Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

Archive for the tag “Day for Night”

Day for Night: Love of Train

Amtrak’s California Zephyr heads east through Palisade, Colo., in June 2011.


“Next time you throw a train, invite me.” — Janis Joplin

Next time you hear a train, visit Day for Night at the Nimbit store! Day for Night


Gretchen Schaefer on the California Zephyr, 2011. Hubley Archives.

My earliest train memory

is very brief. I remember being placed in a dark upholstered seat, under dim yellow light, in a passenger coach in or around Augusta, Maine. The family Ford had died on a bridge and we took the train back to Portland. Those were the last years of passenger rail on the Maine Central Railroad, and I was 4 or 5 years old.

A hill in the Sierra Nevada, seen from the Zephyr in June 2017. Hubley Archives.

My father carried me into the house from the taxi, a yellow car with big fins, that lingered idling on Richland Street.

At some point in childhood I started reading Model Railroader magazine and even attempted to build a layout. It was pathetic. I had no money and no skills, and the trains never ran on the South Portland & Mississippi. I envied my cousins, accomplished model railroaders who had a fine layout in the basement, accessed via a trapdoor in the side porch, of their home in Bangor.

My family visited Boston sometimes and I was captivated by the subways, the smell of ozone and hot grease and dust, the screech of steel wheels on steel rails. I wanted to build a model subway layout with glass covering the tunnels. That never happened.

Rolling through Colorado in June 2011. Photo by Gretchen Schaefer.

On a cold November morning in late 1968, my mother kindly brought me to the Grand Trunk railroad yard on India Street to see a steam locomotive. It was pulling a foliage excursion train to Island Pond, Vt.

Yugoslavia by train, 1976. Hubley Archives.

I can’t remember if we saw the locomotive or not, but the rail yard seemed pretty serious, heavy rails dense on the ground and treacherous, shining and slick. A few years later I took that foliage train northwest a few times — behind diesel-electric locomotives, as steam was all done by then.

I love trains and I always have. In these days of encroaching old age, the reading that pleases me the most — after pop and country music history of the 20th century — is about trains. I observe each car of the freight trains that hold me up at grade crossings. At work and at home, I pause to listen when trains sound their horns, though there’s rarely any difference from one instance to the next. We get a particular thrill from hearing Amtrak’s Downeaster go calling through the woods behind our house.

Scenic views from our maiden voyage on the Zephyr. Hubley Archives.


For years I carried a torch for O.R. Cummings’ history of the Portland-Lewiston electric interurban line, whose roadbed we sometimes stroll, and finally found the booklet at a model railroad show in early 2017 for the bargain price of $0.00.

Jesup, Ga., seen from the Silver Meteor, December 2015. Hubley Archives.

But the love for trains is an uneasy love.

No one shames you for it, exactly, but there’s a comprehension gap at best and at worst, a kind of amused pity because one is waxing so romantic over something so, well, unromantic. Seen objectively, railroading can be a brutal business, physically and ethically.

What better view from a hotel window on a hopeful early morning: the Amtrak station in Emeryville, Calif. Hubley Archives.

It’s easy to make a fool of a train lover (it’s a favorite pastime for Republicans in Congress). American passenger trains are slow at best and really slow at worst (see previous parenthetical comment). All that we train lovers ask of the train is a nice time, and so often what we get is a bus ride through New York state, eating sandwiches off our laps (2013, Lake Shore Limited).

Too early for breakfast on the Zephyr, 2013. Hubley Archives.

So train lovers are an awkward minority, and I can say this as a member, although I don’t express my love by spending hours at trackside awaiting a photo opp nor by wearing an engineer’s cap and overalls to the model railroad expo.

One’s acquaintances may well express respect when one advocates for train travel over the pleasures of flying, long-distance driving or riding a bus. They say, “That’s so cool! I’d love to do that!”

But they never will, preferring to fly, drive all day or ride the bus.

Somewhere swampy on the way to Florida on the Silver Meteor. Hubley Archives.


I’m especially reluctant to enthuse about riding trains when I’m talking to one of those dry-humored, brusquely competent types who don’t let romance cloud their view of practical realities. These are good people to deal with when you’re trying to straighten out your E-ZPass account, but you still know they’ll smirk at you if you mention trains. (And a lot of them work on the trains. Railroad employees tend to call railroad fans “foamers,” as in foaming at the mouth with excitement at seeing a train. Mean!)

Tuning up on the Lake Shore Limited, 2013. Photo by Gretchen Schaefer.

In the context of creative work, this attitude can have corrosive effects. I like and respect the comedic banjo player Steve Martin, but got my nose out of joint over public remarks he made about the contemporary (lack of) relevance of train songs — even as he performs with a bluegrass band that plays train songs. (Needless to say, Day for Night performs a number of train songs.)

Steve, the trains still run. The fact that no one rides the truss rods anymore doesn’t mean trains aren’t relevant. Grabbing a train to flee a failed love affair is no less poignant because nowadays you can get a beer and Snickers to ease the sting — and it may be more poignant, because how pathetic is that? You want relevance? The Lac-Mégantic train tragedy has a distinctly 21st-century feel to it, wouldn’t you say?

At the same time, I will admit that writing about the Amtrak experience is really a challenge. I believe it’s possible to touch the soul with a song set on the Northeast Regional — the name alone is poetry — but I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

First-ever night on the Lake Shore Limited, 2011. Hubley Archives.

I am blessed in having found a companion who loves trains too. Gretchen Schaefer, my partner in life and in the acoustic country duo Day for Night, and I tend to reserve our vacation dollars for travel by train, particularly for trips that enable us to hole up in a train roomette, the smaller size of Amtrak sleeping compartment, for many hours or a few days.

(In 2016 we flew to Emeryville, Calif., for the sole purpose of riding Amtrak’s California Zephyr all the way back to Chicago, whence we rode the Lake Shore Limited all the way back to Boston, whence we had to settle for the bus to Portland because the LSL was so late.)

Starting with a rollicking Amtrak ride to Montreal in 1982, the year after we met, Gretchen and I have gone out of our way, often literally, to take the train. In fact, looking just at destination Montreal, we have ridden three different trains to get there, including the Canadian VIA Rail Atlantic that, between the late 1960s and its elimination in 1994, provided Maine’s only regular passenger rail service. (Riding west in 1987, we boarded the Atlantic at Brownville Junction around midnight and then, homeward bound, detrained into the pitch-black night in Greenville around 2 a.m. Somehow we found the motel.)

The Zephyr takes it slow around a curve in the Sierra Nevada. Hubley Archives.


Always a personal imperative, the train became something of a musical haven for us in 2011. Our first train trip to the West was a mind-bending expedition that included a crossing of the Rockies and visits to Grand Junction, the Colorado National Monument and little Palisade, land of wine grapes, cherries and peaches.

Waiting for a train in Mystic, Conn. Hubley Archives.

That was the first year we had instruments small enough to travel with: a mandolin for me and a Martin Backpacker guitar for Gretchen. It was also the year we decided to try Amtrak’s sleeping accommodations: specifically, the tiny roomettes.

The roomette has two facing seats so you can see your partner. Between the seats you can unfold a table to hold your lyric sheets and snacks (for us, M&M peanuts) and booze (Jack Daniels). There’s not much room otherwise — unpacking an instrument can be awkward — but there’s enough. (Suggested additional viewing: the documentary Festival Express.)

Nevada, 2017. Hubley Archives.

Words to live by. Union Station, Denver. Hubley Archives.

There’s a big window so you can see western Massachusetts woods, Chicago warehouses, Iowa cornfields and Rocky Mountains going by; and there’s interior glass facing the corridor so you can observe humanity going by should you choose to leave the curtains open. The interior glass lets enough sound pass to inform the neighbors that there are cool musicians nearby, but not enough to create a public nuisance.

Looking west from the tail end of the California Zephyr. Hubley Archives.

In 2011, we rode the Downeaster to Boston, the LSL to Chicago and the Zephyr out to Grand Junction, Colo., on the Utah border. It was on the LSL that we first played music on a train, establishing the routine we’ve observed ever since: tiny instruments, booze and snacks, passers-by swaying down the unsteady corridor, the world’s fascinations speeding past to be savored or ignored.

What worlds we traversed in that two-day ride: The waters of upstate New York at dusk, the hideous Gary Works in Indiana, the sun on the green fields of Illinois and Iowa, the foul feedlots of Nebraska and eastern Colorado, the red Rockies with floodwaters rushing through.

And what an intimate way to play music: acoustically, bodily, hedonically, geographically intimate. If you love trains and love music, how could it get any better? It’s not exactly nirvana — too many stimuli — but it’s certainly a kind of bliss where all good things are present for you, and your only responsibility is to be receptive to them (and to show your ticket when the conductor asks for it. And to not be a jerk).

At night the roomette seats convert to little beds, one up, one down. It’s not the best sleep in terms of becoming rested, but it does add another dimension, a psychic Instagram filter, to the unique phenomenological experience that is long-distance train travel. The whistle howls, dull fluorescent platform lights shine in your face during station stops in the wee small hours, the whistle howls, the train motion is back and forth, up and down, side to side; the whistle howls.

Then you get up, feel the full glory of introversion during an awkward breakfast with strangers in the dining car, and return to your little world behind glass, free to read, write, make music or just become one with the passing world.

A Boston & Maine caboose somewhere in upstate New York, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

My love of trains, like any thought pattern imprinted early on, is hard to explain. I love trains because I have always loved trains, which isn’t much of a reason aside from being true. Perhaps this explains the challenge of capturing the appeal of trains in a song, especially while you’re sitting around for five hours, with no end in sight and no information from Amtrak, in the Rensselaer railroad station.

But it’s easy to explain why Gretchen and I love to ride trains. Even riding coach, they are comfortable, the sightseeing is pleasant and one has no responsibility, etc. Non-train people complain about trains’ slowness and lateness, but for us time is not an issue (setting aside that Rensselaer thing) because the train, unlike the car, plane or bus, is as much the destination as it is the transportation.

And taking a sleeping accommodation, as we often do, provides still another benefit that, similar to the way caffeine enhances the effects of aspirin, heightens all the pleasures of the train: privacy.

Gretchen and I are a reclusive and introverted couple who, it seems, move through the world at all times in a virtual train compartment of mutual interests and fascinations, not least with one another. The Amtrak roomette is not just the conveyance of choice, but a perfect metaphor for us.


Enjoy a couple of train songs from the Day for Night archives.

  • Mr. Engineer (Jimmy Martin-Paul Williams) We first heard Jimmy Martin perform this on the “Trains” episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. On that same episode we also heard (and subsequently learned) “Train of Love” by Johnny Cash. Louis Armstrong’s “2:19 Blues” is still out there waiting for us. From an October 2013 performance at the Royal Bean, Yarmouth. Songs of Universal, Inc.
  • I Remember the Railroad (Gene Clark) I have loved this song since I first got my mitts on Gene Clark’s LP Roadmaster in 1977, but thought it was too much of a dirge to perform. Not so, as this 2011 living room performance suggests. Irving Music, Inc.

Text and “Hubley Archives” images copyright © 2017 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

End of a Long Dry Spell


Day for Night performs “Bittersweet” at Andy’s Old Port Pub in March 2016. Videographer: Jeff Stanton.


And they’re handing down my sentence now
And I know what I must do
Another mile of silence while I’m
Coming back to you

— Leonard Cohen, “Coming Back to You”


Visit the Bandcamp electro-Victrola!


Some people write a lot of songs

or write songs quickly or both.

They can find inspiration in a hangnail and can scarcely handle all the melodies welling up from within.

The public debut of “Bittersweet,” and my debut with the mandolin, took place at the Portland wine bar Blue in August 2010. Hubley Archives.

 

But they do modestly assure you, while talking about their productivity, which you didn’t ask about, that they’re only conduits for The Music.

I’m not one of those songwriters. I admit that I envy them. It’s important for me to think of myself as a songwriter, and I do qualify, but three songs make a very big songwriting year for me. And I haven’t seen one of those in decades. Well, there’s always hope.

I’ve accepted my sluggish writing pace and have even had a few peaceful years of not feeling compelled to understand it, although working on this post does reopen the question. Excuses come readily to hand; the real reasons, not so much. It’s a curious way to proceed.

I nevertheless do have a working routine that results in songs, however few and far between. This routine matured as I found my way out of a barren period that lasted for an alarming 11 years.

Gretchen wears a crown of Peaks Island bittersweet in this public relations selfie from October 2010. Hubley Archives.

 

I never gave up on songwriting during those years. I just never finished any songs.

It was a trek through the desert that lasted from 1998’s “Caphead” — the best song that I wrote for the Howling Turbines, or I should say “the better song,” since I wrote only two for that band — to early 2010 and “Bittersweet,” the first title I wrote for my current ensemble, Day for Night.

If my excuses for not writing aren’t interesting and the root causes are hard to ascertain, it is nevertheless clear that what roused me again was Day for Night, the acoustic country duo comprising Gretchen Schaefer, my life partner inside and outside music, and me.

After fumbling around for three years after the demise of Howling Turbines, in 2004, we had settled on a musical approach and were getting some gigs. We loved the classic country we were doing; but at the same time, having a band that, for the first time in a few years, was doing more than walking in place relit the pilot light for my songwriting.

That is, there would be a home and an audience for my songs — not to mention the considerable formal challenge, which I’m still trying to master, of creating credible songs for a two-piece band playing vintage country, with its “three-chords-and-the-truth” aesthetic.

My first songs, way back there in the late 1960s, had a country (-pop-folk) feel because that’s what idols like Neil Young and Tim Hardin were playing as they infected me with wanna-be disease. (Making me more susceptible was the dawning realization that emotions and relationships are dealt with more easily through guitars and microphones than anything as debilitating as personal communication.)

But if I was young enough to want to copy my idols, I was willful or perverse or ornery enough not to be direct about it. (Shades of that personal communication thing.) I frequently had to make things too complicated, which succeeded more often with lyrics than melodies, which in my case tend less to well up from within than to be wrung from pieces of sandstone.

Just above the wine notes are the beginnings of the lyric for “Bittersweet.” Hubley Archives.

That complicating tendency lasted a long time. It actually found a home in the early 1980s, 12 years into my songwriting career, with one of my bands: the Fashion Jungle. The FJ was predicated on original material, was musically capable and, successor to a hopelessly eclectic covers band, was stylistically agnostic.

A song like “Little Cries,” with its chromatic chord progressions, rambling architecture and elusive home key, was definitive Fashion Jungle. It was also about as far from country you could get and still be singing about feigned love and fake orgasms.

But the FJ introduced me to a certain discipline of songwriting. In the belated-but-potent Portland, Maine, New Wave scene, we had to perform our own songs for the sake of credibility and self-respect.

None of us was prolific — I wrote the most, if that tells you anything — so in the early days, we agreed to each bring in something original at regular intervals, even if just a lyrical fragment or a chord progression. And a few good songs resulted from that practice.

Anyway, I have managed to simplify some as the years roll on, and by the time I was ready to finish “Bittersweet” I was able to winnow it down to a mere six chords and the truth.

That was four years after I started it.

Writing “Where Was I” in the bar at the Senator Hotel in late 2012. You work your way, and I’ll work mine. Hubley Archives.

 

“Bittersweet” doesn’t precisely exemplify my current songwriting practice but, to paraphrase the Staples Singers, it took me there.

Inspired by the Carter Family, the idea of a song about love that’s like a destructive clinging vine probably came to me during one of my noontime rambles around Lewiston, Maine, where I work. That was in May 2006.

A month later, loitering in Boulder, Colo., while Gretchen attended a conference, I undertook the exercise of sitting in coffee shops and writing a bunch of crap just to keep the muscles limber in case the muse was lurking nearby. (Poetry by Leonard Cohen helped prime the pump: His Book of Longing was new that year.)

That process produced one useful verse for what I was then calling “Clinging Love #1.”

A year and a half later, I somehow arrived at the actual title: “Bittersweet,” named not for the flavor profile, but for the imported invasive vine that makes such pretty berries, strangles the native trees and provides the rare justification for using Roundup in your yard.

Doug and Gretchen in a Manchester hotel, November 2007. Hubley Archives.

 

Having a metaphor to work with opened the cupboard to a lot of useful imagery, which I pillaged in a hotel room on a freezing evening in Manchester, N.H., 17 months later, in November 2007.

Gretchen was reclining on the bed, coming down with shingles and reading Georges Simenon. I was in a chair with a notebook belaboring “Bittersweet” at length, fueled by Jack Daniels highballs and a songwriting urge stronger than it had been in years.

Since “Bittersweet,” I’ve come to recognize these scribbling sessions as the most exciting phase of songwriting — when they pan out. It’s about inspiration, but it’s not just about being inspired: It’s about capturing inspiration, converting it into a thing, a product.

This phase works better, for me, away from the house and its distractions. (Home is where I finish songs, which is largely an editorial process.) I generally go for the big scribble in cafes, bars and, as in Manchester, hotels.

Hotel rooms are especially good for working on melody as well as lyrics. Composing music must be private (all that sandstone-wringing is unseemly), while writing lyrics can be public.

Manchester scribbles, part one. The letters down the left side were an attempt to impart a rhyme scheme. Be glad I’m not showing you the page where I listed all the words that rhyme with “bind.” Hubley Archives.

In fact, while working on lyrics it helps to have people around. Not too many: just enough to stimulate the socially attuned areas of one’s brain, which can then helpfully suggest behaviors or even stories that can feed a song lyric.

Booze helps, too — until it doesn’t. That was the case with “Bittersweet.” After a couple of hours of graphomania, I felt like I’d left the lyrics in a pretty good place and would get back to it right away.

Well, I got back to it two years later. The idea was still powerful, but the scribbles in my Bob Slate notebook didn’t add up to a whole lot.

Manchester scribbles, part two. Hubley Archives.

Nowadays, at least when I’m trying to write, I drink judiciously, striving for a delicate balance between freeing, on the one hand, the lyrical brain, and on the other, the inner jerk. Cocktails are too small and strong, but nursing a boilermaker or two glasses of wine works out fine. (A bag of M&M Peanuts does no harm, either.)

In the scribbling phase, I’m not looking for finished lyrics, but instead for words in which the finished song lies waiting: maybe a musical setting, definitely a plot, some catch phrases to make it memorable, the right blend of pithy lyrics and words that just advance the story.

(It can’t all be poetry, because singers and listeners alike will choke on that. In fact, singing didn’t start out as words and singers don’t always need them: My goal is to someday write a song that has some well-placed woos or la-la-las.)

So, that’s the ideal. But I can write pages of rhymes and never close in on any of that stuff. (30 years is not an extreme amount of time for me to carry a half-finished lyric around. When it gets to be 50, I may have to find a different outlet.)

But when I can push a lyric to the point where there’s a song discernible within it, my rule — ever since “Bittersweet” — has been to just finish the damned thing. Which, of course, I should have been doing all along.

And which, with “Bittersweet,” I did in January 2010. Sitting at the dining table on one gray cold day, I polished off the lyrics in one intense session. In the basement studio on a different cold gray day, I puzzled out and recorded the music.

And I was a songwriter again . . . just like that.


Tendrils Reach

Three songs written by Doug Hubley and performed by Day for Night, available in the Bandcamp store.

  • Bittersweet (Hubley) As described above, the song that broke a long dry spell for me as a songwriter. An invasive vine becomes a metaphor for clinging destructive love. Performed at the 2016 Cornish Apple Festival.
  • Stranger Wherever I Go (Hubley) New in spring 2016, this is pretty much a summary of my role in society. Another recording from the 2016 Cornish Apple Festival.
  • The Ceiling (Hubley) The first song I wrote for mandolin, as well as my contribution to country music’s illustrious history of songs that are about parts of a room. Also, something of a “hit” for Day for Night after its publication online . . . bringing me three cents in streaming fees every month or so.

“Bittersweet” and “The Ceiling” copyright © 2012 by Douglas L. Hubley; “Stranger Wherever I Go” copyright © 2016 by Douglas L. Hubley. “Notes From a Basement” text copyright © 2012–2017 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Day for Night: World Domination

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley look skeptical in a 2008 publicity image. Photo by Kodak self-timer / Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley look skeptical in a 2008 publicity image. Photo by Kodak self-timer / Hubley Archives.

Hear Day for Night perform a Doug Hubley original at the Cornish Apple Festival in 2014.


I admit that for a band that plays

four to eight public performances a year, and considers the high end of that range hectic, it may be grandiose to state that we ever “arrived.”

But if Day for Night did arrive, it was in 2008. And to my mind, the time of arrival was a private party that we played that October.

Day for Night rates a whole paragraph in the Sun Journal's advance for the Jan. 2008 Powder Kegs gig. Hubley Archives.

Day for Night rates a whole paragraph in the Sun Journal’s advance for the Jan. 2008 Powder Kegs gig. Hubley Archives.

It was an afternoon-to-evening bash in a big attractive loft in Brunswick. Gretchen Schaefer and I were joined by our friends Steve Chapman, on bass, and drummer Willy Thurston, and we called the foursome the Day for Night Orchestra.

A number of other acts were scheduled to play, most of them combinations and permutations of a group of people that, taken altogether, were the big band headlining the show. The ringleader was an impolite fellow who didn’t seem to want us there.

He fussed about this and was rude about that. We stowed our guitar cases in the wrong places at least twice. The cole slaw that we made from homegrown cabbage and brought for the potluck meal was an object of disdain.

Still and all, we were businesslike, played pretty well, put our hearts into it, connected with the listeners, and were polite to the man who didn’t want us there — who went on to confirm it, once the crowd started showing some enthusiasm, by running up to the mic and cutting off our set. His party, after all.

I nevertheless ended up feeling good about the whole thing. That show came late in a year of performances in diverse settings, from a concert at Bates College to the Cornish Apple Festival. It was a year in which we got established as Day for Night, finding our footing as an acoustic country duo after two decades in electric bands.

We worked the fussy man’s birthday party with a combination of aplomb and musical focus that told me that we’d found that footing (albeit, at the risk of contradicting my premise, as an acoustic duo with an electric rhythm section). If we walked away irritated with the birthday boy, we were very satisfied at how we handled his party.

I felt, in short, that we’d arrived.

Gretchen Schaefer at the Library, Portsmouth, N.H., in 2008. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer at the Library, Portsmouth, N.H., in 2008. Hubley Archives.

Yes, tape

As Gretchen and I started feeling more confident about Day for Night, I fired up — as I do pretty much reflexively at this late date — the single-cylinder publicity machine.

Top priority on that front was obtaining demo-quality recordings. Steve rolled the tape (yes, tape. Four-track tape!) for sessions in July 2007 and July 2008.

The 2007 demo landed us a short string of dates at the Frog & Turtle Gastropub, in Westbrook, where we were discouraged by the crash and clatter from the kitchen, directly behind us; but encouraged by Johnny Cash on the house sound system and the generosity of owner James Tranchemontagne.

The 2007 demo also helped get us a gig that shines on in my memory: a spot at Bates College, where I work, opening for a band of hipsters called the Powder Kegs. They were billed as an Americana band, which D4N also is, sort of. So I threw myself at the feet of the event sponsor, the student radio station.

The performance took place in January 2008. The night was frigid and starry, the campus walkways were glare ice.

The setlist for Day for Night's opening spot for the Powder Kegs (where are they now?) at Bates College. Hubley Archives.

The setlist for Day for Night’s opening spot for the Powder Kegs (where are they now?) at Bates College in January 2008. We had learned every song here from the Louvin Brothers, Everly Brothers, or Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. We would soon begin broadening our catalog. Hubley Archives.

The publicity machine had coughed out a news release that, through the Lewiston Sun Journal, attracted an old-school country audience of 20 or 30. It was plain that those folks, people in their 50s and 60s and 70s, from Minot and Livermore Falls and Greene, weren’t there for the Powder Kegs. (After our set, one of those listeners talked to us at length about WWVA, the legendary West Virginia country radio station. I was flattered that he would associate Day for Night with the home of the “Jamboree.”)

We eschewed our usual multi-instrumental assault and stuck to two guitars. The sound operator knew his stuff, gave us perfect onstage sound, brought out our best. The locals really liked us — we could see and feel their attention. The Powder Kegs crowd hadn’t gotten there yet.

Okay, I’m romanticizing, but I recall that performance as one of Day for Night’s best-ever (even though I messed up the lyrics to “Cathy’s Clown”).

I incorporated the 2008 demo CD (yes, CD), which even had a picture of us on the label, into a proper press kit (albeit without any sort of treat like the key-pins that the Boarders had distributed).

Yes, four years into the Facebook era, and I was packing press kits in manila envelopes. I still keep a few of the kits around while I look for a museum that will take them.

One October evening we tromped around Portland with a sack of press kits. The kit failed to seduce Empire and Space Gallery, but did work some kind of magic with Blue, the Portland, Maine, nightspot where we went on to play a few times a year between 2008 and 2014. And, as I have noted in an earlier post, 2008 was the year we began our long run at the Cornish Apple Festival.

From the top, Day for Night's first, second and current business cards. Hubley Archives.

From the top, Day for Night’s first, second and current business cards. Gretchen designed the rooster crowing at the moon. Hubley Archives.

Hungry catalog

Simultaneous with the search for gigs in 2008 was a greed for new material.

A previous post describes how a select few artists — the Louvin Brothers, Everly Brothers, Gram Parsons — helped us set our musical compass. In fact, of the 32 songs we performed at a representative D4N date in May 2008, six came from the Everlys, seven from Parsons (including two that he learned from the Everlys) and 11 from the Louvins.

But soon enough, we’d mined out most of the appealing Louvins-Everlys-Parsons repertoire and were eyeing all the other country musicians out there. (Not literally “all.” Setting aside the songs I write, we knew from the start that c. 1938–1978 was our happy place in country music, and with a couple of exceptions we’ve haven’t ventured out of it. This approach was validated by many wasted hours spent watching the primetime soap opera Nashville.)

The Day for Night repertoire in mid-2008. Note our early lineup at left -- Everlys, Louvins, too many instruments — and the new material at right, all arranged for two guitars and reflecting later influences like Gene Clark and Webb Pierce. Hubley Archives.

The Day for Night repertoire in mid-2008. Note our early lineup at left — Everlys, Louvins, too many instruments — and the new material at right, all arranged for two guitars and reflecting a wider range of influences. Hubley Archives.

Exacerbating the repertoire hunger was a sort of feedback loop: The more country we got, the less appropriate a lot of our older material became, so we were shedding material as fast as we added it. It was only inevitable that we’d bust out of our little repertory corral.

I dug deeper into artists I’d always liked. An example is the late Gene Clark, the former Byrd whose songwriting may be the color that’s deepest-dyed in my own compositions.

Harold Eugene Clark — Gene Clark — whose awkwardnesses with lyrics and music somehow translated into a higher order of pathos and poeticism. Clark, who was too passive to stop Crosby from taking the Gretsch away from him, but not too passive to drive a vintage Ferrari; whose two Columbia albums with the Byrds were the band’s best; and who was the only Byrd to bother bringing good original material to the quintet’s 1973 reunion LP.

Clark, not a pure country artist in style, but one of the purest in spirit.

In 2008, in a kind of fever, we learned his “Tried So Hard,” “She Don’t Care About Time,” “Why Not Your Baby” (on autoharp and accordion), “Full Circle Song” and “Polly.” The last two remain in our active repertoire. Later came “I Remember the Railroad.”

If Gene Clark material was a fad for us that year, the George Jones catalog was, and remains, a long-term project. We have claimed a few — “Beneath Still Waters” is one of our strongest numbers — but between the sui generis superiority of Jones’ singing and the tinniness of much of his material, it’s hard to find Jones numbers that suit both our abilities and our fussy tastes.

Doug Hubley at John's Grill, San Francisco, February 2008. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

Doug Hubley at John’s Grill, San Francisco, February 2008. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

Gretchen was not a Buck Owens fan. (Fair enough. I mean, “Tiger by the Tail,” really? “Where Does the Good Times Go?” Obviously they doesn’t go where there’s grammar.) But he sure could sing, and in 2009 we picked up “Under Your Spell Again,” which remains a high point in our set.

We also started exploring artists we’d known about forever but hadn’t looked into. From Webb Pierce we got “There Stands the Glass,” “Wondering” and “More and More,” the latter two boasting lovely lead vocals by Gretchen Schaefer.

From Wynn Stewart came “The Long Black Limousine” (and “Playboy” is still on my to-do list).

I’d heard “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)” by the Flying Burrito Brothers, but we weren’t moved to learn it till we heard it by the Maddox Brothers and Rose. We combine “Dim Lights” with George Jones’ “Your Angel Steps Out of Heaven” in our so-called Cheating Housewives medley.

And, when I got home from work one day in 2008, Gretchen surprised me by launching into “Just Someone I Used to Know,” the brilliant Jack Clement number that we heard by Dolly and Porter.

In 2009, the “Trains” episode of Bob Dylan’s splendid “Theme Time Radio Hour” on SiriusXM gave us two hot tickets: Jimmy Martin’s “Mr. Engineer” and Johnny Cash’s “Train of Love.” (Ah, those Monday nights sitting in the Pontiac Vibe, listening to Bobby.)

And on it went, and on it goes. (Anyone for the Bailes Brothers?) 2008 was as big as the big time gets for Day for Night: four to eight gigs a year, from the Frog & Turtle to Blue to Andy’s Old Port Pub, from the Cornish Apple Festival to the Cornish Inn, from the Last House on the Left to the launch party for a friend’s hot dog cart on the banks of the Presumpscot River.

So we arrived and so here we are. For a couple of aging introverts, it could be worse.

Day for Night: Cornish, the Apple of Our Eye


Video by Jeff Stanton. “The Ceiling” and “Bittersweet” copyright © 2010 and 2011 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.


What! You wish to read the following 2,300 words? Please fortify yourself with a nourishing Day for Night performance from the 2014 Cornish Apple Festival!


If you’re planning a trip,

even a little getaway, it’s always wise to research your destination in advance.

Jeff Stanton, Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley living the dream on the veranda at the Cornish Inn, 2014. Photo by iPhone.

Jeff Stanton, Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley living the dream on the veranda at the Cornish Inn, 2014. Photo by iPhone.

But if Gretchen Schaefer and I had done that kind of homework prior to a weekend getaway to Cornish, Maine, in 2007, we might never have landed one of the best gigs Day for Night has ever had — nor embarked upon our present happy relationship with that little town in southwestern Maine.

The getaway plan was to spend a Saturday afternoon and night at the Cornish Inn, right in the heart of downtown: playing music, enjoying the inn’s fine restaurant and relaxing in sleepy little Cornish.

Some sleepy. When we arrived early on the Saturday afternoon, traffic on Route 25, the main drag, was heavy and barely creeping along. Tiny Thompson Park, opposite the inn, was white with vendor tents. A mass of humanity circulated through and around the park, and up and down the main street. A band on a flatbed trailer played “Folsom Prison Blues.”

We were lucky, as we now know, to get a space in the inn’s parking lot, or anywhere else in town on that particular Saturday. We had unwittingly chosen for our quiet getaway the day of the annual Cornish Apple Festival, a regional attraction held on the last Saturday in September every year since 1989. The festival may be the busiest day of the year for Cornish.

The main drag at dusk, seen from the Cornish Inn, 2014. Hubley Archives.

The main drag at dusk, seen from the Cornish Inn, 2014. Hubley Archives.

If we’d known about the festival, crowd-averse types that we are, we might have chosen a different getaway destination. But the festival proved to be a conversion experience for us.

A few trips in the old green Squareback through western Maine in the 1980s had introduced us to Cornish, and though for a while our visits were much less frequent, the town stayed with us. The big rambling wooden buildings, the trees drooping heavily over the park, the hard curve over the mill dam into downtown. But back then I had neither the knowledge nor the curiosity to appreciate the town’s story in any depth.

Another antique store find in Cornish. Hubley Archives.

Another antique store find in Cornish. Hubley Archives.

Part of Cornish’s visual appeal is that so much remains from that late 19th-century prosperity: that large mirror-like mill pond at the hard curve, for instance, and those big wooden buildings, many still elegant with their Victorian gingerbread.

Another part of the appeal for me, I’m ashamed to report, is that Cornish is somewhat past those prosperous days. It’s doing OK, but not booming, and I like Cornish better for its having failed to become a theme park of itself, even though the downtown businesses are largely given over to tourist appeal: the Cornish Inn, two restaurants (downtown traffic seemingly can’t support three), a flower-and-wine shop, a bead shop, a gem shop — and way more antique stores than any town of 1,500 really needs.

Country lights at a country fair: The Ossipee Valley Fair, 2008. Hubley Archives.

Country lights at a country fair: The Ossipee Valley Fair, 2008. Hubley Archives.

Meanwhile, all the essential services have fled west from downtown to a district where there’s open land for parking lots.

My work as a music journalist, and later as a writer for a college magazine in Maine, brought us up there occasionally, thanks to the Saco River Music Festival, which presented concerts in the elementary school up on High Street (a school that the town later sold and that is now a church).

In July 2006, I was working on a profile of Frank Glazer — Maine pianist, Saco River festival founder and resident artist at the college where I work — for the magazine. Gretchen and I drove up to see a Saco River festival concert by Glazer and his protege Duncan Cumming, now a music professor in Albany.

The Cornish Inn booked us in December 2011. Jeff Stanton photo.

The Cornish Inn booked us in December 2011. Jeff Stanton photo.

It was a nice event: Glazer and Cumming made good music, of course, and filled the little auditorium. Past them, through a glass wall behind the stage, the trees and foothills stretched out toward the sunset in a very Cornishy way.

Prior to the concert, Gretchen and I had stopped at the Cornish Inn for a glass of wine. I vividly recall the brilliant yellow the sun cast onto the wall and the wine in our big glasses glowing that exact same color. The restaurant (it was Krista’s first location, before they moved up the street next to the mill stream) was packed, probably with concert-goers like us. It was just happy. Cornish can be like that.

That was the experience that brought us back in September 2007.

Inspired by the disciplined repertoire-building we had done three months prior in Colorado, we spent that Saturday afternoon learning Frank Loesser’s “Have I Stayed Away Too Long,” one of several tunes we had mined that year from the Louvin Brothers treasure trove Ira and Charlie.

Living the dream: Day for Night's one and only performance on a flatbed trailer, September 2009. Jeff Stanton photo.

Living the dream: Day for Night’s one and only performance on a flatbed trailer, September 2009. Jeff Stanton photo.

I remember standing in our little Cornish Inn room, with its rolling wooden floor, drinking Jack Daniels and working out the song (“Try strumming it like the Everlys’ ‘Roving Gambler”’) while the festival gradually petered out in the park.

The 2009 Apple Festival performance from a different angle. Jeff Stanton photo.

The 2009 Apple Festival performance from a different angle. Jeff Stanton photo.

The timing of that visit was fortuitous but not insignificant. Having spent three years flubbing around after the demise of our previous band, the electric Howling Turbines, we had focused on acoustic country music and we wanted to work.

Our first performance as Day for Night had taken place in July, and the Cornish jaunt came just prior to gigs at Bates College and the Frog & Turtle Gastropub, in Westbrook.

So we took it as a sign when we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a well-attended festival that featured a band playing Johnny Cash on a flatbed trailer.

After that highly satisfying weekend, we decided that we absolutely had to try for a booking at the Cornish Apple Festival. So during the winter we threw ourselves at the festival organizers, the Cornish Association of Businesses. And it paid off, albeit in a roundabout way.

A poster for Day for Night's first performance in Cornish, Maine.

A poster for Day for Night’s first performance in Cornish, Maine.

CAB offered us a sort-of audition: By performing two sets at an association fundraiser party in the spring, D4N could give the locals a chance to check us out. In consideration of our effort and expense, CAB in turn would comp us with gift certificates for a local motel and restaurant.

The “Spring Celebration” took place on the chilly evening of May 4, 2008, in a just-opened physical therapy center located, natch, west of downtown. We were still working out our performance practice, and at that point our ridiculously complicated stage setup included:

  • his ‘n’ her music stands, microphone stands with handy drink holders, instrument stands and spot monitors;
  • two guitars, an accordion and an autoharp;
  • a little Yamaha PA that we had bought during the fall, trading in the venerable half-ton, eight-channel Peavey mixer-amp;
  • and a black tangle of cables that covered the floor and strung all the different stands together in treacherous snares and loops that conspired together to threaten to pull the whole works down should a person so much as place one foot wrong.

Day for Night: The Spring Celebration, 2008 from Hubley Industries Music on Vimeo. Video by Jeff Stanton.


Day for Night captive to The Rig, 2008 Spring Celebration, Cornish. Jeff Stanton photo.

Day for Night captive to The Rig, 2008 Spring Celebration, Cornish. Jeff Stanton photo.

Much of the evening we played and sang to a reverberant and all-but-empty gym as the revelry rumbled on in another part of the building. I ended the date thinking we hadn’t done that well — with my accordion work being a particular weakness — but Jeff Stanton’s video footage reveals that for the most part, we acquitted ourselves well.

And indeed: We did get hired for the 2008 festival (and each subsequent festival through 2014. Sidelined by a medical issue in 2015, we hope to be invited back this year.)

On the drive back, through the fading daylight along a few miles of Route 25, the spring peepers were so loud that we could hear them clearly through the closed car windows.

The setlist for our first Cornish Apple Festival performance, in 2008. "Brunswick" at the bottom refers to a gig we played the following month with bassist Steve Chapman and drummer Willy Thurston. Hubley Archives.

The setlist for our first Cornish Apple Festival performance, in 2008. “Brunswick” at the bottom refers to a gig we played the following month with bassist Steve Chapman and drummer Willy Thurston. Hubley Archives.

In the years since our first Apple Festival performance, we have come to expect warmth and brilliant sun for the event. But for that 2008 debut, the weather was cold and rainy and we played under a canopy on a low stage made from shipping pallets and plywood. (They’ve brought in the flatbed trailer only once since we have played there — too bad, considering what it would do for our country credibility.)

At the festival, in contrast to the Spring Celebration, we went for simplicity and played only guitar material. The weather caused some of the scheduled acts — as well as the PA provider — to withdraw. Gretchen and I were recovering from colds, but we managed to sing loud and still keep our voices throughout our allotted hour.

Found in a Cornish antique store. Hubley Archives.

Spotted in a Cornish antique store. Hubley Archives.

Across the street in Thompson Park, the apple fritter fryers, apple crisp and apple pie pushers, and myriad other vendors and craftspeople and fundraisers soldiered on through the cool wet morning and the depleted trade. The performance was fun despite all — and having done our bit when others had stayed in out of the rain, didn’t we feel like heroes?

Cornish days
Though the variables have varied, our festival visits have followed a more-or-less consistent pattern.

The Apple Festival tends to put us onstage us early in the day, which means that we are singing songs of alcohol abuse and adultery to families with young children at 9 or 10 in the morning. But the early start does leave us most of the day free to do what we like to do best in Cornish: hang around.

Our friends Jeff Stanton and Willy Thurston often make the scenic drive out Route 25 to see us perform. After the Day for Night segment, while the glittery little girls from the local dance school tap out their show in the middle of High Street, we’ll stash the musical gear and seek out lunch at the inn or busy Krista’s.

Doug Hubley, Gretchen Schaefer and Willy Thurston at the 2011 Cornish Apple Festival. Jeff Stanton photo.

Doug Hubley, Gretchen Schaefer and Willy Thurston at the 2011 Cornish Apple Festival. Jeff Stanton photo.

Later we’ll score some apple pie à la mode or apple crisp from festival vendors in Thompson Park (named for an eccentric 19th-century doctor who rarely charged his patients, and who allowed his neighbors to make free with his gardens and orchards). There are also crafters (pot holders!) and a festival-specific booth selling T-shirts and posters.

At some point we may stroll out the River Road and cross the Ossipee River to Friendly River Music, a guitar store distinguished by the variety and vintage of its offering, as well as its longevity as a business. (I traded a Telecaster toward a black Strat there in 1982, and three years later, at Friendly River’s now-defunct Portland branch, on Congress Square, I bought the oddball two-knob Strat that was my main guitar for many years.)

One year, Jeff and Gretchen and I spent the afternoon at a different music festival, the annual bluegrass-plus event hosted by Apple Acres, a forward-thinking orchard in nearby Hiram. We ate giant chicken legs, bought cider doughnuts and watched performances by a Maine bluegrass band and by the four Parkington Sisters, a slick southern New England act that had nothing at all to do with bluegrass.

Gretchen Schaefer at the 2013 Apple Acres bluegrass event. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer at the 2013 Apple Acres bluegrass event. Hubley Archives.

More recently, we’ve spent increasing amounts of time just loitering on the Cornish Inn’s long porches: very agreeable on a warm sunny afternoon as the festival winds down, the tourists drain away, the vendors pack up their booths and food trucks, and the old motorheads putter off in the Model T Fords that they always park behind the inn.

All in all, Cornish and the festival paint such a picture of white-picket-fence America (do I need to point out the apple pie symbolism?) that I sometimes ponder their seductive power over me — out-on-the-side me, ironic me, bohemian me, not-a-team-player me, shunning-kids-and-dogs me.

But doggone it, the place is just charming with its curvy roads, the lofty wooden buildings, the antique shops, the gemlike little park — how do they fit all those booths in there, anyway? — and its view of the tree-covered foothills from which Gretchen and I, in July 2008, standing with our guitars on a balcony at the Midway Country Lodging, out there west of downtown, saw a deer wander idly into a clearing.

Holland Pond, near Cornish, October 2015. Hubley Archives.

Holland Pond, near Cornish, October 2015. Hubley Archives.

Doggone it: The back porch at Krista’s, which is pretty much the place to be in Cornish when you’re not at the Cornish Inn, hangs over the mill stream and is lit with Japanese lanterns.

Friendly River had a 1961 Gretsch last summer that made the most beautiful electric guitar sound ever, despite the decades-old strings.

When a local garage owner died, I recognized him in the newspaper obit because he once talked to us about a vintage Ford convertible parked in front of his house.

On stage at one Apple Festival, I got a laugh from a couple of teenagers when I introduced a song, one of our adultery specials no doubt, with the remark that “what happens in Limington, stays in Limington.” (Neighboring town. All right, you had to be there.)

Another specimen in a Cornish antique store. Orange you glad you came to the dance? Hubley Archives.

Another specimen in a Cornish antique store. Orange you glad you came to the dance? Hubley Archives.

Looking, though, what we did during the evening of our first visit as Apple Festival performers seems to symbolize the most profound reason we keep going back. The gig gets us there; the sweet town fills our day; but the chance to probe deeper into what Day for Night might, maybe someday, be able to show an audience is what anchors us to Cornish.

After dinner in 2008 we set up camp in the inn’s living room and played for another hour or so. We were tired and hoarse, and punishing the Jack Daniels, but somehow it all worked.

It was the kind of music-making that keeps us coming back to places like Cornish. The pressure was off — not just performance pressure, but the day jobs, the family issues, the getting older, the persistent scratching of cares at the door.

We were playing only for the pure experience of the music and each other.

As the dinner crowd hummed on in the dining room nearby, we drooped over our guitars, pawed through the lyric sheets, crept through songs familiar and otherwise, and finally gave the other guests a break and went to bed.


  • Day for Night performs at the 2014 Cornish Apple Festival:
    You Wore It Well (Hubley) A song begun in a hotel room in Portsmouth, N.H., and completed in Cottage No. 19 at the Colorado Chautauqua in June 2013.

More of Day for Night at the 2014 Apple Festival, in a Jeff Stanton video:

Visit the Bandcamp store. Visit the Nimbit store.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2012-2016 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Tomorrow Maybe, Tomorrow I Might

The Curley Howard Band.

Andy Ingalls (behind speaker), Ken Reynolds, Mike Piscopo, Doug Hubley: The Curley Howard Band. Hubley Archives.

I persist in regarding myself as a songwriter despite having written relatively few songs — maybe 60 since 1968, written or co-written, that I wouldn’t be ashamed to play for discerning listeners.

Nowadays I’m cranking the hits out at the rate of about one per year — which sounds pathetic, but I wrote no whole songs at all, just some lyrics, from 1999 till 2010. (Hear “Bittersweet” and “The Ceiling,” my 21st-century songwriting catalog to date, performed by Day for Night.)

My songwriting career started as the wanna-be disease, as I went chasing after idols like Neil Young and the Beatles. But it gradually dawned on me that I had much better results expressing my emotions with a guitar and mic than through anything as prosaic as sharing my feelings with the people who were involved in them.

One of the many dysjunctions in my highly dysjunctive musical career is the fact that during the 1970s, when I was a regular Irving Berlin compared to later decades, I wasn’t that assertive about playing my seven or eight original songs with my bands. And at this distance of time, I can’t explain it.

I did feature my own material on the rare occasions when I performed as a solo, so it wasn’t that I felt insecure about it.

On the other hand, it’s certainly true that other people have written so many good songs that, if you approach the question with any objectivity at all, it’s hard to make a case for one’s own little musical handicrafts when you could be channeling the excellent songs, plus the coolness-by-association, of any number of fabulous songwriters. (Of whom I just now tried to come up with merely a few examples, but I could name a hundred and I’d still be only getting started.)

Whatever was holding me back, I finally managed to get over it for 1977’s “Let the Singer,” presented here. Yes, it’s a paean to the live fast–die young lifestyle, which seems like a very good idea when one is 23, idolizes Gram Parsons and enjoys the robust constitution of youth.

In addition to which, to be honest, when it came to living hard I was a lightweight. I was close to people who actually were doing the dangerous things, and it wasn’t that pretty at all. But, dysjunctive as ever, I didn’t make the connection till sometime later.

In short, singing a high and lonesome song about burning the candle at both ends seemed right and romantic, even as big-name musicians like Parsons continued to helpfully offer object lessons in why it isn’t such a good idea.

“Let the Singer” was the one original song that the Curley Howard Band ever played. CHB began one afternoon in the winter of 1977 in my parents’ basement when a few of us — I can’t recall exactly who — played something, for two hours, that was supposed to be “Green Onions.” We went on from there to become a hard-working, hard-drinking, hardly ever-performing foursome that somehow tried to blend country music, Sixties hits, California stars and British pub rock.

Differences in tastes, abilities and life plans put paid to CHB within a year, but this short-lived outfit had a long tail. CHB begat the Mirrors, which begat the Fashion Jungle, which begat the Cowlix, which begat the Boarders, which begat Howling Turbines, which begat my current band, Day for Night. So, a musical lineage spanning 35 years, and still counting. (More about these later bands, including plenty of music, in later posts.)

Clean-cut me with my brand-new Telecaster in 1976. I used this guitar with the Curley Howard Band. Hubley Family photo.

Three CHB members endured into the Fashion Jungle: drummer Ken Reynolds and bassist-guitarist-keyboardist Mike Piscopo, in addition to me. (Albeit with some hiatuses, Ken was around right through the Howling Turbines.) The fourth member of CHB was Andrew Ingalls, who played bass while Mike played rhythm guitar.

I’m pretty sure that my country leanings, coupled with my role as bandleader, was one of the more divisive sources of tension within CHB. (I vividly recall “I Fall to Pieces,” which admittedly was a really bad idea, dying a slow death by lack of enthusiasm.)

And I don’t know what Ken, Mike and Andy thought about “Let the Singer,” but I do know that we pulled it off as well as anything else in our overstuffed closet of a repertoire, for which I’m still grateful.

It was an important song to me at the time — still is. It wasn’t much of a philosophy of life, but in those days it was my philosophy of life. It was profoundly gratifying to get to sing about it, even if I couldn’t quite live it.


Hear “Let the Singer” in three versions, which vary only in the details, over three years:

  • By three members of the Curley Howard Band: Andy Ingalls, bass; Mike Piscopo, guitar; Doug, lead guitar and vocal. Absent from the session was drummer Ken Reynolds. Recorded in June 1977.
  • By the Mirrors, which followed CHB by two years. Mike, guitar; Doug, lead guitar and vocal; Ken Reynolds, drums. Also in the band was singer Chris Hanson, who didn’t perform on this song. (Multi-instrumentalist Jim Sullivan joined the following month.) Recorded at Jim’s Night Club, Portland, Maine, March 3, 1979, early in the Mirrors’ run. I had a cheap piezo pickup plastered onto the Silvertone with putty, hence the distinctive guitar timbre.
  • In a 1978 solo performance by Doug Hubley, recorded for a submission to a WBLM-FM songwriting contest. (How could I not have won?!?) I also submitted “Oh, What a Feeling,” available on the Notes Jukebox.

“Let the Singer” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Text copyright © 2012 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

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