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Park-O-Lators / Blog

Proud to be an Americana-an

Reverbnation recently added Americana as a genre and we Park-O-Lators, who have always fashioned ourselves as such and had to add it as a footnote to our band description under "rock," were as pleased as punch to jump on the roots rock wagon and declare ourselves as well, Americana-an. What exactly is Americana? It's not country. It's not bluegrass. It's not folk music, rock and roll, blues, or western swing. It's really a raw, rootsy sound that harkens back to the beginnings of rock and roll when blues and beats and country instruments all converged to create a new sound, a purely American sound with folk lyrics... also known as "Roots" music. Americana seeks to explain the unexplainable -- when you want to categorize a band as one genre, but realize it's really not what you thought. "Well, they're folk, but edgier with drums and electric instruments." Or, "They're country rock, but not really, kind of raw and bluesy sounding," or "They're blues, but actually kinda rock country blues." That band is probably Americana. Over the years, musicians and labels have grappled with what to call the genre. Gram Parsons of the Flying Burrito Brothers called his art, "cosmic American music." The Grateful Dead called their fusion of rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, and country, "improvisational jazz, psychedelia, and space rock." Many musicians settled for "alternative this-or-that: alt country, alt folk, or alt bluegrass." Contemporary Americana band, Tornado Rider, which features a wicked electric cello and punk rock beats, simply invented a fantastical word and call themselves "Sneth Rock." Stepping back and looking over the collection of music produced by all of these bands, it's easy to see the similarities in their styles, instrumentation and lyrics, and how they differ from pure folk, country, rock, and blues, and see them as something more... Americana. One of the more famous, well known examples of an early Americana band amongst the general top-40 crowd is "The Band," a melding of successful musicians: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson, who together produced a rich, heavily textured rock sound to create wonderful works, such as "The Weight" (Take a load off Fanny) and "Up on Cripple Creek." They backed another famous musician, Bob Dylan, on roots rock versions of "I Shall Be Released" and "The Long Black Veil." Perhaps it is a coincidence that many of what we now call Americana bands have their roots in the southern and southeastern United States. I grew up on this music, with my local radio station, 92.3 in Greensboro, NC, to this very day still piping out Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road," an Americana song which we cover as a band. Some of the music played regularly were southern rock bands, the Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, all originally from Jacksonville, Florida, as well as Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who although they hailed from California, embraced the southern rock genre and sang about the south. On the other side of the continent, Clayton Park, our fiddler player and fellow singer/songwriter, grew up in the soggy Pacific NW in Seattle amidst the grunge rock scene, where he gravitated to the Americana artists The Byrds, Lucinda Williams, Wilco, Son Volt, and Uncle Tupelo who emphasize different facets of the complex Americana genre. Contemporary Americana artists include, NC born and bred: Jim Lauderdale, the Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Whiskeytown, of which Caitlin Cary has formed the Small Ponds. Other acts include Nickel Creek, Michelle Shocked, the Duhks, Railroad Earth, and of course, the Park-O-Lators.

A Love Resolution

My New Year's Resolution for 2011 is to write quality love songs. Last winter, the Parkolators sat down and put together a list of songs we'd like to put on our first demo CD. Clayton and I write all of our own original songs, but neither of us have any really good, true love songs -- you know, the kind that someone dedicates to the bride and groom at a wedding (as opposed to lustful songs you write for your lover, such as what Lady Gaga and Kesha put out, or the deep and meaningful platonic friendship song). Ironically, both Clayton and I have written one love song with other songwriters, but neither of us have written a quality love song of this nature on our own. I consider myself to be a pretty prolific songwriter. I once bragged that I could write a song about anything, and to prove it, wrote a pretty silly little ditty about a number 2 pencil within five minutes. It's actually not bad. However, when it comes to true love, I seem to have a mental block. After much inner soul searching over the past year, only today, I've come to the epiphany that the reason I find it so difficult to record these deep and intimate feelings in music and verse is because I'm afraid of exposing myself to the world and making myself feel vulnerable. Once you write that love song and record it, you are sealing that love forever in eternity more permanently than any cold piece of metal ever could. My inspiration for the love songs I've been writing comes from several sources: movie and book characters, friends, memories, and even derivations of completely different subject matter (such as the weather, one of my favorite spin-off topics). For the past few weeks, I've been digging deep into my soul, going through old diaries, crying a lot of tears, and reliving old memories. I've also been analyzing other songs which I feel hit the mark in the love department, trying to determine what makes them work for me. I hope I do not disappoint myself and am able to come up with a quality song or two out of the dozens I'll be writing. Who knows, maybe one of the songs will be so wonderful, even you'll wish to play it at a wedding. -- Susan

The 'not' rich and famous

This morning I was awakened at about 4 a.m. by my cat who was batting around the doorstop on the wooden floor, making a real ruckus. After an hour counting enough sheep to stock a small farm in Idaho, I decided to get up, log on to the internet, and see what my ‘friends’ in facebook-land were up to. One of my friends, a fellow musician, also couldn’t sleep and was documenting his ordeal on facebook: Depression over the holidays; a sadness for cherished loved ones who have passed; yearnings to spend time with family members who had disenfranchised him; pressure from the expectation to become rich and famous; and the stark reality of trying to make ends meet financially as a fulltime musician. As well wishers and sympathizers tried to comfort him, he asked them: “Have you bought my CD?” Being a musician myself, I had purchased several copies of his CD, then given them out to friends as gifts. I’ve found that buying art, crafts, and music is a great way to support local starving artists as well as put money back into the local economy, instead of funneling it off to some sweat shop in China. But, what is a starving artist? Surprisingly, even musicians signed to a label can be quite financially strapped, such as my friend who was having a bad day. Having your music played online or the radio pays you nothing as an artist. The money earned for playing shows will sometimes not even cover the expenses incurred for producing the show (bringing in sound equipment, stages, and lighting; hiring sound people; travel expenses, gas, bus maintenance, hotels and food; not to mention buying and maintaining instruments; wardrobe, hair and makeup; websites and marketing; recording and pressing CDs, etc.) The only way you make money at a show is if you sell something – such as CDs and other merchandise like T-shirts, and stickers. That’s why you hear your favorite large label recording artist selling their tunes to Toyota or running a small town recording studio. That’s why musicians on small labels have fulltime jobs when they’re not on the road, doing everything from handyman work to waiting tables. All that aside, the artist/musician lifestyle is a choice. We do it because we feel the need to create and express ourselves. We do it because we’re people-persons and love the camaraderie of spending endless hours with total strangers in strange and far away lands, like Frisco. Ego is really not in the equation – we just want to be loved. But, if you think we’re great, please buy the CD. Or, in the case of the Park-O-Lators who have no CD as yet, feel free to “like” us. -- Susan

Turnagain Arm

In 1994, I was tired of living in Raleigh, NC. I wanted to venture out into the world to find a larger more metropolitan city where I could hang out with fellow environmentally conscious artists such as myself. I sold most of my possessions, quit my job, left my apartment, and hit the road for Alaska. At the time, Northern Exposure was a hit on television, and I, like many others, foolishly believed that Alaska was filled with such eclectic eccentrics. I was quite surprised to discover that most of Alaska is actually quite conservative. In fact, it’s earned the nickname of “North Texas,” due to all of the Texas oil company men who have moved there. I had been a vegetarian for four years, and there were hardly any fresh fruits or vegetables available, save bananas and oranges, so I had to begin eating meat again. I did make an effort to make it work, found a place to live temporarily in Anchorage, dated a really interesting guy with a white pit bull named “Fluffy,” nearly registered my car, and looked for a job. While living in Anchorage, I hiked almost every day in the beautiful wilderness, seeing moose, brown bears and eagles, eating wild berries, and breathing in the beautiful fresh and clear arctic air. My favorite spot was Turnagain Arm, a large natural water inlet surrounded by mountains just southeast of Anchorage. It’s called “Turnagain” because explorer James Cook ventured into it mistaking it for a northwest passage, but had to turn around, labeling it the Turn Again River. The Seward Highway runs along Turnagain Arm and there are numerous turnouts where I could park my car and venture up into the wilds, walking high up on the side of the ridge along well worn paths with spectacular views down into the dark blue waters. Despite its natural beauty, Turnagain Arm is filled with many dangers. The inlet has an unnaturally large tidal range of 30 feet, creating a tidal bore. When the tide comes in, it creates loud waves as high as 6 feet which travel as fast as 15 miles per hour. Also hidden below the murky waters, are collections of silt which will trap boats at low tide. Along the beaches are tidal mudflats of dark gray silt which act like quicksand, pulling you downward if you walk in the wrong spot or stay still for too long. It’s easy to feel inspired in such places, so the next year, after I had settled in Seattle, I wrote Turnagain Arm, a mystical song about a fisherman who sails into the inlet, meeting a siren-like mermaid who lures him to dance with him upon the mud flats, pulling him down into the dark and murky waters. The fisherman escapes, but is always haunted by the mermaid’s siren song. I wrote this song to be sung by a man, but Clayton insisted I sing it myself for the demo, and I suppose my voice does give it an eerie quality. However, if it were sung by a man, I think it would add an extra suggestive quality to the meaning of the song, making it more interesting. This is one of the first songs we recorded in May 2010, and our wonderful producer, Britt Harper Uzzell (Snüzz) pretty much held a "hands off" attitude at this point. However, after listening to our initial tracks, we re-recorded the vocals and fiddle when we returned to his NC studio in August. The cool bass is by Jerry Chapman. The producer gave us a first mix with double fiddle parts that created an almost seagull like sound during the break, and we liked it so much, we insisted he keep it. It was deleted, but he came up with an even cooler mix, which I hope you like. --- Susan

New video posted of "Handlebars."

We’ve just posted a new video on our reverbnation page: a cover of Flobot’s “Handlebars” performed by Doublewide and backed by the Parkolators at the Java Jungle Coffee Shop on November 13, 2010. This is a "learning" video we made so we could see what works and what doesn't, but we think it sounds okay to post. Doublewide is an acoustic guitar duo of Graham Woodard and J.T. Collier. Unfortunately, about a week before the gig, J.T. was unexpectedly called away and had to drop out of the band temporarily. Graham needed emergency fill-in backup musicians to help him fill his three hour set, so Susan and Clayton of the Parkolators agreed to help out during the first hour of the show before Clayton had to leave for a second gig backing Halifax Contraband. We only had five days before the show to learn the 13 song set. Graham allowed Susan free reign to experiment writing her own back up vocals. For “Handlebars,” Susan selected certain phrases and lines from each verse and sang them behind Graham in round fashion. We weren't sure how it would sound, but it came out great. He opted out on allowing Susan to play her “found percussion” on all but two songs, her own original, “Wicked Wind,” which she performed early in the set. Here, she played a coffee tin, take out tray, and egg carton with egg whisks. She also played a shaker made from a cat treat container filled with beans on a cover of “Folsom Prison.” Graham also allowed Clayton to have free reign writing his own accompanying fiddle parts. For this song, Clayton chose to pluck during the verse, then build by launching into melody for the chorus. The effect is very dynamic. Graham picked meaningful songs to cover and "Handlebars" is one of the best results of the collaborative performance. The lyrics make an intense political statement about civilization -- the powers we have as human beings, and what we choose to do with them. We'll be working on a version of this song for our full band set with bass and drums for the Convergent Zone, our new cover band.

Sir Elton John – an inspiration - Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Elton John also inspired me through his generous caring spirit, which he displayed in the wake of the AIDS epidemic that broke out in the 1980s. Utilizing his star status, he advocated for AIDS victim Ryan White and created the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Another of my passions is fine art and AIDS eventually began to spread rampantly throughout the artist community in Raleigh, N.C., where I lived in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of my artist friends tested positive for HIV and committed suicide, leaving a note explaining that he wanted to spare his family and friends from watching him die a long and drawn-out, expensive and hopeless death. After hearing this shocking news, my friends and I gathered and tearfully made an AIDS quilt in remembrance of him. Inspired by Elton John, we put our grief aside to proactively create and donate art work to the AIDS Service Agency, which held an auction and raised $46,000 for hospice care, treatments, and research. I am very proud to be a fan of Sir Elton John, a musician with a truly big heart. I look forward to his upcoming concert here in Daytona Beach. Hopefully, I will get to see him perform again many times in the future. -- Susan

Sir Elton John - an inspiration - Part 1

By Susan This week, one of my favorite artists and humanitarians, Sir Elton John, will perform in Daytona Beach and I am tickled to death that he will play less than one mile from my house down the street at the Ocean Center. He is performing 10 shows in a series of mostly out-of-the-way venues with fellow musician friend, Leon Russell, to promote their new collaborative album, "The Union." It's a blend of bluesy Americana that harkens back to Elton's classic '70s albums, "Tumbleweed Connection" and "Honky Chateau." I strongly recommend it. When I was about 7 years old, I remember my Aunt Lydia buying my sister Ruth the album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" for her birthday. We played it and played it until the cardboard sleeve was frayed and faded and the record full of snaps and crackles. My oldest sister Kathy already had a poster of Elton on her wall in her bedroom and a copy of "Madman Across the Water" and "Captain Fantastic." Before long, I was also hooked on Elton and, by age 9, you could safely say I was obsessed. It became a habit of mine to study and diagram the lyrics of Elton's songs, written by long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin. By age 11, I'd written my first song about my pet rock using a pirated melody. Writing the musical part would be tough. My family owned a piano where my Dad played show tunes every evening before dinner like clockwork. Dad did not give me lessons because he had given them to my oldest sister and she had not enjoyed it. He decided it wasn't worth the time and energy to teach his three younger daughters. In the 9th grade, a classmate of mine who also loved Elton John's music, but felt he could only write music well, decided he needed to team up with his own "Bernie Taupin" -- someone who could write lyrics. I jumped at the chance and gave him what I considered five of my best songs, but he rejected them all. He sent me back to the typewriter with instructions to study the rhythmic patterns of popular country songs because he said his dad told him that country music was what would sell. I spent that afternoon at a neighbor's house listening to their favorite country radio station, then wrote the lyrics to a song I titled "Hope." I brought it to my friend who -- to my relief -- liked it, wrote music for it and then recorded it. We copyrighted "Hope" in 1982 and sent it off to a publisher in Nashville where it most likely ended up in someone's circular file. Although "Hope" went nowhere, I continued to write lyrics and eventually wrote my own musical compositions to go along with them. I learned to read music and play piano in college, bought a spinet, and figured out how to diagram music. I might never have even begun writing songs if it hadn't been for my admiration for Elton John and my desire to write workable, rhythmic lyrics like Bernie Taupin. Continued in Part 2

An Amazing Time

It was truly an honor to be chosen to play at Davinci's for the Deland Original Music Festival on Saturday, Nov. 6. We were able to catch a short set by Roberto of Dish and Kinky Catawampus out on the patio before playing inside at 4:30 p.m. Afterwards, we wandered the festival and were able to catch several more awesome acts during the rest of the day at one of the 26 stages: Stephanie Kess, Speak of Love, Hip Hop Villains, Sean Weatherford, Run Rino, Burlington Breeze, Rug, and The Transfers.

We returned to Davinci's to see an incredibly amazing performance by one of our favorite bands, Tornado Rider, who is based in Oakland, CA, but has been touring FLA this month. It was great to talk with Scott, Graham, and Rushad after the show. We wish them luck on their recording project back in CA and look forward to seeing them at Springfest in March.

This was Graham Woodard's first gig with us and he did a great job filling in on rhythm guitar. His own band, Doublewide, will be playing on Saturday, Nov. 13 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Java Jungle and we Park-O-Lators will be there to support him, with Clayton and Susan backing him up on a few songs. Graham is a great songwriter and we all enjoyed performing his original song, White to Blue, during our set.

Wanted: Fun Rhythm Guitarist

Our wonderful rhythm guitarist, Marshall "Chuggy" Letter, formerly of The Nightcrawlers, had to leave the area and return to his former home in South Carolina after spending the summer playing with us this year. Not only did we become close friends, we learned a lot listening to his tales about touring and being signed to a record label. We will miss his clever sense of humor.

We're looking for a dedicated rhythm guitarist to take over this important role, which adds backbone to the crazy electric violin lead. Whether you are a great musician or just a decent one, liking our original songs and our fun, eclectic genre is all that's really important. We prefer to book gigs on weekends. Please contact us via email if you are interested at: parkolators@yahoo.com or call Susan's cell at 386-383-3729.

Practicing for the Summer of Love

We're practicing like crazy for the Summer of Love, a festival on August 15 where we'll have to play covers of 1960s hits. Fortunately, one of our newest additions, Marshall "Chuggy" Letter, used to be a member of a 1960s hit band, the "Nightcrawlers." Chuggy has helped us pick out songs and give his insight into how the songs were originally played (quite often very different from what most people believe), because he was there to see the bands play the songs live! I think you'll love our unusual set list, which includes everything from "Love Child" to "The Weight."