I’m sitting in the Charlotte airport right now, waiting to get on a flight to Miami. From Miami I’ll be continuing on to Manaus, Brazil, for lovely sister Marnie’s wedding. I was informed that, since my itinerary was an international one, I should arrive 3 hours early. I made it through check-in and security in 15 minutes flat, and so I find myself with a few hours to kill. I tried reading, but found myself unable to focus on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I have been re-reading due to my recent purchase of a 1974 Condor a350 – I’ll write more on the bike, and my intentions for it, another time. I felt uninspired to finish the lyrics of several new songs I’ve been writing, but still had a desire to produce, so I thought, “why not ramble about last night?”
Last night I played my first “real” show in Asheville, the town I now call home. I was a part of Creatures Cafe’s weekly singer-songwriter showcase, along with the very talented Gregory Scott and Adam Kobetich. It was an in-the-round affair – all three of us were seated on stage, in exceptionally comfortable chairs, and each took our turn playing songs for a good two hours. The time passed incredibly quickly – when Chris Wilhelm, cohost of the evening, gave the word that we should each play one more, I could scarcely believe the time was already up. I had a fantastic time, made some great new friends, and will certainly be participating again in the future.
Adam’s banjo-accompanied songs are a fascinating blend of Bluegrass and Klezmer, sung with a voice resembling a world-weary Pete Seeger. At some point in the evening he made an offhand comment: “Have you ever listened to Black Lab? Your voice sounds like Paul Durham’s.”
I couldn’t stop smiling for the next ten minutes.
Black Lab is a band I hadn’t thought of in a long time, but as soon as they were mentioned I realized that their music had, without doubt, been a significant formative influence in my songwriting and performance. Around the same time that their songs Wash It Away and Time Ago were receiving significant modern rock radio play (1997-98), I happened across their album Your Body Above Me in the second-hand bargain bin at Time Traveler Music. Time Traveler was a locally run record shop in Kent, Ohio (my hometown), the kind of place that you could chat with the owner for a few minutes, and walk out with a stack of albums you’d love. The original iTunes genius.
But I digress.
I purchased Your Body Above Me, and if it would have been possible to wear out a CD, that one would have been in sorry shape. I listened to the album at least once a week for a good year and a half, and then it gradually drifted out of my playlist. On the drive to Charlotte today, I re-listened to the album, and can still sing along to every word.
It was probably about a year after I stopped regularly listening to the album that I first started playing guitar and writing my own songs. There was never a conscious emulation of Black Lab in the development of my songwriting and vocal style, but the moment Adam mentioned the band, I realized they’ve been a major influence in the way I sing and write my songs. And while I’ve always aspired to follow my own path in music, every performer is a product of his influences, and having that comparison made felt like a huge affirmation for me.
So Adam – if I didn’t say this on stage, thanks for making my night!
I’ve still another hour before they begin boarding on my flight, but I think I’ve rambled enough and I’m hungry, so…
This is Michael McFarland, signing off.