leads us back to the super-talented Rod Melancon. The video for Perry is damn good. Rod is damn good. He’s on track to become one of those rarities: heartthrob good looks and genuine singing/songwriting talent. He’s doing a “Residency” every Monday night during the month of May at The Silverlake Lounge. Go see him live and download his free EP.

Tell him, “I want my MTV.” And that Doc Roc sent ya.

Thank you for reading. I hope to see you out at a live show this month. There are a lot of them.
Good health to you and your families.
Much love, Bill

Goodnight sweet Prince.