Goodbye, 2012 (Stuff That Works) - 12/27/2012

   Wow. What a year it has been.  It is a terrible cliche, but 'rollercoaster ride' comes close to describing 2012.  January started cold in every sense of the word.  I have tried not to dwell on the loss of our father or to hammer people over the head with it.  I know this it part of the deal, that losing those closest to us comes with the territory.  I am not special nor immune to reality.  I am dealing with it the best that I can, and that is all I can do.  I know I was lucky to have him as long as I did and now live in the hope that I will see him again some day.  You always hope you have just a little more time and wish you could have done some things better.
     In February, we attended SPBGMA in Nashville for the first time, and to our surpise we came away with three awards.  We were happy, met and played for a bunch of nice people, but I said to Leigh in the hotel room after the awards, "Where is the joy?"  Leigh wisely answered, "We lost the guy we always wanted to impress."  Numb.  Thankful, but numb.  During that time, less than a month after losing Dad, we finally got the chance to write with the great Shawn Camp.  We don't co-write with people a lot, but this is one guy we hunted down.  Wouldn't you know it, we kind of laid an egg at first.  Nothing was coming.  Shawn kindly said, "Well, boys, some days I just don't have it."  We were the ones who didn't have it, emotionally drained.  He excused himself and we looked at each other and shook our heads, disappointed that we'd blown our chance to write a song with one of our songwriting heroes.  I was fumbling around with a melody when he re-entered the room.  "Hey, what's that?" Shawn asked.  "Ah, nothing. It's just something coming to me."  He grabbed his guitar and started fooling with the melody.  Before you knew it, we were all pitching in and getting a song together.  I loved the hook, and told Shawn so.  "Well, you wrote it," he replied.  I had forgotten saying it.  My almost throwaway comment worked its way into a song called "Something Comin' To Me."  There is even a verse about Dad.  Shawn insisted, saying, "We need to get your daddy in there."  Later on, after I told Leigh how much I liked the guy, Leigh said, "Shawn's a feeler."  He felt empathy for us and helped write what I think is one heck of a song.
     A European tour in the spring was a career highlight as we played shows in Denmark, Germany, France, and Italy.  The beginning of the tour was about as low as I have ever felt.  When I left, my wife was suffering with back pain.  Even though I was off doing my job, I felt guilty for leaving her with all the home responsibilities.  I went sleepless for the first three nights in Denmark, really licking my wounds, I think.  I wrote several songs, one of which might be among my best.  I kept trying to fall asleep each night but gave up each day as the birds started singing. One morning in Denmark, I wrote "Songbird's Song." Tim O'Brien had sent Leigh a note the year before saying how much he enjoyed "Help My Brother" and encouraged us to keep 'digging deeper. ' For my own health, I don't want to dig much deeper than I did on that one.  I finally slept when we hit Germany, and I know I was much easier to put up with after that.  We ate some of the best food we'd ever had, saw amazing sights, and played in front of some wonderful people.  I will never forget trying to speak French to an audience in the Alps or Leigh mesmerizing an audience in Torino, Italy, with "Safe Passage."  That song seemed to be our 'hit' over there.  As enjoyable as it was, it was nice to get home for a little while before heading to the Yukon Territory for the second time.
     The people in the Yukon have opened their hearts to us and our music. We teach at a camp outside of Whitehorse and have played an indoor festival following the camp the past two years. I really respect the folks up there. So many of them are the epitome of rugged individualism, 'can-do' people who know how to survive and thrive in that rough and beautiful land.  This year we were even taken on a float plane ride over mountains and glaciers.  The cockpit computer kept saying "Danger. Danger."  The confident judge piloting the plane said, "Ah, don't worry about that."  We tried to act tough, but it was a little unnerving looking UP at mountain peaks from inside a little plane.  I would do it again if given the chance though.  Mike Barber was in Heaven fishing up there.  I am half-worried he'll refuse to come home after  one of these trips.
     We had our busiest summer ever, playing all over the United States and a good deal of Canada as well. When you are that busy, the time flies, but the work was a salve for Leigh and me.  The boys in the band just kept hitting it out of the park gig after gig.  I told Leigh that it felt like I was driving a Cadillac.  Mike, Joe, and Clayton are all at the top of their games, pushing Leigh and me to be better and better.  Sometimes I feel like I am playing catch-up with them.  The busy schedule was a result of years of hard work, and I really think the IBMA Awards have made us more legitimate in the eyes of a lot of folks.  We kept trying to raise the bar all summer the best we could.  Even so, it was a complete shock to win Entertainer of the Year at the IBMA Awards in Nashville in September.  We couldn't believe it. My first thought was of Dad, of how happy he would have been.  He listened to the awards with my parents' friends Chub and Shirley Moore, Mom, and Kelley the year before. It was with mixed emotions that we accepted the award, happy and sad at the same time. Kyle Cantrell and Chris Jones from Sirius XM tried to interview me immediately following the awards, but I had to ask if I could come back.  I had to call Mom and Corina and to give a prayer of thanks.  I had to gather myself.  I felt validated for giving up a teaching job fourteen years prior.  I had questioned my decision during hard times, and I am not fool enough to think the music business will ever be easy.  But for one night, at least, I felt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  After a few minutes, Leigh appeared and, appropriately, we did the interview together.   When we got back to the hotel room, Leigh said, "Well, Ralph, we did it."  (I don't know why he calls me that.  Dad always did, too.  I think there was a wrestler named Ralph Rotten).   I exhaled, smiled, and said, "Yes, we did."
     We ended the year by recording a new album for Compass Records.  I think we 'dug deeper' and that we have made a recording we can be proud of.  We look forward to playing these songs on stage in 2013, thankful to all who have been on this ride with us and hoping they will continue for years to come.

Last weekend at the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine, Leigh, Mike, Kelley, and Robert Barber and I jammed with Duke Levine in the green room a few hours before the show.  My favorite moment was singing Guy Clark's and Rodney Crowell's "Stuff that Works."

Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don't hang on a wall
Stuff that's real, stuff you feel
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall

Killer chorus, huh? My favorite verse in the song really speaks to me.  It could have been written about Leigh and me:

I got a pretty good friend who's seen me at my worst
He don't know if I'm a blessing or a curse
But he always shows up when the chips are down
That's the kind of stuff I like to hang around

Leigh is good stuff.