Maybe this all began when I read the record labels on Elvis or Coasters records. I kept seeing Lieber and Stoller’s names under the title of the song. I saw Chuck Berry’s name was on the label as the singer, and it was there a second time under the title of the song. No one was around to explain it to me, but I figured out they wrote the songs I played over and over. My older cousin had all these records and a record player in his room. That’s where I camped out every visit. I had launched my music journey. Somebody say: Wop-Bop-a-Loo-Bop
Then came albums and album covers. The pictures helped get you “backstage” where you could hope to see what it was like to be around the artists. The printing continued identifying the songwriter. I was an immediate fan of Simon & Garfunkel. Paul Simon’s songs/music inspired (instigated?) my beginnings as a songwriter. I loved what was in Paul Simon’s songs and saw a way for my imagination to take shape. To this day, when I see – hear the name April, I start to hum Paul Simon’s song “April, Come She Will.”
Good songs will take you to good songwriters. That’s how I found another “April” song. The other is “Pieces of April” by Dave Loggins. In music, great things happen and then head for the sidelines in the ebb and flow of popularity. “Pieces of April” is a tune I first heard on a Dave Loggins album (Vanguard) that never hit the charts. THREE DOG NIGHT had a hit with it in the early 70s. If you can find either version online, give it a listen.
It took a lifetime to write this song one afternoon. As August was becoming September, I looked out the back of my house. The hillside was in full summer bloom. I thought about all the times I’d been at this window. And I wondered about tomorrow. I made some notes on a yellow pad, and then it was time to find the music.
“I Have to Dream” was originally conceived around a piano in a Baptist church in Glendale, California. I am sure that has a lot to do with its feel and the sound of it. Rick Solem understood immediately what the song needed and worked with me on the music. Ross Vannelli weaved the theme through the score of Children On Their Birthdays.
It almost didn’t happen. The scene in Children On Their Birthdays where this song appears was not in the original script. After seeing early edits of the film, director Mark Medoff got the cast and crew back together to shoot a new scene. He called me in because he needed a song for this new moment in the film. I will always thank him for that.
The Caroler sings: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Thoughtfulness and joy intertwine. May the hope of Christmas carry us all into joyous days that we will call 2013. May we all hear the music. Blessings and Cheers!
When I was new to Los Angeles, a record producer told me about this road that stretches across the crest of the Hollywood Hills. You know those hills. They separate L.A. and Hollywood from the San Fernando Valley. One afternoon, we finished in the studio, and I aimed my Oldsmobile with Texas plates up one of the canyon roads until I got to Mulholland Drive. I turned west.
It was magic then, and it’s never lost its magic for me. Los Angeles spreads out below you on one side. On the other side, around the next turn, the Valley is everywhere you look. An extraordinary view. It touches something inside you. At night it gets better. The lights below you are a sight to behold. Like diamonds on black velvet.
One day over lunch at one of the sidewalk cafes on Sunset Blvd., I could see the Hollywood Hills. Thoughts came. Words. I started writing in a small notebook. That’s how my song “Mulholland Drive” began. June 2003.
When I was finally able to get to work on chords and a melody to make this a song it was June 2005. The time lapse was horrendous, but what emerged was still part of that first afternoon.
“Mulholland Drive” was recorded in early June 2011. Every song has a journey before you can hear it. The road will wait for you.
The first time I performed outside the U.S. was in Scotland at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Just before going onstage with my band the first time, I wondered how my original songs would go over. Would nuances in the lyrics translate well outside “American” culture? Thankfully, they did. Week after week we had good audiences and solid reviews. I’m still grateful for the friendship and musicianship that grew there with: Rick Solem, piano Tim Burlingame, guitar Kathrin Shorr, guitar/vocals.
A couple of songs we did still stand out in my memory. “Real World” had some unusual patterns in the lyric. It was a new song I’d co-written for Last Chance, a Bryan Cranston film. After seeing my shows, folks along the Royal Mile would come up and sing back lines from this song to me as a way of saying hello. I liked “Real World” from the beginning, but in Scotland I began to believe it was a song I’d always sing.
“One by One (Day by Day)” is the other song I brought from California and discovered in Scotland. Before performing it, I mentioned this song took shape after reading my favorite American poet, e.e. cummings. Then, I let the lyric rest in Rick’s piano and the Tim – Kate harmonies. With “One by One” I discovered this show meant something to our audiences. It wasn’t from the applause. Or the CDs they bought. It happened the next day. Some people who’d seen the show came back and left notes for me at the box office. In each envelope, along with their lovely note, they included their poems. Poems they wrote and poems they liked. Poems they wanted me to read because… I believe “one by one” they knew I’d understand. Cheers!
Growing up, I learned to keep my mouth shut. I learned that’s how people tell you things. That’s why people tell you things.
On any given morning in Las Cruces I am happy to be in The Bean for coffee. Same across town at Milagro. I like the scene there, too, and oooh the espresso! With every cup there’s a view… of New Mexico friendships and perhaps tourists like me. We are all travelers anyway. I get to watch coffee folks laugh and lean across tables to share the secrets they would never tell another soul.
Hope! It’s 2011. This could be a cave or a tunnel. Hope!
Around here 2010 ended with an exclamation point. My band’s LA concert last October hit a real (no pun intended here) high note with me. Sometimes you can just feel like a new level of work – a much better one – has been reached. I recognized it at the time and mentioned it to my brothers in kind on that project. Then, Dec. brought the chance to act in the lead role for an indie film in New Mexico. “Hatching Max” was a complete surprise. And joy. Again, a recognition. Something in the experience was at a deeper level than any I can remember. Truer. I’m ready for the next mile. The next step.
Hope is its own exclamation point, but hope also carries an asterisk. Taking steps where results are uncertain is Hope* at street level. It is the DNA of show business. I think it is also the journey we’re all on in life. Hope. For me it takes faith to do that. So, I keep walking forward. I keep my eyes open. I’m looking for a tiny dot of light, a sunrise, for God’s angels to appear.
Happy 2011 to all. — and yes, Happy New Year… Y’all.
As ’99 turned toward 2000, everyone I knew walked with a sense of awe. We were ending a century and a millenium. Well, we didn’t end it, but we were witnesses. Y2K was also full of ominous anticipation, too. Here we sailed into uncharted waters and new dimension.
That Christmas 1999 I joined several singers from the U.S. and Europe to sing for the Pope and Jubilee ceremonies at the Vatican on Christmas Day . We sang a piece commissioned for the occasion from composer Beppe Cantarelli. “Magnificat” was magnificent and every Christmas since then, I’ve known I’m not alone in remembering it. We had a wonderful time of music.
Friendships that began there are still strong. There will never be another Christmas dinner like the one we had at the small restaurant off of Piazza Navonna. I threw 3 coins in the Trevi Fountain. I’m waiting. I believe. Merry Christmas! Joy to the World!
Great fun hearing Fab Four play on Firenze Ristorante system this LA autumn night. All early ’63-’65 tunes. Fun to hear in 2010 and a good 1450 miles west of Hwy. 84. Fun to remember when KBGO or WACO radio raced to play the latest cut first. Fun to recall how good it felt to have one of those tunes play during a car date while cruising down Austin Ave. Fun to think back and realize I bought English Leather cologne, hip-huggers, and paisley shirts in hopes that something British, rock, and Beatle-esque would be infused in my cell structure and add stride to my high school walk. ”Help!” Indeed.
My life is better when:
- I get the music (I hear) written. Get what I hear in my head recorded so that it can be played and heard.
- I get the music (I’ve written) out of my living room. Get it out “there” where others can hear it, too.
These jobs require different skill sets and I would argue one is a right brain task and the other is left brain work. For the past several weeks, I’ve been in Texas. Writing. Re-writing. Working on new songs. Now it’s time to go to LA and work them up with my band.
“I was busy when the future came Looking darkly through a glass We were introduced, I loved your name And the future came to pass Nobody knows but me Nobody knows but me Nobody knows what you open and close Nobody knows but me” NEVER MINE (Nobody Knows) ©2010 w/m JD Hinton Wide Brim Music, BMI Six Shooter Productions, Inc.
This is my work. Takes time and attention to detail. Sweat and inspiration. It is not a job. It is not an occupation. It is a vocation. It is the closest thing I know to what is commonly mentioned as… a calling.
As a boy I did not know what made some records sound better than others. Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” sounded great to me. I liked the song, too. I was always thrilled to hear it booming out of AM radio when it first hit the charts. I still remember where I was on two occasions that it was played. The days of AM Top 40 radio playing songs by Jimmy Dean were numbered. The British invasion and the development of stereo would see to that. The record still sounds great.
Before my journey in music – Before acting in Hollywood – My show business days began in radio. I was a kid, but that’s how I got to California.
When I arrived as a disc jockey and music director at KROY in the autumn of ’71, the Sacramento billboards touted Jimmy Dean shows in the Tahoe casinos. Every time I’d drive by those signs I could hear “Big John… Big Bad Johnnnn” replaying in my mind.
On KROY one day, I was told that Jimmy Dean would be coming by the station to promote his (then new) Jimmy Dean Sausage. My job was to let him “sit in” on my show. Interview him. Of course there was no planning for this. We were going to wing it. I wondered what we would do beyond playing “Big Bad John.” How would he get along with a young kid interviewer? How soon would Norton, the salesman, ask Dwight, the G.M., to ship me back to Texas?
Jimmy was gracious. Very easy to meet. After saying hello “on the air” and visiting for a minute, I plowed ahead with the show and records from the A stack or the B stack, etc. in the prescribed order. When the songs were over I resumed talking to my “in studio guest” (sausage, Big Bad John, music) and then played whatever commercials were on the log. Of course we talked off the air when the songs or commercials were playing. This went on for about an hour. As professional as he was on the air, he was equally genial off the air.
It helped that we were both from Texas. It gave us ways to connect. We used those connections to play up a camaraderie and orneriness between us. We had no routine, but I could tell he liked the repartee. He was good with improvising. For those several minutes on KROY it was as if we’d known each other for years. (I told you he was a pro. I just worked to keep up and feed the momentum.)
Toward the end of our visit, I started playing STORY IN YOUR EYES by the Moody Blues underneath our conversation — using the record bed as a pad. I wasn’t sure how we’d get out of this talk before the record intro ended and the song began. I had about 24 secs of intro before the track shifts into gear.
Jimmy starts yammering about how I’m no hotshot. How I should go back to Texas. He gins up a Don Rickles put down humor on me to let me know that I’m not even really all that good a Texan…. and… I let him run on this way a few more seconds. Then, I said, “Oh yeah? Well your face looks like your neck threw up!” Jimmy lit up with complete surprise, admiration, and glee. He began to laugh this deep throaty laugh that perfectly timed with the musical crescendo that every DJ hopes to reach in his talk up. The Moody Blues were off to the races and I had just had a wonderful visit with Jimmy Dean.
My first job in show business was at W-A-C-O radio as a disc jockey with my own daily shows. Whatever my talents, I was a high school boy and the two bosses I had there were… patient and merciful.
Robert Weathers was my second boss. He inherited me, but Robert began to champion my work early on. When I moved to California, we stayed friends. For the past several years Robert has been in declining health. Last week I spoke at his funeral.
Robert’s home. Standing tall. Walking with strong steps and with no need for a walker. His hair is no longer gray. It is the color that is the color on a saint’s head.
Thanks again for the patience and the opportunity. Goodbye good friend.
Completing the music for Refuge has been a journey. A good journey. Filming began in July ’09 in the area around Las Cruces, New Mexico. I visited the sets for atmosphere that might help when it came time to create the music that would underscore the film. In LA last September I watched how masterful the film editing process can be. In many ways it reminded me of producing and mixing songs and music in the studio.
Ross and I began writing the film’s score in late January after the editing was finalized… almost a year after I’d first read the script. We’d routinely begin at 1 p.m. and went until 4 a.m. the next morning. Our working day was not that different from all the others who’d worked in the New Mexico desert, except that we stayed out of the sun and heat.
Circumstances sometimes demand that you truly enjoy what you do. The best of those circumstances is friendship. Refuge gave me a chance to reconnect with actor buddy Christopher McDonald and to see the beauty of a Linda Hamilton smile. Refuge was also an important way to reunite as friends/working colleagues with producer Ginger Perkins, director Mark Medoff, editor Sidney Levin and of course with my collaborator Ross. In an unpredictable business, one experience remains. Friendships.
It’s no secret. Mother died in a bus wreck on Valentine’s Day. That was in 2003. The first year after was full of foreboding loss in all corners.
On the one year February anniversary, a week of seriously gloomy Texas skies dissolved into a soft Currier & Ives snowfall. The lawns and trees were covered in a mantle of pure and silent white. I had geared up for a weather delivered emotional wallop as February 14 landed. This first anniversary I was given a gift in the snow. Peace. Later that day the sun came out. The snow gave way to the blue shining Texas skies. I immediately felt God had sent me comfort in my sorrow. The rough places had been made smooth.
The day mother died I was on an island in the Caribbean for a friend’s wedding. My brother had left me a message to call him, but did not mention why. Phones were scarce and I caught a tram to the main hotel building to call back. On the tram I began talking to a man from Scotland. I excitedly told him that mother was a Scot, and I was proud to know that part of my ancestry. The man got off the tram before I did and as he left he spoke to me directly in a language I did not understand. Then he walked away. I looked back and he was gone. I now believe he was giving me a Gaelic farewell. What I believe now is that his farewell was angelic. In a few minutes I would learn of mother’s death. For reasons I would soon know, I was being told goodbye and to be strong. From Scot to Scot.
Today is February 14 again. It’s 2010. I’m not in Texas for the first time since 2004. In LA it’s sunny. Here there are hearts and flowers and all the usual February trimmings. No one here knows that Valentine’s is different for a small group of people in Texas.
Yesterday I went to the LA Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. Afterwards I had the chance to speak to Lloyd Ogilvie. Lloyd was pastor at Hollywood Presbyterian where I attended during the 70s and 80s. Lloyd is a Scot. My mother’s family is part of the Ogilvie clan which I was thrilled to relate. As we parted he gave me the Ogilvie clan parting. I can barely pronounce it. I certainly cannot spell it. He said it to me in English, “ fight to the end.” Don’t give up. I got the message. From Scot to Scot.
Got to see Crazy Heart. Good film. Jeff Bridges delivers and the reviewers recognize that. Glad to see T-Bone Burnet team up with the late Stephen Bruton for so much of the music in the film. When I first moved back to Texas, Peter Coyote told me to look up Stephen in Austin. I tried, but we missed each other. I wish now that I’d saved the message he left on my phone when he called back. Saxon Pub won’t be the same without Stephen’s guitar, but these songs from Crazy Heart will play on. Talent, pure and simple. Burnet also dropped in a Townes Van Zandt song which always perks up my ears. Haven’t met T-Bone… yet. Still have his vinyl lp I bought in the 80s. Enjoyed his concert back then at the Palace Theater across from Capitol Records in Hollywood. Good Music memories.
it’s hard to get back to business as usual. During my radio dj days, going on the air after Christmas was floating time. All anticipation was outside the radio station. Insiders know Hollywood leaves for Aspen or Vail by Dec. 15. See you in January. All work is anti-climactic this week.
was a good but very unusual day. Don’t know what to make of it at this point. Dad wanted to drive up to see the small town and the house where he was born (Westminster, TX). Then, because we were so close, he wanted to cruise up another 15 or so miles to Sherman. Dad was “from” Sherman and to me it’s always been where my grandparents lived. I knew from the way he presented this idea that A) he wanted to go and B… yea! there is a B) he wanted me to go with him or he wanted me to see it… and see it with him.
is not very sentimental-nostalgic. (I cover that base way beyond anyone else’s mere human ability.) In my whole life we have never once driven through Westminster even though it is very close to Sherman. For many years it was on our way to & from Sherman. I did not know it was there. If it meant anything to dad, you’d think we’d have been through there at least once before 2009. Dad took mother through there sometime in the past 10 or 12 years. Now out of the blue he wants to go there before the New Year and show it to me — “before the end of the year” is how he presents the idea to Me. No idea why not with my brother – or with both of us. Me.
NORTH OF DALLAS – NORTH OF PLANO–
and a bit to the east we rolled into a town that has mostly evaporated. We saw the handful of vacant windblown storefronts where there was once a town with a bank and a drug store and 4 or 5 other shops. The stores surrounded a large square lot where dad says the townfolk would congregate when the Traveling Medicine Shows came to town. We saw the streets and one house still standing that dad knew. We visited the cemetery. His great grandparents and some other family are buried there. I watched as dad walked the small field to find the graves. He talked, but only about things that had happened. Nothing emotional or attached to feelings. Just reliving long ago times.
THEN WE DROVE–
to Sherman. He showed me another house I did not know he’d once called home. Of course we drove by all the places and down all the streets that held any lasting value for him. More stories. Remembered names of people now gone or unfindable. Tales and details he wanted to speak out loud – to bring back to life a moment or a world he once knew that no one else he knows will ever see. He wants me to know its there. What’s important about it is something he’s going to leave for me to sort out.
THE TRIP UNDERSCORED–
that time is fleeting and my time with dad is precious. There’s nothing ominous on the horizon. I just sensed this was a way to visit some of the old home places one last time. Dec. 28, 2009. It was a good father-son day.
This morning’s paper carried this item:
10 YEARS AGO IN THE TELEGRAM – JD Hinton, a long-time Central Texas resident now a singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles–will be performing with a “choir” of Los Angeles singers entertaining Pope John Paul II in the Vatican on Christmas Day.
Ten years of memories and new friendships with the finest singers in the world!
“… the days dwindle down to a precious few” (oh how I wish I’d written that) and here we are headed toward Christmas 2009. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I am Yule-tiding in Texas where folks are hoping that – just once – Santa would use Longhorns instead of reindeer on his annual visit. Back to LA in January. To my beloved friends in Scotland, Happy Hogmanay!
The JD HINTON “Songs in the Night” concerts in Hollywood feature a new JDH Band… extraordinary musicians. They are:
Guitarist Billy Watts has recorded/performed with : Dixie Chicks, Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams & Carlene Carter. Billy is currently working and performing with Eric Burdon, Jackson Browne, John Trudell, Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps, and The Twilight Lords.
Phil Bloch is recognized as one of the premier rhythm & blues drummers in LA. Phil has worked with Terry Evans, Ry Cooder, Solomon Burke, Little Richard, Marva Wright, Willie Green, Jr., Hamish Stuart, Delaney Bramlett, Steve Cropper, Tom Scott
Rick Solem you may know from his time playing piano with Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men.“… I place him right next to The Blasters Gene Taylor in the boogie woogie/blues/New Orleans style of piano playing.” Dave Alvin
Joe Lamanno has played bass with Tina Turner, Rick Springfield, and Harriet Schock plus a variety of LA and So. California artists over the years including The Association, The Turtles, and Bill Medley.
It’s sad news to hear Patrick Swayze died. It was the final bit of bad news about him that began over a year ago when we all learned he had a deadly form of cancer. This is all so starkly opposite from what we knew about him from his screen roles.
Ashton Kutcher smartly (and I think caringly) sent a tweet about Patrick’s death that included a link to the Saturday Night Live scene where Patrick and Chris Farley played shirtless Chippendales dancers. It shows Patrick in fine form and willing to do what it took to make the scene work. Ever the pro, he was the straight man – second banana that helped stage Chris Farley’s comedic highlight.
I liked being around Patrick. It only happened a few times, but it was always fun. The last time was at a mutual friend’s birthday party in a Hollywood restaurant. We had the whole place on La Cienega to ourselves. I became the DJ for the night. The place had a good sound system and everyone agreed we’d need music to make this a party. I brought boxes of CDs from my collection to provide the soundtrack for the evening.
The party worked! There was dancing going on immediately. Some couples. Some groups of women who all hit the floor together. In some ways it was just like the jr. high school dances you remember. Girls on one side of the building. Boys on the other. At this party, Patrick and a lot of the guys were on the street front patio so they could smoke cigars and backslap. Their dates and wives had their own fun inside. I had the music.
I remember this party every time I hear Patrick’s name come up. After the guys had spent a substantial amount of the party hanging out together, they broke ranks and headed through the open air entry back into the restaurant. Patrick came up to me and said “Play some Motown. We’re going to dance with these girls.” I’d been playing Motown throughout the night. They could have danced anytime. But now was the time that they wanted to dance… and now they would sweep in like knights on horseback and show the women who loved them why they came to this party in the first place.