My Life in Keyboards

I have written about My Life in Jobs and My Life in Cars, so I think it’s time to post about my life in keyboards. More than my jobs and cars, I believe that keyboards have been the central assets in my life, and music has taken me to some spectacular places, and into some incredible circumstances.

Yamaha PSS-450

Ahhh, my very first keyboard. It wasn’t velocity sensitive, and the sounds were pretty bad. But I made due. I was probably around 12 years old, and I had a keyboard. I had played only piano until I got this, so having the ability to play along with an arranged section was very new and cool to me. I left this keyboard at a home for troubled girls in Kentucky. They seemed to enjoy it and I didn’t have a use for it at the time.
A relative recently gave my daughter an old keyboard in like-new condition. I picked it up, and was amazed that it was the PSS-450.

Yamaha PSR-47

I was 16 years old, and had been looking at new synths ever since I got a chance to play one (I think it was a Yamaha DX-7, or possibly a Korg DW6000) in a music lab at my high school. I was jealous of the very cool sounds that could be made, and even enamored with just the presets. I found this at my local music store – it had so many patches and rhythms, and drum pads. I fell in love, and it was a lot cheaper than the others. I used this board on my first recordings, and in my first band. I traded it for something even better.

I do remember my 11th grade Honors English class – we had to memorize the prologue to Canterbury Tales and speak it in front of the class. I wrote it as a rap, and recorded it, just for fun. I gave it to my teacher, who listened to it, and gave me an A for the project, and I never had to actually memorize the thing. I still know it, though.

Casio SK-1

My first sampler! I bought this from a friend for $20. I can still remember how powerful it felt to be able to record a voice, or my piano, or the toilet flushing, and play it back in different pitches. This board stopped working for me.

Back then, the speed of the sound was also affected by the pitch, so the lower notes took longer than the higher notes. At the time I didn’t consider this to be problematic – it was cool.

Yamaha PSR-500

This thing was a badass. I was able to record entire chord structures of songs and then play along with them. The memory wasn’t great, so I think I had to erase a song if I wanted to start a new one – but this just made me better at using the board. My first multi-pad loops, intros, endings, registration memory (to access my favorite settings with a single push of a button) all really great stuff. I just turned 18, had no will power, and went to the music store and applied for credit, and I was accepted. I found this to be absolutely amazing. My parents were pissed. I did pay it off though. I traded this later for a Yamaha MT-50 4-track cassette tape recorder, soon after I bought my PSR-600.

Yamaha PSR-600

As soon as the PSR-500 was paid off, I went and got this thing. It was nearly identical, except that it had a floppy disc drive in the front. I could now save my work, and keep working. It was totally worth it. This was also the keyboard I had when I joined my first “real” band, a band with paying gigs. By then, music started making me enough money to start looking at some professional equipment. I traded this keyboard for an alto sax on eBay in the early 2000s.

Next post – the Pro Equipment and more.

The Used Price is Right

This started as a quick joke on Facebook, and with high hopes, it will stay that way. Janelle needed to get some piece or other for her regalia for graduation this year. She asked if I thought she should buy one or rent one.

I said, “How much to rent?”
“Thirty dollars.”
“How much to buy?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, if it’s like 38 dollars to buy one you may as well buy.”

She looked up the price on Amazon, and the first one was $38. I said there should be a “Used Price is Right” game show for me to go on.

All day, I considered what the rules would be. Here’s what I came up with:

Since it’s used stuff, there really is no standard pricing – it’s based on how much the person wants the money, and how willing they are to part with the stuff. So, you get three people who are trying to sell something, and a contestant is called from the audience. The contestant gets to ask one question of each seller in order to gauge how much she thinks they will sell it. It can be any question, about anything, but it can’t involve the price of the item. If the contestant guesses within a certain dollar value, she gets to keep the item, and the sellers will be paid by the game show.

That’s all I got so far, let’s make sure it never happens!!!

Quora: How do I choose chords or scales to make people feel specific emotions ?

clef-799259_960_720There is no mathematic formula for this part of the art of composing music. But it’s also so subjective because different people feel different things. What are some songs that make you feel moved? Study those songs. Which chord changes in those songs felt the most powerful to you? It’s not a crime to write songs with those changes. Nobody has a copyright on any chord structure.

You are asking us to tell you which chord changes make you feel emotion, but we don’t know which changes do that for you. Only you do. Study good songwriting, but also study the songs that move you. Learn them inside and out. Which chord inversions are your favorite songs using? Moving from a Bm to a C might not be powerful to you if both are in root position. But if the Bm is in 2nd inversion and it moves to a C major in 1st inversion, you may feel a burst of emotion. There’s no telling what chords will move which people.

I’m glad you’re searching for an answer. Remember that any art is just a series of corrections. So if you are having a hard time finding the notes or chords, then you are getting closer to an answer, because each time you try something you are eliminating things that don’t work.

You have my best wishes in your journey – find what moves you.

Traveling West – day 17 and 18, the end game

She's too young for a mirror selfie, so I did it for her.
She’s too young for a mirror selfie, so I did it for her.

Day 17 (June 17) – Cheyenne, WY to Des Moines, IA (652 Miles). Finally out of the mountains and into the flatlands. As nervous as the mountains made me, I’d rather have the scenery and excitement than the boredom that hit me driving through Nebraska and Iowa. There was some amazingly safe driving going on in these states, but myself and others, but the boredom was incredible.


Janelle, letting me sleep.
Janelle, letting me sleep.

Day 18 – Des Moines, IA to Erie, PA (765 Miles) HOME! It was a great trip and we saw some friends, and I’m no longer scared of another trip west, because I have been indoctrinated into mountain driving.

So there it is.

Our trip there:Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 1.15.21 PM

Our trip home:

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5504 miles plus just over 300 miles of driving around towns and such, 5800 mile journey total.

It is hard to drive home after an experience like that. Somewhere in Idaho, I started getting sad our trip was coming to a close. But it’s nice to get home.

Off to the Rodeo!!!

IMG_1497-ANIMATIONOn July 3rd (2015), my country music band played after the rodeo that took place Hickory Creek Wilderness Ranch & Campground in Tidioute, Pennsylvania. I haven’t played music at a Rodeo since the late 90’s, and back then I didn’t pay attention to things the way I do now.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.02.06 PM

Chris_LeDoux_promo_photoThere is one story that stays with me from the 90’s, though, and it involves Chris LeDoux. Broncos, a bar in Alliance, OH hosted a rodeo every year. We had an in because we played Broncos bar several times a year.

So we were the opening act for LeDoux after the rodeo, and our bass player got word to us that his wife went into labor and he wouldn’t be coming (pre-cell phone days for all of us!). This was a huge show for us, and we were contemplating what to do. The bar was closed, and the crowd was outside, so the only people inside were my band (Coyote Joe) and Chris LeDoux and his crew. His bass player heard us talking, and came over and said he’d be glad to help us out. It was a pretty fun time, and I’ll always remember how cool it felt at that time of my life to be playing with this musician. When I was young I didn’t really pay attention to detail, so I never got his name. Sad.

Moving forward to the July 3rd rodeo:

I was able to learn a lot at this rodeo, much of it was interesting: (All of these names are made up for my benefit. I don’t think the rodeo clowns “clown” anymore, but who has time to do accurate research?)

The Riders: The riders are crazy insane. They have to ride a bull for as long as they can. 8 seconds is the goal, and not too many of them made it. But even if they scored big, they were still going to get thrown. Nobody can ride a bucking bull. 

The Clowns:  The clowns are crazy insane. Their job is to make the bull chase after them after the rider falls, so the rider can get away, off the field. If your job is to make a bull chase you, you are crazy insane. Life is hard enough without getting a job like that. 

The Horseman: The man on the horse is crazy insane. If the clowns can’t get the bull, or the bull runs off in another direction, the horseman chases the bull and ropes him, and pulls him back to where he’s supposed to be. But on Friday night I saw this guy get in some pretty hairy situations being chased by a bull as well. 

The Timer: This guy is just a little bit crazy, because he stands on the field with a timer to time the riders – how long they stay on the bull. He’s not crazy insane – he’s close the fence, he can get away pretty quickly. But his job is still inside the ring with an angry bull. 

All jesting aside, this seems to be difficult job, and these guys were the hardest workers I’ve ever seen in my life. They had to constantly move, they were good at their jobs, and they fearlessly took on dangerous animals.

(My pics were all taken with an iPhone, at night, against bright lights – it was the only place I could see, or I would have looked for better shooting conditions.)