Notes From a Basement

By Doug Hubley: Sounds and reflections of a musical life

From the Vault: Memos and Demos

The setup for a songwriting session at the Maine Idyll motor court in Freeport, Maine, October 2017. Hubley Archives.

Skip the wordy blabbington and hightail it directly to the Bandcamp album or even the Nimbit album!


Sometime in the fall

of 1972 I wrote a song called “Waiting.” I was 18 and the lyrics of “Waiting” were correspondingly melodramatic, but the music had possibilities in a Jefferson Airplane kind of way. In any case, at the time I thought it was just fine.

My band at the time was Airmobile (named for a song by Tim Hardin and Artie Butler — um, and Chuck Berry), and my bandmates were singer-guitarist John Rolfe, bassist Tom Berg and drummer Eddie Greco. We rehearsed in Eddie’s garage in Cape Elizabeth and played a few dates at the South Portland Rec Center and similar milestone-on-the-road-to-fame engagements.

I wanted the band to learn “Waiting,” and so in December I recorded a demo in my parents’ basement. Wow! Awful! There’s some decent lead guitar (Neil Young and Jorma Kaukonen much? etc.), but limited exposure is the only way to survive this recording — distorted, shrill, badly sung and drenched with reverb.

 I am providing an excerpt anyway, but not because I think you’ll enjoy it.

Remnants of an Airmobile, together again for the last time at a party at John Rolfe’s apartment in the 1980s. From left, Ed Greco, Doug Hubley, John Rolfe. Jeff Stanton photo.

We never did add “Waiting” to our repertoire, because the song is no root beer float and the demo sure doesn’t help it. But it does have the dubious distinction of being the first demo labeled as such in The Tape Catalog, the contents list of all my hundreds of homemade recordings.

As a demo, “Waiting” has scant company in the reel-to-reel section of the catalog, maybe four or five songs. (As a bad recording of a cringeworthy piece of music, however, it has all kinds of company.) There wasn’t much need for demos: I’ve never been a prolific songwriter, for one thing. And anyway, in the days when I was playing with electric bands, it was just as easy to teach my occasional creations to the group at rehearsal.

“Waiting” in the Tape Catalog. The weird “HSE” emblem is the Hubley Seal of Approval, reserved for tracks that I wouldn’t have been embarrassed to play for company in the mid-1970s. “PEA Source” and “Tear Source” indicate that these cuts appeared on the “Forty Years of a Basement” compilations Phoney English Accent and Tear in Every Eye, respectively. The Post-It was telling me there was usable material on this tape. The “ha, ha” — well, ha, ha.

For many years, when I did rise to the level of demo’ing a song, that may have been more about my state of mind than anything else. Hence the 1983 version of “Nothing to Say” (below) that, for me and the Gretsch Anniversary Model, is a sustained howl as much as it is a teaching tool.

A four-track recorder that I obtained in 1994 encouraged me to develop more of a demo habit. It was the first recorder I’d had since 1987 that enabled me to overdub and, better yet, no tedious-but-perilous bouncing was needed to layer up three or four tracks, in contrast to the Sony reel-to-reel two-track I’d used for so long. (Bouncing is the technique of mixing multiple recorded tracks onto a blank track so you can reuse the first tracks for new parts. For me in the 1970s, this involved mixing the two Sony tracks onto a cassette recorder and then recording parts back onto the Sony alongside that mixdown.) 

Suddenly I was back to building arrangements on tape, and I liked it as much as ever.

The band at that time was the Boarders, featuring Gretchen Schaefer, my partner then and now, on bass and Jonathan Nichols-Pethick on drums. In contrast to its covers-heavy predecessor outfit, the Cowlix, this trio developed a fair amount of originals and therefore had more use for demos. I had a few new or re-conceived songs, and Jon had a couple others that I interfered with — er, contributed to — with the four-track coming in handy.

Like demos often do, these reveal facets or details of the songs that got lost along the way, and it’s fun to compare what stayed and what sloughed off. And then there are memos: scratch recordings, often fragmentary, that those of us who can’t read or write music make to remember important bits, like melodies. 

In the musical world 

there is nothing special about demos and memos, and I’m riding in a commuter van writing this and trying to figure out how such recordings relate to my fixation on material objects, notably documents in whatever medium, and their role as anchors of memory.

My memo-and-demo machine of choice: The Zoom H4n stands ready in Colorado. Hubley Archives.

Such recordings are not the keys to total recall, but most of the demos presented here do retain at least a vestige of their making, if only the glow from the metal-shaded lamp I use in the basement. Better than no memories at all. 

There was a little outbreak of demo fever in the early 1980s, as Bruce Springsteen chose to issue his Nebraska material in the form of the original demos rather than as produced versions with the E Street Band; and Peter Townshend released Scoop, a demo compilation of songs first released (or not) by the Who. These raised my demo consciousness a bit, which probably explains the “Nothing to Say” recording. 

But ultimately, for me there are thin lines or no lines at all dividing memos, demos and performances, especially if you view, as I do, all recordings of a song (or of all songs) as threads in a common fabric whose variations all tint and reflect each other’s light. 

Phenomena like hit singles or TV performances that change a viewer’s life (does that still happen?) can instill the idea of songs having “definitive” versions. And so they may be — in broad cultural terms. (We’ve all got ’em, although I may be distinctive in my affection for the wrong note Chris Hillman plays for half a bar in “Spanish Harlem Incident” on Mr. Tambourine Man. On the basis of no evidence, I’m convinced he needed a drag off a cigarette.)

Patch bays in the basement enable me to “associate many things with many things,” as Bunny Watson said. Hubley Archives.

But from a narrower musical perspective, “definitive version” is almost a laughable idea. (And of course there are also laughable versions that are definitive in their own ways, if only as examples of what not to do. Welcome to my musical catalog.)

Every performance of a song listens to the one that came before and sings to the one that follows. It’s trite and not quite correct to say, “It’s all one version,” but all the performances of a song certainly do constitute one conversation about at least that one topic and probably more.

Which may be one reason that the more interesting professional musicians can sell their hits night after night.

Here’s the real difference, I guess: Unless you’re super-attuned to the stewardship of your public persona, the monetizing of every sequin on your character, etc., what distinguishes memos and demos is that they’re not created for an audience. And when they are heard outside your immediate circle, it’s more like being overheard, with all the accompanying qualities of authenticity, honesty, etc.

So, for your eavesdropping pleasure, here’s an assortment of demos and memos from a 30-year period, coupled with fully realized performances of the songs.

Song Notes

Day for Night in Cornish, Maine: Doug Hubley and Gretchen Schaefer. Hubley Archives.

‘The Other Me’

Day for Night: Dirges had constituted most of my output after I resumed songwriting, in 2010, after a 12-year layoff. So when I started this song in 2016, it was time for something upbeat. “The Other Me” is still wordy, bleak and overly self-referential, but it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

I got most of the lyrics written in the bar of the Samoset Resort, in Rockport, Maine, while Gretchen Schaefer (my partner in life and music) was showing mosaics at a craft fair at the resort. But the tune, especially the bridge, was problematic and I had to hammer away at it for quite a while.

“The Other Me” was also a bear to learn, necessitating a few changes of key and arrangement before we found something that we liked. And this is it, recorded on Aug. 5, 2018, at Quill Books & Beverage in Westbrook, Maine. Hear it on Bandcamp (and click through on the audio player title to purchase):

DemoRecorded on Oct. 2, 2016, in the computer room, this memo includes one of a few bridge melodies that I tried and discarded before arriving at something usable later in the month. Hear (and buy) it on Bandcamp:


 (“The Other Me” copyright © 2017 by Doug Hubley. All rights reserved.)


‘Dumb Models’

The Corner, summer 1981: It’s Patty Ann’s Superette in South Portland and the original Fashion Jungle is posing casually just prior to a party performance at Sebago Lake. Also starring my beloved 1973 VW Squareback, into which I could pack nearly all the FJ gear except the drums. Photo by Jeff Stanton.

The Fashion JungleThis isn’t a demo, it’s a memo. When my band the Mirrors became the Fashion Jungle, a rule was that everyone had to bring in at least a fragment of original music each week. Here’s a result of that discipline: the lyrics are by Ken Reynolds, edited by me; the opening guitar riff was Mike Piscopo’s; and with the fourth member of the band being Jim Sullivan, we collectively put the whole thing together in June 1981. We made this seldom-heard recording early in the song’s life so as not to forget it during our vacations.

A billy nice guy? Never mind. Anyway, we later added chorus vocals and a “bah-bah-bah” coda, very 1968. Doug Hubley, 12-string guitar and vocal; Mike Piscopo, 6-string guitar (lead guitar in the refrain); Ken Reynolds, drums; Jim Sullivan, bass. Recorded on the Sony two-track in the Hubleys’ basement (and I don’t know where that tone at the end came from). Bandcamp:

The next Fashion Jungle: And here we are more than a year later and with the next iteration of the FJ: Jim and Mike have moved on, and Steve Chapman has joined on bass. The performance was recorded at Jim’s Neighborhood Cafe, Danforth Street, on Oct. 6, 1982. I miss the growl of Mike’s Gretsch guitar, but Steve provides his own kind of roar. 

(“Dumb Models” copyright © 2011 by Douglas Hubley, Michael Piscopo, Kenneth Reynolds and James Sullivan. All rights reserved. )


‘Watching You Go’

The existential angst of being the Boarders. Jeff Stanton photo.

DemoThe immediate impetus for this song seems a little immature — the death of my cat Harry. But I did realize that this was a topic to be addressed at a more sophisticated level, and fortunately I was able to generalize the lyrics somewhat beyond “my kitty died.” (He was a pretty cool cat, though.)

I suppose I was looking ahead to a period such as this, in which I’ve lost my mother, father and a good friend in the space of two years. But I can’t say I’ve wanted to sing this song much lately.

Recorded in the basement in autumn 1995 on the Tascam 4-track. Tracks: acoustic guitar, voice, and percussion consisting of my foot and change being jingled in my pockets. Bandcamp:

The Boarders: On a windy and rainy Jan. 19, 1996, we performed live on the University of Southern Maine radio show “Local Motives.” It was almost a fun experience, except for an inept audio engineer who suppressed Gretchen’s bass almost to the vanishing point on many songs (it was recoverable on this number) and slathered digital reverb and delay all over us (at the beginning of this track, you can hear the doofus  searching for the correct tempo on the delay). Jon Nichols-Pethick, drums. Bandcamp:

(“Watching You Go” copyright © 1996 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)


‘Corner Night’

Gretchen Schaefer, Dan Knight and Jeff Stanton at Frosty’s doughnut shop, Brunswick, July 1985. We were in Brunswick to see a concert at Bowdoin College by Richard Thompson, who was wearing a pink suit that clashed quite splendidly with his red hair. Having interviewed him for a Press Herald advance a few weeks earlier, I felt entitled to corner Thompson backstage and force an FJ tape on him. Hubley Archives.

Demo: This song is an attempt to come to grips with the fleeting nature of local rock bands and local fame, or at least recognition, of the kind the Fashion Jungle briefly enjoyed in the 1980s. Corner Night itself was actually a show, a triple bill that the Mirrors / Fashion Jungle, John Rolfe’s Foreign Students and Gary Piscopo’s Pathetix presented in 1980 and ’81. All three bands had ties to Patty Ann’s Superette, aka The Corner, in South Portland.

I wrote the words in 1981 after Mike Piscopo and Jim Sullivan left the Fashion Jungle, and finished the song after Steve Chapman and Kathren Torraca left in 1984. The song holds up — one of my better melodies, although the lyrics are very insidery. Yes, the Elvis Costello imitation is embarrassing, and there’s also some debt to Ray Davies’ “Waterloo Sunset.” This demo was recorded on the two-track Sony in my parents’ basement in 1985 for the Dan Knight lineup of the FJ. Bandcamp:

The Fashion Jungle: And here’s the Knight-era FJ performing the song at Geno’s, in Portland, on July 27, 1985. We were opening for Judy’s Tiny Head, and taping the show off their sound board helped some with recording quality. What is an interesting and intricate arrangement on the demo turns into a busyness for its own sake here, but kudos to bassist Dan and drummer Ken Reynolds for taking all those twists and turns so tightly. 

(“Corner Night” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)


‘I Never Drink Alone’

Songwriting in the bar at the Senator Inn and Spa in late 2012. Hubley Archives.

When we perform, I like to joke that this is the most depressing song I’ve ever written, most depressing you’ll ever hear, etc. I say it to be funny but also to show some self-awareness, because this really is a downer.

Hubley Archives.

Well, that’s life: This, like “Watching You Go,” is an attempt to anticipate or envision or reconcile myself to — or try to inoculate myself against — the potentially barren landscape of old age. I wrote it in 2012, during which year my sisters and Gretchen and I were starting preparations for moving Ben and Hattie Hubley, who were in their early 90s, into a memory-care facility.[/caption]

Day for Night: Recorded in a living room rehearsal on Nov. 27, 2016. 

Memo: This is a hotel room recording made so I could remember the melody. (One wonders if there was any sort of decline in sales of music notation paper that was correlated with the advent of portable audio recorders.) I made the recording in the Sheraton Hotel in Portsmouth, N.H., on Feb. 23, 2012. 


(“I Never Drink Alone” copyright © 2014 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)


‘Tragedy’

Demo: The second original in the catalog from Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, drummer of the Boarders, who had previously contributed “All Over” to the Cowlix. He co-wrote this song with his wife, Nancy. I added a signature riff and a few lyrics, and heightened the S&M overtones a bit (or so I would like to believe). 

Recorded in the basement in autumn 1995 on the Tascam 4-track. Tracks: acoustic guitars and voice. 

The Boarders: And here’s the whole band playing it, recorded in rehearsal on Dec. 5, 1995. Dropped line: “You say, ‘I need another drink.'” 


(“Tragedy” copyright © 1995 by Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, Nancy Nichols-Pethick and Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

Nancy, at center, and Jonathan Nichols-Pethick at their farewell party in July 1996. At left is Louise Philbrick. Hubley Archives.


‘Just a Word From You, Sir’

Howling Turbines: If you’re wondering, this number from 1997 is generally about my relationship with authority and specifically about Stalin, Leonard Cohen and God. So there.

Anyhoo, this is the first of two very different versions of a song (one of two) I wrote for the Howling Turbines. Here’s the original setting, which was an attempt to capitalize on what I perceived as our heavy-rock potential (I had bought a distortion pedal that changed my world). Performed by the Turbines in the basement in March 1998. Bandcamp:

Demo: I prefer the above version now, but at the time we didn’t feel it was working for us. This demo from April 11, 1999, captures my second setting of the song, which is more sophisticated than the original but ultimately reminded me of something Davy Jones should be singing. This is how the Turbines did it for a while, but it ultimately fell out of the repertoire. 


(“Just a Word From You, Sir” copyright 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

The Howling Turbines on a blistering hot day at the Free Street Taverna, Aug. 1, 1999: from left, drummer Ken Reynolds, bassist Gretchen Schaefer and me — guitarist and singer Doug Hubley. Photo by Jeff Stanton.


‘Dance’

Dance House

House of Dances, Cologne, Germany, June 2000. Hubley Archives.

Demo / The Boarders: Just to round things out, here’s a demo and a final version neatly packaged together. “Dance” started out with with the Fashion Jungle, my lyrics riding on a tune created collaboratively by Steve Chapman, Ken Reynolds and me. Six or seven years later, casting about for material for the Boarders and feeling no more optimistic about the fate of the world, I rediscovered these lyrics, for which I created a new tune. 

The first third is the demo that I made for Gretchen and Jonathan to learn it from; the remainder, cleverly spliced on through the cleverness of digital audio editing, is the Boarders playing the song on July 9, 1996, at Forest Avenue. The Boarders section is a copy of a copy that was made on a mastering deck with a wow-and-flutter problem, hence the wowing and fluttering. 


(“Dance” (Boarders version) copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

The Fashion Jungle: And here’s the original setting. Sounding very FJ at our most melodramatically disco-licious, this came off the sound board at the 1988 Maine Festival, recorded on a sultry August evening in Deering Oaks. That was a fine event despite my guitar-tuning issues. I rediscovered this recording while going through tapes for this CD set; most of the cuts on the tape were lost or damaged because of a bad connection, but this survived intact, albeit with drums taking up 80 percent of the soundscape.

(“Dance” (Fashion Jungle version) copyright © 2013 by Steven Chapman, Douglas Hubley and Kenneth Reynolds. All rights reserved.)


Doug plays the Gretsch Anniversary Model in Ben and Hattie’s back yard in summer 1983. Hubley Family photo.

‘Nothing to Say’

Demo: I remember stepping out onto Middle Street from the restaurant Carbur’s carrying the legal pad on which I had just finished these lyrics, which attempt to explore both my own shallowness and the big sellout of the punk-New Wave scene.

This one-track recording, made in September 1983 at Richland Street with the Gretsch Anniversary Model, was the demo that the FJ learned it from — another big anthem. Dropped line: “Now the room fills up with expectations while my blood drains away.” 

The Fashion Jungle: The fully realized version by the Chapman-Torraca lineup of the Fashion Jungle, recorded in January 1984 at the Outlook, in Bethel. The lyrics sit better in this well-rehearsed performance, but the arrangement certainly has blossomed forth. The Anniversary Model returns for a solo. Steve Chapman, bass and backing vocals; DH, guitars and vocals; Ken Reynolds, drums and backing vocals; Kathren Torraca, keyboards. Remastered from the commercially released audiocassette Six Songs.


(“Nothing to Say” copyright © 1984 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.)

The Kathren Torraca-era Fashion Jungle in a publicity image taken in 1984 by Gretchen Schaefer. From left: Ken Reynolds, Kathren, Doug Hubley, Steve Chapman.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2012–2018 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

From a Hole in the Ground, Part One

The Fashion Jungle rehearses in Ben & Harriette Hubley’s basement in a composite image from the early 1980s. From left, Steve Chapman, Ken Reynolds, Doug Hubley. Photos by Jeff Stanton.

See the basements, read about the basements — and hear the basements in the Bandcamp and Nimbit stores!

NOTE: All musical excerpts in this post were recorded in basements except the first one, included so that you can hear the Kent and Capt. Distortion, played by Steve McKinney; my bass playing heard through the RCA stereo; and Tom Hansen playing cardboard boxes, a tambourine and a metal bicycle basket as percussion. We all sing, and Judy McKinney sings and plays rhythm guitar. This was recorded in the Hubleys’ living room in 1969.


My parents’ basement in South Portland, Maine, in the late 1960s. Notice the particle board stereo speakers, the coffee-can light fixture at upper left and the cloth speaker grille on Capt. Distortion, lower left. This image is the source for the Notes From a Basement banner. Hubley Archives.

 

Most musicians from Bob Dylan on down,

especially those of a certain age, can tell you about making music in a basement.

I count at least nine residential basements in which I’ve played alone or with bands — to say nothing of such illustrious subterranean nightspots in Portland, Maine, as the original Geno’s, Squire Morgan’s, the short-lived Ratskellar and the Free Street Taverna (only slightly below street level, but with a true basement feel).

An equivalent view in April 2013, after we cleared out the house for sale and my parents moved into assisted living. Hubley Archives.

Allow me to explain the obvious. Musical equipment takes up a lot of space, is hard to dust and to vacuum around, and looks good only in its functional context — that is, when you’re using it to play music or make other musicians envious.

In addition, of course, electric music can get loud. And by the same token, domestic life can interfere with musical moods. You don’t want someone watching NASCAR nearby when you’re trying to record a tender folk ballad.

Perhaps most decisively, musicians at work create a powerful social energy that, for better or worse, intrudes into whatever hopes for their time your non-musical roommates might be aspiring to.

Doug Hubley and the Kent

Me and the Kent, my first guitar that I didn’t steal from my sister. Pre-Capt. Distortion, it was plugged into the RCA Victor stereo. Hubley Archives.

So for many of us, music gets made in the basement — spiders and pill bugs, dust and grit, mildew and mold, darkness and chilliness be damned.  (Garages, of course, also have a noble history as musical refuges, even lending their name to a musical genre).

And don’t forget the water during snowmelt and heavy rains. Standing water on the basement floor every spring was a special attraction in the 1910 house where I grew up, on a side street near Red Bolling’s legendary Tastee Freez (now known as Red’s).

When we moved in, in 1958, the largest of the three cellar rooms was set off by a pair of French doors. If a 60-year-recollection is worth anything, that space briefly harbored a little sitting area with curtains and some kind of dainty furniture. (I’m the only Hubley who remembers that amenity. Dream or reality?)

One French door, with all of its glass but painted into opacity, still remained 55 years later when we cleared the house out and moved my parents into assisted living.

The massive gray gizmo on the green hassock was a “portable” turntable, weighing about 40 pounds, that once used by WCSH-AM for remote broadcasts (if that’s still a recognizable concept). Hubley Archives.

Anyhoo, back there in 1966 or ’67, one or both of my sisters, who are older than me, turned that room into a hangout. They walled half of it off with blankets, and added amenities such as an old, deep stuffed chair with a rock-hard seat and touches of paint that included “I love you” (and, less idealistically, “69”) daubed on the bricks.

As my sisters’ hangout-related interests matured and my involvement in music deepened, I claimed the room. But it didn’t happen overnight. What shaped the situation was a chronic inadequacy of musical gear that prevailed until I was out of high school and drawing a paycheck. (I’m often gobsmacked by how well-equipped today’s young players are.)

Doug plays bass through the new Guild Superstar and sister Sue Hubley sings in early 1970. The “mic stand” was a tent pole. Hubley Archives.

The first guitar that was really mine, not “borrowed,” was a six-string Kent, Model 823. It was a birthday present in 1967, when I turned 13. But I didn’t have a proper amplifier until Christmas 1969.

During those 30 months before I got the Guild Superstar, my father improvised a couple of solutions to my unamplified plight. (Dad knew electronics — he’d even been a radioman with Eisenhower’s headquarters during WW II.)

First he rigged an input to the household record player, a much-modified RCA console model in the living room. The Kent sounded clean through the RCA — a bass sounded better, as it turned out — but the disruption to the household was significant.

Dad’s next offering was a bare-chassis amplifier of unknown origin (record player? intercom? public-address?) hooked up to an 8-inch speaker that must have come from some other console record player. The speaker was mounted onto a cloth-and-wood panel, and the amp was screwed onto a plain pine board. Dangling wires connected them, and the whole works teetered on a rolling metal TV stand. 

It wasn’t too loud but it sure sounded rough. In fact, it set a standard of overdriven amp tone that remains a criterion for me, in a good way. I called that contraption Capt. Distortion.

I continued to clear the living room with the RCA from time to time, but the Captain really changed my musical life. Most importantly, the Captain — along with other stopgaps, such as a second-hand particle-board stereo that Dad also dredged up from who knows where — untethered me from the living room.

And, actually, tethered me instead to basements.

Cellar, beware

A kid named Tom Hansen was one of my best friends for about five years, starting in 1966. We shared interests in music, in putting on a show, and in wacky humor. (The product of an academic household, Tom had a much more sophisticated wit than mine.)

Drummer Tom plays cardboard boxes and a real, though cracked, cymbal, in the Hubley basement in early 1970. Hubley Archives.

Our adolescent energies converged like phaser beams on my father’s poor Panasonic reel-to-reel tape recorder. We used it, with a succession of cheap plastic microphones, to record music ranging from earnest and bad to cacophonous and unlistenable. We also attempted comedy. Tom and I spent most of 1969 and ’70 recording crap on that poor tape recorder.

We surrounded ourselves with such musical instruments as we had. Along with the Kent and the Captain, that arsenal included a 12-string guitar from the Sears catalog, a kiddie piano, metal spoons and a tambourine, cheap bells, nose flutes and kazoos. And harmonicas: While I knew him, Tom developed into a very good harp player.

To the basement decor I added some colored light bulbs (I still remember buying them. I still have a green one), and Tom and I sat there in the near darkness just killing ourselves with what we considered really funny stuff. It’s just amazing how wrong people can be.


John Rolfe rehearses with our band Airmobile in the basement of a building at what is now Southern Maine Community College. This was summer 1973, the school was then known as Southern Maine Vocational-Technical Institute, and the building was the residence of bassist Glen Tracy, whose father worked at the college. Hubley Archives.

The Thunderbirds (previously Airmobile. It gets confusing) are back in the Hubley basement in this image from 1974. At left is bassist Glen Tracy. The drummer is Eddie Greco. Hubley Archives.

One product in particular made us very proud. Totaling 13 installments, it was called, with occasional variations, “The Captain Spoon Show.” As Captain Spoon, Tom carried the verbal weight of the show and had the best jokes. I was Mr. Music, plunking out chords for the ad-lib songs and sprinkling random notes over Tom’s verbal riffing. (Capt. Distortion and Capt. Spoon, eh? I think “Spoon” came first.)

Despite a few recurring bits, we pretty much winged each episode, exploring every corner of offensive adolescent spontaneity we could find. Between making music and “Captain Spoon,” we felt pretty special, which the thugs at South Portland High School rewarded with accusations, which sometimes escalated into physical harassment, of being gay. An enlightened era.

Tom and I remained friends through the SPHS grief and through his parents shipping him off briefly to private school to get him away from me. (Despite their fears, there was no gay sex, no booze, no drugs; just colored lights, stupid humor, music that gradually got better and an abused tape recorder). What did end Tom’s and my friendship was starting a band when we were 17. And, of course, becoming mature.

The Hubley studio post-paint job, 1974. Hubley Archives.

Years of a basement

Where most of my contemporaries in the early 1970s were absorbing the influences of school, sports, clubs, church and who knows what all, my character was being molded by records, radio, Rolling Stone and Hit Parader magazines — and my parents’ cellar.

For a while around 1970–71, on the basis of no experience and no professional equipment, I pretended that crummy room was a recording studio. I even “produced,” and Tom and I played on, an album-on-tape by his then-girlfriend, who sang and wrote all the songs. Later Tom came down with some friends from a religious organization and we tried to record “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane.”

The Hubley basement studio at its apogee, in the mid-1970s. Note the Chevy hubcap ash tray, the three tambourines hanging from a beam, and the Carmencita psychedelic guitar at right. Hubley Archives.

A few years later — I was 20 and really should have known better — I pretended it was a nightclub and invited cronies down for drinks and performances. Friends knew to bypass the regular house entrance and come in through the cellar door, which was reminiscent of a bomb shelter entryway. 

The room was at its apogee then. Somewhere along the way I formally demarcated my space with tie-dyed muslin curtains (my father used the other half of the room for his own self-indulgences). With eager support from my mother — who was probably happy that I wanted to do something down there besides play loud guitar, or get drunk and lie on the floor listening to Hank Williams on headphones — I painted the moldering concrete walls in 1974.

Ensconced in the ass-numbing maroon easy chair, Ken Reynolds appreciates the Hubley cellar in 1977. Hubley Archives.

The standard of furnishings rose slightly, as I replaced old Hubley discards with newer ones. Gone was the old mattress and frame that served more to mock than to make possible any possibilities of l’amour. In addition to the original ass-numbing stuffed chair, there was a car bench seat (later replaced by the old pink family sofa) and a giant hassock covered in limeade-green fabric. There was a Chevy hubcap for an ashtray, although nobody much was smoking.

More important, the standard of musical furnishings rose markedly. Thanks to real jobs, first at the King Cole potato chip factory and then at the Jordan March department store (both establishments are long gone), I had a real stereo, real guitars and real amplifiers. Thanks again to Dad, I had my own tape recorder, a big heavy graduation-present Sony TC-540.

The Fashion Jungle poses for a publicity image in Steve Chapman’s basement, 1987. Photo by Minolta self-timer. Hubley Archives.

Solo, casually with friends, or with bands, I went on to make countless hours of music in the room. (During the summer of 1974, the first year of the “nightclub,” I was unemployed and spent nearly all my time there recording and writing songs. That didn’t help the possibilities of l’amour at all, to say nothing of the development of any sense of responsibility, but it was a useful musical immersion.)

It was the band work that justified and made real my musical aspirations. From Truck Farm to Airmobile, from the Mirrors all the way to the 1985 incarnation of the Fashion Jungle, all my bands rehearsed in the Hubley basement at some time or other. I extend eternal gratitude to my parents, who were very generous and tolerant of high-decibel band rehearsals two or three evenings a week. 

Those were wonderful days in the cellar. Recordings came out of there that I’m still proud to share today. Because we were young, music was still new territory and we had the energy and drive to explore it. We rode out on rhythm and loudness like cowboys. It made our brains feel good to develop music together.

And we had a lot of laughs. I’ll never forget the late-night load-ins after a gig — the gingerly descent with an amp in arms through the concrete bulkhead; wrangling tall, skinny Shure Vocalmaster speakers in through a cellar window; standing in the driveway at 2 a.m. divvying up the buck-three-eighty we made at the door at Geno’s (and keeping my mother awake with our jawing); the jokes and happy exhaustion.

A basement of one’s own

In 1989, Gretchen Schaefer and I bought a house. At last we had a basement to do with as we wished: wash and hang laundry, store stuff, start seedlings. And make music. 

The largest of the four cellar rooms is indeed the music studio. It’s outfitted to a level that would have been incomprehensible to me in 1970, and I work there alone and with Gretchen as the country band Day for Night.

My former studio in parents’ house, after they moved to assisted living and the Dump Guys cleaned it out. Hubley Archives.

This room, too, has colored lights (a string of Christmas lights). The floor is crumbling like the one at my parents’, but it’s maroon instead of robin’s egg blue and most important, it’s dry. Back when we had bigger bands, we rehearsed there, lugged amps and drums up and down for gigs, kept a neighbor awake with our jawing in the driveway at 2 a.m.

Me in the current basement, 2017. (Hubley Archives)

But we use our room only when we need the equipment. It’s not a refuge or a hangout, because other parts of the house are much more comfortable. Gretchen and I make much more music in our living room, which is warm and bright and has windows. We even record there, on a digital unit that’s about the size of a sandwich and probably weighs one-fiftieth of the Sony reel-to-reel. (The last times we recorded on tape were in November 2009.)

Unlike my sisters, who made the South Portland room into a teen hangout only to move on quickly to adult activities, I was in no hurry to leave it. That room turned out to be a halfway house for adulthood, which I wanted to reach, but on my own slow timetable.

I didn’t get out much, but I practiced adult activities in that room — being a musician, being in a romance, entertaining friends in sophisticated ways — that I looked forward to enjoying in some sweet empowered by-and-by.

Which happens to be now.


A collection of notes, as in musical, from some different basements. (Help me find the old Chevy hubcap ashtray on E-Bay — why not buy the whole album on BandCamp or Nimbit?)

Caphead (Hubley) The Howling Turbines: Doug Hubley, guitar and vocal • Gretchen Schaefer, bass and supporting vocal • Ken Reynolds, drums. Recorded in the current basement, Aug. 8, 1999. In the late 1990s, I started seeing all these young guys wearing ball caps, driving around in small cars and looking coldly murderous. A fatal fight among some of them in a Denny’s parking lot one year gave me the first verse. (“Caphead,” “Don’t Sell the Condo” and “Let the Singer” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved. ASCAP.)

Candy Says (Reed) The Karl Rossmann Band in Ben and Hattie Hubley’s basement, winter 1981. Our exploration of the Velvet Underground songbook hits a high point as Jim Sullivan’s perfectly ingenuous vocal nails the spirit of this lyric. Jim, lead vocal, guitar • DH, supporting vocal, lead guitar • Chris Hanson, supporting vocal • Mike Piscopo, supporting vocal, bass • KR, drums.

Don’t Forget to Cry (B. Bryant–F. Bryant) Day for Night recorded this on tape in the current basement, November–December 2006. I piled up guitars, bass and tambourine on the four-track for Gretchen Schaefer and I to sing over. The remarkable thing about my relatively sophisticated recording technology is that in spite of it all, the sound quality of my recordings has hardly advanced over the cheesy stuff I made in the 1970s. To thine own self be true.

A Certain Hunger (Chapman) The Fashion Jungle at Mr. & Mrs. Hubley’s, September 1983. Steve Chapman, bass, and vocal • DH, guitar • Kathren Torraca, keyboard. We were rehearsing with a drum machine because KR was sidelined with a baseball injury. One of my favorite songs by Steve, and a worthy addition to the my-lover-is-a-vampire school of romantic art. (“A Certain Hunger” copyright © 1983 by Steven Chapman. All rights reserved.)

When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down (Telfer–Prosser–Jones) The Boarders: DH, guitar and vocal • GS, bass • Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, drums. A fabulous song by a hit-or-miss Celtic rock group, Oysterband. I have neither the dignity to spare nor the constitution for the lifestyle depicted here, but I sure can relate. A staple of the Boarders repertoire, one of my all-time favorites, recorded in the current basement on Oct. 15, 1995.

Polly (Clark) Day for Night: GS and DH, guitar and vocal. D4N had a Gene Clark jag that resulted in our learning four of his songs in one gulp in autumn 2008. Gretchen contributes an especially fine lead vocal on Clark’s mysterious “Polly.” Recorded in the current basement, Nov. 25, 2009.

Don’t Sell the Condo (Hubley) The Fashion Jungle: SC, DH, KR. One of my favorites of my songs and, I think, one of the Fashion Jungle’s best — too bad few people ever heard it. Gretchen knew an art dealer whose charismatic lover, prominent in the Old Port scene, was rumored to be a coke dealer, woman beater, Satan in the flesh, etc. This is the couple’s story as I imagined it. I wrote the lyric over gimlets in the lobby of the Eastland Hotel on a snowy afternoon while waiting for Gretchen to get out of class. This recording comes from a videotape that she made of the FJ in the Chapmans’ basement early in 1988.

She Lives Downstairs (Hubley–Piscopo–Reynolds–Sullivan) The Fashion Jungle: DH, lead vocal, lead guitar • Mike Piscopo, backing vocal, rhythm guitar (we were both playing Gretsches, hence the groovy sound) • KR, drums • Jim Sullivan, bass and backing vocal. Directly descended from the Mirrors via the Karl Rossmann Band, the FJ was our gesture at faster-louder-more fun music. We put an emphasis on original songs, but because none of us was a prolific writer, we undertook an ongoing exercise in collaborations like this. The Ken Reynolds lyric was based on an actual person. Recorded in Mr. and Mrs. Hubley’s basement, spring 1981. (“She Lives Downstairs” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley, Michael Piscopo, Kenneth Reynolds, Jim Sullivan. All rights reserved.)

Let the Singer (Hubley) One of my few 1970s compositions that have held up. It’s a paean to the live fast–die young lifestyle that seemed very romantic until all those musicians I liked died young. This is a 1978 solo recording, done in my parents’ basement, for a submission to a WBLM-FM songwriting contest. (How could I not have won?!?)

Notes From a Basement text © 2017 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

Still Looking for That Christmas Feeling, or The Christmas Greeting Video


A Notes From a Basement post dedicated to the Christmas season was out of the question in 2015 because in previous such posts I’ve presented all or most of the suitable music in the vaults to which I have publishing rights. More important, I had no big ideas to explore this year, which shouldn’t be an excuse, but there you go.

A digitally manipulated view of Congress Square Plaza in Portland, Maine, from the Top of the East in December 1984. Hubley Archives.

A digitally manipulated view of Congress Square Plaza in Portland, Maine, from the Top of the East in December 1984. Hubley Archives.

Instead, I took a holiday song already issued from the Basement — a 1995 recording of “Looking for That Christmas Feeling,” performed by the Boarders in rehearsal for a Christmastime gig at the Free Street Taverna — and used it as the basis for a video comprising still and moving images.

The Boarders' multi-talented bassist, Gretchen Schaefer, created the poster for this 1995 gig. Hubley Archives.

The Boarders’ multi-talented bassist, Gretchen Schaefer, created the poster for this 1995 gig. Hubley Archives.

With the exception of a shot of the side yard in South Portland that Harriette Hubley took around 1981 and some 1988 Fashion Jungle footage from a concert produced by South Portland Television, the images were taken by me or by Gretchen Schaefer. They represent locations as diverse as from Boston and Cambridge, Mass.; Charleston, S.C.; San Francisco and Denver; Brattleboro, Vt.; and Portland, South Portland and Cornish, Maine.

This Turbines poster for a December 2000 date was a group effort. Gretchen Schaefer created the Santa hats to superimpose on Jeff Stanton's image of the Howling Turbines, taken at the Free Street Taverna on a 90-degree day. I wrote and laid out the poster. Hubley Archives.

This Howling Turbines poster for a December 2000 date was a group effort. Gretchen Schaefer created the Santa hats to superimpose on Jeff Stanton’s image of the Howling Turbines, taken at the Free Street Taverna on a 90-degree day. I wrote and laid out the poster. Hubley Archives.

Of particular note is a 1981 drawing of the Portland nightclub Kayo’s that Gretchen made, and scenes from the Christmas greeting film, loosely (and I mean loosely) based on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” that we shot on magnetic-sound Super 8 film in 1986.

The facially immobilized blonde is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer doll that Jeff Stanton gave Gretchen for her birthday in the early 2000s, and that we now use for a Christmas tree ornament.

The video was edited in iMovie on Dec. 21–22, 2015.

Visit the Christmas bin at my Nimbit store:

Day for Night: Colorado Dreamin’

“I’m living the dream.”
— TSA inspector at Denver International Airport, when asked how he was doing


Back in the days of the Howling Turbines,

The view we love so well: The Flatirons from the Chautauqua Meadow, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

The view we love so well: The Flatirons from the Chautauqua Meadow, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

the three of us in the band used to fantasize about renting a villa in the Italian countryside and spending the sun-drenched Mediterranean days learning the Stax-Volt catalog.

Needless to say, that never happened for drummer Ken Reynolds, bassist Gretchen Schaefer and me. (If it had, you’d have read about it by now.)

But in 2007, three years after the Turbines ground to a halt, Gretchen and I were at last able to realize our dream of making music in a beautiful place far from the distractions of home.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley, aka Day for Night, learn a song in Boulder, Colo., in 2008. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley, aka Day for Night, learn a song in Boulder, Colo., in 2008. Hubley Archives.

Heaven on earth for us is the Colorado Chautauqua, where since 2007 we have occasionally been able to spend a summer week or so — hiking, seeing the town and best of all, making music. Only on vacation are we able to dedicate as much time as we’d like to music, and Colorado has given us our best musical times by far.

In fact, these Colorado sojourns have consistently helped us keep our focus as the country band Day for Night, and they continue to keep our set lists vital.

Doug rocks out on the trail. Schaefer Studios.

Doug rocks out on the trail. Schaefer Studios.

We found Colorado by accident, hopping to Boulder for a few days in July 2006 so Gretchen could attend a conference. She had first visited a friend there in the 1970s. But I had never been interested in The Centennial State, scarred by any number of John Denver songs — not to mention Rick Roberts’s “Colorado” (he was a Flying Burrito Brother how and why, exactly?).  Nevertheless, I was happy to tag along.

We stayed at a crap motel near the University of Colorado campus. Gretchen had little chance to see the city at first, spending much of her time in a remote function room undergoing professional development. But I wandered around Boulder and surprised myself by liking it fine: the mountain views, the healthy happy people, McGuckin Hardware and the Dushanbe Tea House.

Cottage No. 19 at the Colorado Chautauqua, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

Cottage No. 19 at the Colorado Chautauqua, June 2013. Hubley Archives.

Still, the real Boulder conversion experience didn’t hit us until near the end of the trip, when we visited the Colorado Chautauqua. We had tickets for a Richard Thompson and Aimee Mann concert at the Chautauqua Auditorium. The morning of the show, we slogged up Baseline Road to the Chautauqua to get the lay of the land — and were smitten.

What is this thing called Chautauqua? Named for the lake in New York state where it originated, the Chautauqua movement swept the nation in the 19th century, designed to effect self-improvement on a grand scale by means of rustic retreats replete with Nature, Fine Arts and Righteous Thinking.

Welcome to Boulder. Hubley Archives.

Welcome to Boulder. Hubley Archives.

The Colorado Chautauqua was founded in 1897 as a mountain oasis for Texas schoolteachers. Following the standard model, the Boulder version was a self-contained community, with lodgings (tents in the first year; mostly tiny cottages thereafter), a dining hall, a barn-like auditorium and other historic and attractive buildings.

Once an open field, the Chautauqua site today has matured into a leafy, sheltering hillside garden spot. Bunnies hop around and one takes precautions against bears. The Chautauqua remains a self-contained community, operated by the Colorado Chautauqua Association as a sort of resort that boasts fabulous views, good meals at the Dining Hall, a range of lodging choices and a strong offering of music, films and other entertainments at the Auditorium.

From Gretchen's travel journal, 2013.

A sketched self-portrait for Gretchen’s 2013 travel journal. Schaefer Studios.

The compound is situated on a slope above and south of downtown Boulder. Dominating the view is the riveting and iconic row of five sandstone crags called the Flatirons, visible above the pines and across the grassy expanse of the Chautauqua Meadow. The Chautauqua is a nexus for several mountain trails, some of them accessible via an unpaved fire-access road that separates the Chautauqua compound and the meadow.

The day of the concert we looked around the compound and ventured up the fire road a ways, oohing, aahing and gasping for breath. (The Chautauqua is about 6,000 feet above sea level and roughly 600 feet above downtown Boulder.) Lithe carefree young people and wise spry oldsters powered up and down the road and out across the meadow, not gasping.

The orange dirt trail, 2015. Hubley Archives.

The orange dirt trail, 2015. Hubley Archives.

So beautiful, the mountains! So blue the sky and so spacious. So charming, the tranquil Chautauqua compound with its trembling rabbits and shady lanes named for mountain flowers! So alluring, the century-old cabins with their dark woodwork and Black & Decker coffeemakers!

And so rentable, as we soon learned.

That night we enjoyed an excellent dinner on the Dining Hall porch and a half-excellent concert (Thompson, playing solo, was superior, aside from one song about his manhood that no one needed to hear; Mann was strangely lusterless). And then we hoofed it back down Baseline Road to the crap motel, in love with the Chautauqua.

Learning the mandolin, 2010.

Getting acquainted with the Big Muddy, 2010. Schaefer Studios.

The following year we stayed five or six nights in Chautauqua’s No. 30, a relatively spacious cottage with backyard access to the meadow, fire road and the connecting trails.

I think it was on our first full day in in Boulder on that 2007 trip that we established the routine that we continue to observe, all these years later, for the simple reason that it’s our idea of heaven:

It starts with the trail. Boulder was our introduction, as a couple, to a style of hiking that was clearly on a higher level, experientially as well as topographically, than I at least had ever undertaken. Getting into the Flatirons, along with the Enchanted Mesa, Skunk and Gregory canyons, and other wild areas near the Chautauqua, has made a nature lover out of me.

After recovering from the morning hike, it’s a big lunch downtown (may we recommend Brasserie Ten Ten, where we ate every day during our 2007 stay?).

From Gretchen's travel journal.

A sketch of Doug perceiving the light of hope (read: time to start our vacation) by Gretchen for her 2013 travel journal. Schaefer Studios.

Back up the hill at the Chautauqua, with the entire compound observing quiet time until 3 p.m., we settle down to some work. For Gretchen, in recent years that has involved entries in an animated digital journal, very funny, that she creates on an iPad. For me, it’s reading, preparing new material for the band or songwriting.

For dinner, we fix something light in the cottage or go to the Chautauqua Dining Hall.

And in the evening, nearly every evening, we learn a new song and review the previous nights’ work.

All in all, as I said, heaven on earth.

That first year, we picked up four or five from the Louvin Brothers’ Ira and Charlie, the LP that prompted, or at least coincided with, our decision to narrow Day for Night’s focus even tighter on country music. We drank Jack Daniels from Rose Hill Wine & Spirits, down in the quarter where the college students live. We played inexpensive Alvarez guitars rented from Woodsongs, a music store out in the mall zone.

For nonprofessionals like us, learning a song per night is a workout, but a happy one. As anyone knows who has the discipline or luxury to swim deep in the waters of their occupational calling, doing so simply feels wicked good on your brain.

And the more you do it, the better you get and the better it feels, at least up to the point where you’re doing speedballs on the tour bus.

Gretchen on the trail in a green year for Boulder.

Gretchen on the trail in a green year for Boulder. Hubley Archives.

Boulder established our practice of traveling musically, and we have done so in other destinations, including a dank mildewed rental house in Guerneville, Calif., and the aptly named Paradise Inn, in Bennington, Vt. But Boulder is always better, musically and in every other way.

Mondo mando

Our Boulder experiences continue to open doors for us as a band and as a couple. (Although I confess that I let slide the opportunity to legally score some weed last time we were there.)

In 2010, while visiting Woodsongs to transact the usual rental of two blister-raising cheap acoustics, I wandered over to a wall display of mandolins and plucked at a couple — I still remembered two or three of the four chords I’d learned back during my mando flirtation back in the 1970s.

Just how much beauty can there be, after all? Hubley Archives.

Just how much beauty can there be, after all? Hubley Archives.

I spent a few minutes at it. I was assessing mandolins. I had just gotten a raise. I felt the flush of that strange mental inflammation that comes with the knowledge that you are about to lighten your wallet.

Sure enough, after a few other errands, we doubled back to the music store and I bought a Big Muddy MW-O, a mid-priced A-body mandolin.

That pretty much set the agenda for that week’s song acquisition: the standards “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight” and “Rough and Rocky,” the Louvins’ “New Partner Waltz,”  the Carter Family’s “Bury Me Beneath the Willow.”

The Front Range, 2015. Hubley Archives.

The Front Range, 2015. Hubley Archives.

And while I’m still no Ira Louvin on the mandolin (or in any other way, for worse and for better), that instrument did renew our perspective on a musical direction.

In the interest of simplicity, overboard went all the accordion and autoharp numbers. This had the effect of focusing the repertoire both sonically and stylistically, since some of the cuts, even some very cool songs that we played well, seemed increasingly out of place as our sound got more country.

Cutting those two instruments also streamlined performances, since they were both hard to mic, and also, of course, fewer instrument changes make for a better pace.

DSCN0978

The meadow and a Flatiron from the back yard of Cottage No. 19. Hubley Archives.

So in that sense the mandolin concluded another developmental phase for our little band. We had previously realized we couldn’t be the Howling Turbines without a drummer, that bossa nova and country just don’t mix, that we had to focus tighter on country. And now, pulled by Ira and Charlie and a Missouri-made mandolin, we were about done with the gain and loss, and ready for some pure gain.

In addition to Boulder’s countless charms, I think, it’s also true that the founding impulse of the Chautauqua movement — self-elevation through a judicious harmonizing of nature, rest and mental stimulation — has played a meaningful role in Day for Night’s Boulder experiences.

In ways greater and smaller, we have always returned from Boulder a better band than when we got there.

Of course, we could also say the same about Cornish, Maine.


Hear two songs, written for Day for Night, that I completed and demo’d in Boulder:

1. You Wore It Well (Hubley) Begun in a hotel in Portsmouth, N.H., and completed in Cottage No. 19 at the Colorado Chautauqua in 2013. Now a regular part of the D4N repertoire.
2. Just a Moment in the Night (Hubley). This started out as an entirely different song that I may yet write. Completed in Cottage No. 417 at the Colorado Chautauqua in 2015, one of two originals for 2015. Two whole songs in one year! I’m a one-man Brill Building!

“You Wore It Well” and “Just a Moment in the Night” copyright © 2015 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

 

The Flatirons, Boulder, Colo., June 2013. Schaefer Studios.

View from the Chautauqua Meadow, Boulder, Colo., June 2013. Schaefer Studios.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2012–15 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

Day for Night: O Brothers, Where Are We?


(Day for Night at the Bobcat Den: video by Jeff Stanton)


Day for Night’s first gig took place in July 2007

Gretchen Schaefer poses for a cell-phone picture during Day for Night's first performance, at the Lewiston (Maine) Farmers Market in July 2007. Hubley Archives

Gretchen Schaefer poses for a picture during Day for Night’s public debut, at the Lewiston (Maine) Farmers Market in July 2007. Hubley Archives.

at a farmers market in downtown Lewiston, Maine. The market coordinator was a student at the college where I work, and I responded to her open call for musicians.

The turnout of both vendors and customers was underwhelming (another blow to the Androscoggin Valley Chamber’s delusional “It’s All Happening Here!” promotional campaign). Whatever the folks running the market may have felt about that, though, it afforded Gretchen Schaefer and me a low-pressure setting to resume performing after a three-year hiatus.

As we recall, it went pretty well. Market organizers allotted us a sunny patch of grass along the sidewalk, and we were OK with the lack of stage and amplification. Punctuating our music with changes from guitar to accordion (me) and to autoharp (Gretchen), we jittered along steadily through our two sets till late afternoon.

There were a few compliments, some kids found us briefly intriguing, most people gave us exactly the kind of non-attention we were hoping for as we rediscovered our performing reflexes.

Day for Night performs the Everly Brothers' "Price of Love" at the Bobcat Den, Bates College, on Nov. 30, 2007. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

Day for Night performs the Everly Brothers’ “Price of Love” at Bates College, Nov. 30, 2007. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

A low-key occasion to be sure, but nevertheless the start of Day for Night’s performing career — a career that has never been high-powered nor lucrative, nor bigger than local, but one that has over the years kept us on stage about as often as we can handle.

For Gretchen and me, the three-year interval between our last date as the electric Howling Turbines, with drummer Ken Reynolds, and our first as the acoustic Day for Night entailed adventures as diverse and gnarly as

Answering that last question was easy and hard. Easy because even in the depths of bossa nova madness in 2004–05, we knew that country music would always be Day for Night’s prime directive. Having drifted away from bossa nova, though, we next had to get serious about country, which meant figuring out just what country meant for Day for Night. That was the hard part.

Unfortunately undated but clearly showing the musical schizophrenia that I was inflicting on Day for Night, this is a list of songs that we were considering before we booted the bossa nova. Hubley Archives.

This prospect list from late 2007 shows the musical schizophrenia that I was inflicting on Day for Night. Note that the bossa nova prospects (none of which we ever tried) included sources like Graham Parker, Tom Verlaine and Elvis Costello. “Manchester Song,” by the way, finally took shape two years later as “Bittersweet.” Hubley Archives.

It was probably a little more challenging for me than for Gretchen. We were both products of New England suburbs, and likely became aware of country through more or less the same channels, I think — especially considering the splash that “country rock” made during our formative years. (Although Gretchen, growing up in Groton, Conn., with two TV channels, did not experience the same intense irradiation from syndicated country & Western music shows that we in Maine enjoyed.)

But she did grow up hearing her father and a mandolin-playing friend do Hank Williams and other country songs, mixed in with 1950s–60s pop, in parties on the boat in Long Island Sound. (Gretchen’s main guitar for many years had belonged to her father.)

Her own early playing, as a teenager with friends on acoustic guitars, explored the borderlands between country, pop and folk without worrying too much about categories.

For Gretchen, the Child Ballads — Francis Child’s compilations of British folk ballads, those blow-by-blow narratives of intense love and death — were a powerful revelation in the 1970s. Today, the kind of country that she finds most compelling follows the path from those centuries-old ballads through the Appalachians to seminal players like Ralph and Carter Stanley.

As for me, my lack of stylistic boundaries is a frequent refrain in these posts. As a teenager, I was more concerned with means than genre: More than anything, I wanted to play electric music.

This had reverberations cultural and metaphorical, as well as technical (and financial). Where Gretchen’s interest in country gravitated toward its roots in folk, mine fluttered mothlike around the neon lights, the pedal steel and Telecaster guitars, the Nudie suits and the live fast–die young lifestyle. Which seemed very romantic until all those musicians I liked died young. (And yet I still like to have bourbon handy when we play.)

Which affords a handy segue to a musician who had an important influence on my genre promiscuity — that is, he provided a broadly accepted rationale for it. Yes, in my perceived Lonely Guy™ solitude back there in the early 1970s, I was one among the millions around the world captivated by former Byrd, former Flying Burrito Brother Gram Parsons.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley in a Day for Night publicity photo taken by the Kodak self-timer. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer and Doug Hubley in a Day for Night publicity photo taken in 2008 by the Kodak self-timer. Hubley Archives.

His singing was touching — especially with Emmylou Harris, as we’ll never let her forget, as if she could; his tragic story was highly romantic as long as you didn’t have to deal with the lawyers afterward; and his view of music was one that I immediately adopted as my own.

While musicians have been crossing genres as long as there have been genres to cross, Parsons brought the concept back home to us hippies in the late 1960s with his notion of “Cosmic American Music” — a silly name for very appealing, and largely Southern, crossovers among country, rock and rhythm & blues.

“I just say this — it’s music,” Parsons is supposed to have said (I can’t find an attribution). “Either it’s good or it’s bad; either you like it or you don’t.”

Such thinking struck naive me like a bolt from the blue — even after growing up with groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones that were essentially exemplifying the same thing, only without the pedal steel or Nudie suits.

All that being said, Day for Night’s way-finding was a slow but agreeable process. In the beginning we had outstanding, if unsurprising, guides. We knew we wanted to emphasize harmony singing, and for that there were no better inspirations than the Everly Brothers and the Louvin Brothers.

WalkRightBack002

For ages we had done the Everlys’ “Cathy’s Clown (which Gretchen had loved since childhood) and “So Sad”; and the Louvins’ “You’re Running Wild” and “My Baby’s Gone.” It seemed that we could do much worse than stick with those guys as we rummaged through material. (Although we also quickly appropriated such Parsons touchstones as “Sin City,” the Burritos’ take on “Do Right Woman” and Gram and Emmy’s “Brand New Heartache” — first recorded by the Everlys.)

Coming from country music, the Everlys played rock-pop that often worked well as country (as opposed to some of their deliberate country efforts that didn’t really cut the mustard in either camp). In the short run, that was good for Day for Night. We could brandish our country identity but still, flashing our Cosmic American Music badges, keep trying to work the pop, rock and R&B in there too.

One Everly source particular made an impression: Walk Right Back, a compilation of their years with Warner Brothers. A two-CD set with an LP’s worth of good material, Walk Right Back nevertheless provided our little country band with some excellent not-quite country: Boudleaux and Felice Bryant’s gemlike “Don’t Forget to Cry,” and Don and Phil’s own “Don’t Let the Whole World Know” and “Price of Love.”

Ira&Charlie001The Louvins were tougher. As brilliant as their singing was and as strong as their material could be, they recorded enough dogs to fill a kennel. “Red Hen Hop”? “The Stagger”? I’m asking you!

We’d pick up one or two songs from each Louvin Brothers album, having sifted through the rest with gritted teeth (a mixed metaphor that actually works pretty well in this instance).

But things changed in a tectonic way during a Saturday morning drive back home to Portland from Lewiston, Maine, in October 2006. The day was coldly sunny after an evening of torrential rain. Canadian air was muscling in and the wind tossed the clouds around and tugged at the leaves that were left on the trees.

For Gretchen and me, it was a Louvin Brothers day after an evening of Maine classical music history. The night before, we’d heard a concert by 91-year-old classical pianist Frank Glazer,  marking the 70th anniversary of his New York City debut by reprising the same ambitious program he’d played at Town Hall all those years ago.

Gretchen Schaefer, smiling and strumming during one of Day for Night's first performances. The Bobcat Den, Bates College, Nov. 30, 2007. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

Gretchen Schaefer, smiling and strumming during one of Day for Night’s first performances. The Bobcat Den, Bates College, Nov. 30, 2007. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

The concert was inspiring. I felt some sublimal connection between Glazer’s dedication and my own persistence (which isn’t quite the same thing). The dash to the car through the deluge wasn’t inspiring, nor was our night in the dowdy motel next to the turnpike on-ramp. We were glad to head home. We listened to Ira and Charlie: The Louvin Brothers, from 1958.

And Ira and Charlie was a revelation. It was the Holy Grail and the key to the city. We liked everything we heard: Chet Atkins’ Gretschy sophistication mixed with Ira’s out-of-the-blue mandolin fills; Ira’s soaring harmonies against Charlie’s plainspoken soulfulness.

The raw emotion in songs like “Too Late,” written by cowboy star Jimmy Wakely, and “Here Today and Gone Tomorrow,” by gospel impresario (and erstwhile Georgia Clodhopper) Wally Fowler, suited us perfectly.

Driving back to Portland, we listened to the CD once and then played the whole thing again — and I never do that. Over the next year or so, Day for Night learned half the tracks on Ira and Charlie — and we still do five of them. (“I Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” “Have I Stayed Away Too Long” and”Making Believe,” in addition to “Too Late” and “Here Today.”)

Ira and Charlie turned out, over time and in a subtle way, to be a pivotal point in Day for Night’s slog toward refining its musical identify — a slog that, after all, took four more years and the addition of a mandolin to really complete. (All of which you can expect to read about, in excruciating detail, in the coming months.)

And what made that record so influential was not at all exalted or profound. It was simply the intersection of quality and quantity: After months of shopping around for material, the Ira and Charlie windfall gave us a direction and a goal.

 Doug during the Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown" -- the "Magic Fingers" capo gives it away -- during Day for Night's Nov. 30, 2007 show at Bates College's Bobcat Den. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.


Doug during the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown” — the “Magic Fingers” capo gives it away — at Day for Night’s Nov. 30, 2007, show at Bates College’s Bobcat Den. Photo by H. Lincoln Benedict.

All we needed was the time to pursue it. And the mental space. Mental space wide open and tranquil.

Mental space like the mountain landscapes in Colorado, with the open air, the transfixing beauty and the long views that feel like freedom.

Notes From a Basement text copyright © 2012-2015 by Douglas L. Hubley.

Day for Night: Blame It on the Bossa Nova


With Willy Thurston on drums, Day for Night makes its first and last presentation of the bossa nova material, at Alden Bodwell’s house in March 2006. Photos and montage by Jeff Stanton.


How much sense does it make

for a two-piece acoustic band to base its repertoire on both American country music and bossa nova?

Holding onto the past: Five months after the end of the Howling Turbines, Gretchen and I were still trying to keep the HT repertoire alive. Hubley Archives.

Holding onto the past: Five months after the end of the Howling Turbines, Gretchen and I were still trying to keep the HT repertoire alive. Hubley Archives.

If you should reply, “Not much sense at all, Hoss,” the members of the country band Day for Night would be right there with you — now. But it took us two years of being a bossa nova–country band to figure it out.

Howling Turbines, the threesome that Gretchen Schaefer and I played in prior to D4N, was just dipping its toes into Brazil’s bossa nova when, in April 2004, drummer Ken Reynolds departed. And Ken’s departure launched Gretchen and me into a year of fumbling for direction as a two-piece.

His leaving also extended a tendency that had begun a decade previously: an acceptance of shrinkage. I’ve written previously about the comparative virtues of bigger vs. smaller bands: When two members left our band the Cowlix, back in 1994, the remaining trio — Gretchen, I and drummer Jon Nichols-Pethick — liked the resulting maneuverability so much that we never considered replacing the departed musicians.

Similarly, when Ken left, Gretchen and I didn’t even discuss seeking another drummer. In the gap between Jon and Ken, we had spotted some potential in working as a duo. After Ken, we set out to explore that potential.

Gretchen with the 2004 grape harvest. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer with the 2004 grape harvest. Hubley Archives.

So there in 2004 we were, facing each other over the Howling Turbines songlist and trying to salvage what we could. It didn’t seem so unreasonable, given the HTs’ success as an acoustic trio. In our new and as yet unnamed configuration, Gretchen switched off between bass and acoustic guitar, and I used electric and acoustic. During the remainder of 2004, we spent more than a few evenings trying different things different ways — but it quickly became evident that most of the old stuff wouldn’t fly. A fresh approach was needed.

But two of the few songs from the HT days that did remain viable were our bossa nova numbers: the Stan Getz setting of Benny Carter and Sammy Kahn’s “Only Trust Your Heart” (unfortunately without Stan Getz) and our own arrangement of John Cale’s “(I Keep a) Close Watch.” I was still captivated by the genre and decided to work up some more.

And down the rabbit hole we went.

First off, I needed the right guitar for the job. A questionable habit that I have never broken, in both music and other aspects of life, is that I respond to times of flux or uncertainty by buying things. (Really not a helpful response when, for instance, you lose your job.)

Doug PartyMix 2004-005

In the studio on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2004, as Gretchen and I made a mixtape for a forthcoming party. Gretchen Schaefer photo.

This time our outlay was for a classical guitar, a new Manuel Rodriguez flamenco model purchased in August 2004 from a now-defunct music store on a wide and sun-drenched highway in Winthrop, Maine. (Thanks to Gretchen, the expedition included a fine picnic lunch of baked chicken, potato salad and white wine, enjoyed on the roadside next to a lake that I now cannot identify.)

Dubbed “The Palomino” by Gretchen on account of its blonde complexion, the Rodriguez had a bright and powerful sound. I adapted quickly to the different feel of wide fretboard and nylon strings (although I never did get used to an intonation problem on the D string).

So there was the guitar on which to play the bossa nova songs. The next problem was, what songs?

Gretchen Schaefer awaiting guests for our 2004 autumn party. Hubley Archives.

Gretchen Schaefer awaiting guests for our 2004 autumn party. Hubley Archives.

Supply was not the problem. As Ross Perot used to say about solutions to national problems, there are all kinds of great bossa nova songs just lying around waiting to be used. Instead, the problem — two problems — was me. First, being neither a trained musician nor intrinsically fascinated by theory, I scarcely knew any of the sophisticated chords that are used in bossa nova. “Only Trust Your Heart” was the frontier of my chordy know-how, and it had taken me quite some time to beat my way out there (a fact I should have paid attention to).

Second, I don’t speak or understand Brazilian Portuguese, which, of course, is the language that classic bossa nova songs tend to be sung in.

A partial solution to the first obstacle was to spend still more money, this time on music books that explicated complicated chords. It was like going back to 1966 and learning guitar all over again as, several times a week after dinner, I hauled out The Palomino, sat on the bed and laboriously tried to get chords into my fingers.

The venerable Silvertone in 2005, 34 years after I got it. Gretchen took this image the night before I sold the guitar to a Bates College student from Rwanda, who sent it home as a gift to her boyfriend. I wonder how it's doing.

My old friend, the venerable Silvertone, in 2005, 34 years after I got it. Gretchen took this image the night before I sold the guitar to a Bates College student from Rwanda, who sent it home as a gift to her boyfriend. I wonder how it’s doing.

I was a tourist in jazzland: I could follow a map, but didn’t really know where I was. It was yet another reminder (they just keep piling up inside the mailbox) that for all the room for spontaneity you may have as a dilettante, you lack the ultimate freedom that comes with knowing your discipline cold.

In the lyrics department, the situation was slightly more tractable. Like “Close Watch,” there were a few songs lying around, thank you Ross, that had English lyrics and would work as bossa nova. Our finest effort in this direction was a grim and, actually, rather deranged number recorded by Bing Crosby in 1933 called “I’ve Got to Pass Your House to Get to My House.” I continue to count this as one of my all-time greatest finds for cover material.

But the classic bossa nova songbook, pretty much all in Portuguese, was a heavier lift. It’s true that American lyricists, notably Normal Gimbel, had contrived English lyrics for songs like “Meditação” and “Insensatez.” But I was able to find verbatim translations of some of the original lyrics online and Gimbel’s interpretations, held up to those, just didn’t make it.

For example, Gimbel rendered Vinícius de Moraes’ “Insensatez” as “Insensitive,” in which the narrator is suffering the rejection of an icy-hearted lover. In Portuguese, “insensatez” means folly or foolishness, and in de Moraes’ lyric, the foolishness is the narrator’s adultery, which he is steeling himself to confess.

Now that’s a country song!

D4N Prospects-2004-031

No bossa nova here: These were fodder for the country us, not the bossa us. We still do eight of these songs. Hubley Archives.

Having rejected the highly esteemed professional efforts of the famous and well-paid Norman Gimbel, member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame since 1984, there was nothing for me to do but take the verbatim translations from Portuguese and try to turn them into singable lyrics myself. From 2005:

Oh, my only one
What have I done
In a man’s delusion?
Oh, this foolishness
That I confess
Will you give me absolution?

Jobim’s “Meditação” was the first Brazilian bossa nova that I adapted for Gretchen and me. It was not ready until December 2004 (I recorded a demo in early January, one of the first products of the newly revamped, bafflingly wired, and dark cold basement studio that became one focus of the energy that I had previously channeled into playing loud music).

Why return to love
To the passion that makes one from two
You said you’d had enough
But now, the moon is new
And the picture you see is so true
It’s the one you dream of

“Meditação” is the only one of the classic bossas that I can still play without prolonged puzzling over the fretboard. Its chords fall under the fingers more readily than elsewhere in the Jobim repertoire. And it may also be true that I simply played it more than any of the others, because it took me so damned long to work up the bossa material.

Which is not a problem you can hang on country music.

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