Inspired By The Old West

September 30, 2017 § Leave a comment

Recently, the family spent the weekend in Silver City, an old ghost/mining town in SW Idaho near the Oregon border. In an earlier post, I shared the song that I wrote while we were there. That was not, however, the song I thought I would write.

Since I was in an old mining town, i thought I should write or try to write a song with an Old West flavor. When I heard the bell on the town’s 150-year old church ring, my creativity was drawn elsewhere. But I knew I would sooner or later return to that sense of the Old West and try to write something in that vein.

I started writing as soon as we returned from Silver City, though it took a few days to complete the song. I guess I would classify this as a folk song with a sort of rolling rhythm underneath. (Think of something along the lines of the theme from Bonanza, and you’ll be close.)

The song is not based on anyone or on any event. It was simply drawn from the atmosphere I absorbed during my brief stay in Silver City. I hope you like it.

Ballad Of Pete McCulley

In the fall of ’67
Pete McCulley was gunned down
He never saw it coming
It was his first day in town

He had ridden from back East
Come to seek fortune and fame
Ended up dead in the street
A piece of wood with just a name

Here on the streets of Silver City
Where no civilized man should go
Poor old Pete met his match
What his last words were, we’ll never know
We’ll never know

Poor old Pete came west from Boston
Didn’t know to meet his end
He left behind a sweetheart
For whom he meant to send

Pete sold everything he owned
For a chance to strike it rich
But poor old Pete fell victim
To a trigger finger’s itch

Did Pete know that it was coming
Did he realize he was about to die
Did he feel the bullet strike him
Did he have time to wonder why?

Well, they never found his killer
Though that comes as no surprise
Did someone claim the pennies
That were place on poor Pete’s eyes

Here on the streets of Silver City
Where no civilized man should go
Poor old Pete met his match
What his last words were, we’ll never know
We’ll never know

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

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Where Do The Songs Come From?

September 28, 2017 § Leave a comment

I am currently reading a very interesting book, More Songwriters on Songwriting, by Paul Zollo. As the title implies, it is a second volume of compiled interviews with songwriters, diverse names ranging from Elvis Costello and Rickie Lee Jones to Paul Anka and Richard Sherman, who, with his brother Robert, wrote songs and scores for a variety of Disney movies (Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks among them).

One of the themes that runs throughout the interviews is the idea of inspiration and where it and the songs that result comes from. For instance, does one have to be in a certain frame of mind to write a good song. Stephen Stills, for example, says it is harder for him to write a good song when he is happy.

Other interviews touch on the notion of whether songs come from song other force (God or however one might refer to that force depending on whether the person is religious or spiritual) or whether they come from within. The interviews indicate that, just as there is no one approach to songwriting, there is no one single answer to that question.

My own take on it, for what it is worth, is that songs come from many places. Sometimes, I think there is a force that helps guide you in a specific direction (see my post Changing Direction for an example of this). Sometimes, the song from within. And sometimes, it may be a combination of those two things.

I’ve also had songs come about as the result of something I’ve seen or heard or done. Sometimes, they come about as a result of reflection on past events. Sometimes, as some writers will tell you, there’s no real knowing where the song comes from. (The song Fields of Imagination shared in this post comes to mind.)

Today’s entry could be called an example of serendipity or one of two diverse events coming together at the same moment. I was reading one of the interviews in Zollo’s book when, suddenly, the Ben E. King classic Stand By Me popped into my head. I don’t know why that song, of the hundreds of songs my wife and I perform or the thousands of songs I have heard over the years, should be the one to suddenly enter my consciousness.

What I do know is that I suddenly had to write. The following submission came in about 45 minutes, with a few changes taking place as I entered it here. The rhythm structure, as I hear it in my head, is slightly reminiscent of Stand By Me in the verses. The refrain and bridge take a slightly different tack, and the subject matter is almost completely opposite to Stand By Me. Please let me know what you think.

Still Haven’t Learned (To Let It Go)

In the night, when I’m all alone
Girl, I think of you and stare at the phone
But it doesn’t ring — you know the silence stings

In the light, when I’m in a crowd
Think I hear your voice, and the echo’s loud
Things you used to say — still hear them every day

Your face is still here in my dreams
I’m not as happy as it seems
There’s so much that I just can’t show —
Still haven’t learned to let it go

In the space of your leaving me
Nothing I can do, should just let it be
But the hardest part is telling that to my heart

I don’t know what to do to get you off my mind
Although you’re gone, I can’t leave you behind
My heart is flying blind

Your face is still here in my dreams
I’m not as happy as it seems
There’s so much that I just can’t show –
Still haven’t learned to let it go

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

Inspiration Comes In Many Forms

September 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

I am lucky in that I can be inspired lyrically by nearly anything. I’ve been inspired by a look out my kitchen window and seeing a single snowflake while washing dishes. I’ve drawn inspiration from things said at the breakfast (or dinner) table by my son. Now, I can add inspiration from a Porta-Potti to the list.

Recently, while performing at a farmers’ market, I had occasion to step inside a Porta-Potti which was none too steady. The shaky nature of the floor inspired the first two lines of the following lyric, and the rest followed from there.

The lyric structure follows a blues tradition of repeating lines (later picked up in some reggae tunes). The lyric rhythm is inspired a bit by the Jimmy Cliff classic “Sitting Here In Limbo,” although I make no claim that my effort is anywhere near as good.

Standing On Shaky Ground

Standing on shaky ground
One wrong step, I’m going down
Standing on shaky ground
One wrong step, I’m going down
If I stumble, if I fall
I’ll disappear without a sound

Unsure of myself
I don’t know which way to turn
Unsure of myself
I don’t know which way to turn
I can’t seem to find my way
You’d think by now that I would learn

Find myself wondering
Just exactly who I am
Standing here on shaky ground
I don’t want to fall again

Looking for some answers
But the question’s still unclear
Looking for some answers
But the question’s still unclear
Look at myself in the mirror
Don’t know what I’m doing here

Find myself wondering
Just exactly who I am
Standing here on shaky ground
I don’t want to fall again

Standing on shaky ground
If I’m lost, will I be found
Standing on shaky ground
If I’m lost will I be found
Sometimes, I’m so unsteady
Feels as if I’m gonna drown

Standing on shaky ground
I’m standing on shaky ground
Trying hard to find my balance
Feels as if I’m gonna drown

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

Sometimes, Lightning Strikes

September 24, 2017 § 2 Comments

No, not literally. Although I suppose that also happens. Actually, I am speaking of inspiration, the muse, whatever you want to call it. I’m lucky in that inspiration often strikes me, although it doesn’t often happen as quickly or as completely as in this instance.

I had driven my son to the library and was about to back out of my parking space when I happened to look up at the sky. My son, as is often his wont, was talking about Pokemon, something in which I have little interest, though I do try to occasionally humor him.’

As he was speaking and as I was looking at the sky, I suddenly began to think of how wearying these discussions sometimes are. Just as quickly, my thoughts shifted to the idea of being weary from being physically, mentally, and emotionally tired. That wasn’t hard to do, as my wife and I had performed for four hours just the day before.

As I was pulling out of the library’s parking lot, I had the first line for today’s entry. After I got back home, I quickly wrote the rest. Total time, including driving, less than an hour. The result: three minutes of what feels like magic. Sometimes, you get lucky.

Now That You’re Gone

Blue skies, red eyes
I stayed up too late again last night
Then up again before the morning light
To find you here with me
Though you left long ago

I can’t seem to rid myself
Of feelings you said died
I can’t seem to stop
The tears you never cried
There’s a part of me that knows
I should be moving on now that you’re gone

Wind blows, time slows
Always feel as if I’m standing still
A giant hole that I can’t seem to fill
No matter how I try
I wonder if you know

Early in the morning
I miss that you’re not here
Late at night when I’d hold you tight
I hate that you’re not near
I never said the things
That you needed to hear

Dark nights, street lights
Times when you and I talked on the phone
Remembering reminds me I’m alone
And tells me I was wrong
To ever let you go

I can’t seem to rid myself
Of feelings you said died
I can’t seem to stop
The tears you never cried
There’s a part of me that knows
I should be moving on now that you’re gone

Now that you’re gone
Now that you’re gone

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

Changing Direction

September 21, 2017 § 2 Comments

This past weekend, the family and I traveled to Silver City, an old mining town in southwest Idaho near the Oregon border. The trip coincided with the town’s annual open house and fundraiser, and we were invited by a friend to come visit.

Silver City is technically, I guess, a ghost town although there are a handful of people who own and live in the historic homes during the summer and the one or two people who live there as caretakers in the winter. Silver City was once a county seat and boasted the first newspaper in Idaho. It was also one of the first towns in Idaho to get electricity and phone service, although the electrical wires were ripped out by German POWs during World War II for the war effort, and the telephone service is now limited to the still operational hotel.

During my all-too-brief visit to Silver City, I had the idea I would write some sort of mining song or folk song, something I ended up doing after I returned home. (See the previous post for those lyrics.) Instead, I drew inspiration from the ringing of the once again active 150-year old church.

At first, I seemed to be drawn toward trying to write something humorous or at least satirical. I nearly had a first draft done when I realized I did not like the direction the song was heading. Not because it was becoming satirical but because it simply wasn’t any good. I did, though, think the beginning had promise.

So I took the first verses and the refrain (which I also liked) and tried again. I finished a first draft, which I thought was better but still not quite right because some of the lyrical transition were a bit abrupt. After yet another try, I think I finally got it. I hope you agree.

The vocal is intended to soar or at least go up at pitch when the choir is mentioned, a motif that follows throughout the remainder of the verses.

Haunted By The Holy Ghost

Sunday morn, the church bells rang
I heard the voices as they sang
The hymn they chose, “Nearer MY God To Thee”

I stood outside the church front door
Waited for my spirit to soar
Or a feeling of redemption to wash over me

But there was nothing, then the rain began to fall
Like tears from Heaven, come to wash me clean

And I don’t need to see the collar
I don’t need to take the Host
I’m forever haunted by the Holy Ghost

I thought to go inside by my hand stopped in midair
A stranger in a strange land; I felt myself laid bare

Now, the church bells have gone still
I feel the air give off a chill
So I pull my jacket tight and head for home

As I walk down that wet street
Through the puddles ‘neath my feet
I get the feeling I am not alone

I turn around, but I see no one there
Yet there is something I cannot describe

But I don’t need to see the collar
I don’t need to take the Host
I’m forever haunted by the Holy Ghost

No, I don’t need to see the collar
I don’t need to take the Host
I’m forever haunted by the Holy Ghost

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

Sometimes, It Just Comes

September 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

I am currently reading a book featuring songwriters talking about songwriting. Several of them have spoken about simply being the vessel through which the songs flow. And sometimes it feels that way, although I’m not sure I could distinguish when those times are as I almost always seem to be writing.

This past weekend, my wife and I spent time as the guests of someone who owned a home in an old Idaho mining town. It is a town that at certain times of the year looks like the ghost town it was probably meant to be.

Sitting on the porch of our host’s home, I looked around and though I should write a song about this mining town that seemed to echo the events of 150 years prior. Then I heard the bells of the still active church ring. Those bells sent me in one direction.

Eventually, though, I came back to thinking about the history of this mining town. While i did end up writing something inspired by the sound of those church bells I alluded to (to be shared in a future post), I also was influenced by the sense of history that pervaded the town, especially after visiting the Pioneer Cemetery, where some of the early residents were buried, along with the outlaws and the Chinamen, who weren’t deemed fit to be buried in the new cemetery.

Ballad Of Pete McCulley

In the fall of ’67, Pete McCulley was gunned down
He never saw it coming; it was his first day in town
He had ridden from St. Louis, come to seek fortune and fame
Ended up dead in the street, a piece of wood with just a name

Here in the streets of Silver City
Where no civilized man should go
Poor old Pete met his match
What his last thoughts were we’ll never know

Poor old Pete came west from Boston, didn’t know to meet his end
He left behind a sweetheart for whom he meant to send
Pete sold everything he owned for a chance to strike it rich
But poor old Pete fell victim to a trigger finger’s itch

Did Pete know that it was coming?
Did he realize he was about to die?
Did he feel the bullet strike him?
Did he have time to wonder why?

Well, the y never caught his killer; I guess that is no surprise
Did someone claim the pennies that were placed on poor Pete’s eyes

Here in the streets of Silver City
Where no civilized man should go
Poor old Pete met his match
What his last thoughts were we’ll never know

We’ll never know

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

An Ego Trip?

September 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

For the last couple of years, my wife and I have been fairly regular attendees and performers at the monthly Idaho Songwriters Association forum. On the last Tuesday of each month, songwriters sign up to perform one original song. In the last 30 months, we’ve probably performed 23 or 24 songs.

For several months, the forum was emceed by a local musician who liked to refer to us as “The Huntsman” or “The Huntsmen,” I was never quite sure which, as if that were the name of our act. It isn’t, but it got me to thinking about my last name.

A number of years ago at some fair or carnival, I paid $20 (or so) to get a certificate containing the purported meaning and origin of my last name and what was claimed to be my coat of arms. The meaning and origin jibe with what I have always thought my last name to mean, although I’m not sure a huntsman was ever lofty enough to have a coat of arms.

While I imagine that somewhere there exists a song (or two) about a huntsman, I’ve never come across one. Nor have I ever attempted to write such a song until now. I think it probably still needs some work and refining, but here is the initial effort.

The Huntsman

The hounds sit at the ready, nostrils flaring
While the steeds nervously pace
And the huntsman sounds the signal
That is meant to start the chase
‘Cross meadow, stream, and rocky field
The hounds pursue their prey
But for the huntsman, this idyllic scene
Is just a working day

For a shilling and an extra pipe
The huntsman trains his hounds
To chase the fox till his last breath
And bring their prey to ground

Coursers wait with nerves of steel, silently
For the unleash order to come
The chase, the sport, more than the prize
They have no need of a gun
No rook, no rock, no cave is safe
So well they know the land
The ground, as familiar to the huntsman
As the back of his hand

The horses wait with bridles taut
Each rider counts the minutes down
Like their forefathers, forgotten
Before the huntsman’s call
Sends them racing with the hounds

The hunt has ended, so it’s down to the pub
To smoke a pipe and share a drink
A tradition for the ages
In which he is the latest link
Though some will say his way of life
Should have died out long ago
The huntsman hopes he won’t live to see it
It’s the only life he knows

For a shilling and an extra pipe
The huntsman trains his hounds
To chase the fox till his last breath
And bring their prey to ground

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

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