Sometimes we experience something so profound we want to keep it to ourselves while fighting the urge to tell everyone. The past few days I’ve been reflecting on my weekend in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. From playing the Wurlizter featured on the The Staples’ Singers hit, “I’ll Take you There,” to the piano played on “Freebird,” I found myself left in awe and speechless most of the time. I'll let the pictures tell the rest.
Through the years I’ve been fortunate to study a variety of instruments with a variety of teachers. Around the time I started junior high school I started piano lessons with a new piano teacher. Before our first lesson I went out and bought several of the teacher’s records. I was instantly inspired by his mastery of the piano. He was a brilliant player - and happened to be a former member of the Grateful Dead.
In 1968 Tom Constanten became the keyboardist for the Grateful Dead. Prior to his rock n’ roll career Tom studied piano in Paris and Brussels. During the Vietnam war he enlisted in the Air Force as a computer programmer. A day after his honorable discharge he made his first live appearance with the Grateful Dead. Tom went on to play with Jefferson Starship as well as tour the world as a solo pianist. In 1994 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Grateful Dead.
Sixth grade not only marked the beginning of junior high school, it was also when I became a Deadhead. I listened to every album I could get my hands on. I checked out books about The Dead from the library. I bought every live concert VHS tape I could find and watched it until I had it memorized. I’m sure the adults around me raised an eyebrow given the drug culture that went hand in hand with Grateful Dead lore. I was so young most of the drug references went above my head - and I could’ve cared less - I was there for the music!
My lessons with Tom quickly became my favorite part of the week. He encouraged me and pushed me to be a better player. Often times I would have a list of questions about his career or the Grateful Dead that I would bring with me. Amused, he would always answer. I remember once I asked him about Jerry Garcia’s role as lead guitarist (I pronounced “lead” like the chemical element Pb). Tom dryly responded, “Well it was very heavy.”
We’ve lost touch through the years but I remember my time with Tom fondly. Not only is he a brilliant player he is a kind and beautiful human. I miss our talks. One thing I’ve come to know is that nobody is self made. We are all molded and influenced by people and experiences along the way.
"I know of no path that is better marked than the study of music. Maybe I just think so because it's the path I'm on. There's the old question "How come there's never enough time to do it right, but there's always enough time to do it over." Well, here's an answer. Settle down. Do it right. However long it takes. That's the direct route to the fast lane!"
- Tom Constanten
Goodbyes are tough. Goodbyes are even harder when you love the place and people you are saying goodbye to. Some of you know that just this week I packed up and set out for Nashville, Tennessee. About a month ago I got offered an opportunity in Nashville and decided to go for it. This was a tough decision because it meant leaving behind a place that I adore, but in the end I felt like it was the right call.
For those in Chicago reading this, I want to thank you for everything. Thank you for embracing me the way you have and for the lifelong friendships we forged. My time in Chicago has been a formative one. The first time I set foot in the city it felt like home and it still does to this day. I will greatly miss everything about it but I will be back often including later this summer for a show! Stay tuned.
I’ve been in Nashville one full day and have had a great time. I caught up with some old friends and went to a baseball game at Vanderbilt University. This morning I’m taking it easy after a busy week and the move. I got up and fed the chickens and am watching a storm blow in. Quite a different routine than I’m used to. I’ll keep you posted on this latest adventure!
Recently I took a pilgrimage to the south side of Chicago. 4339 S. Lake Park Ave doesn't look like much of anything from the street. It stands there lonely and forgotten, many of it's windows boarded, in a state of decay. A closer look reveals two painted flamingos on the front door and an inscription - "Muddy."
The house was built in 1879 and was purchased by Muddy Waters in 1954. He lived there for 20 plus years during the height of his career. It has been vacant for many years due to legal issues and has changed owners several times. There is a giant push worldwide to have the property preserved as a historical site.
Walking up to the house I tried to imagine what it must of been like back in Muddy's day. You could've probably heard Muddy's band practicing in the basement. Maybe you could smell his wife Geneva's cooking on a Sunday afternoon. I imagine the house in it's prime condition. The property would've been a source of pride for Muddy - a far cry from his upbringing in Mississippi. Sitting there on the same steps where Muddy used to sit I found myself overwhelmed with reverence.