Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The biggest company picnic ever


It's been uncharacteristically quiet from me. However, fear not, I haven't lost my capability to yell and opine about life. The roar just moved to a different location. For the past four days, it was Emmitsburg, MD, at Mt. St. Mary's University. I was *this close* to making an iPhone video of me walking up to the huge statue of Mary and saying "YOU are not my mother!" a la that kids book. (You know, that one where the bird falls out of his nest, and tries to find his mom, and runs into a variety of things that aren't.)

A good buddy and former student of mine named Hunter called me up a few months ago at one in the morning, and delivered a great sales pitch. He asked me if I'd like to help out at this youth leadership camp called HOBY - Hugh O'Brien Youth. (The Hugh played Wyatt Earp on TV back in the day.) Anyways, to make a long story short, I got to help facilitate the event, and work with a team of eight talented high school sophomores as they were put through an intensive weekend of motivational speakers, panelists, and information. All in all, there were two hundred kids at the event, plus a lot of staff members. It was CRAZY!

My team number was 16, so we picked an Abe Lincoln theme. I went wayyy overboard, as is usual. I grew a lame chinstrap beard, got funky cool top hats for everyone, and even photoshoped myself on a five dollar bill in place of Abe. The motto: Team Lincoln - there IS an I in this team! Check out this great picture of me and Hunter!

I had a junior facilitator, and she was great. I don't know who put poor Andrea on my team, as she was reasonable, calm, collected, and well dressed. But she was great, and the kids were great, and the team was EPIC!

It was an honor to be a part of it, and I'm still recovering. There were a few stories, lessons, and laughs that I had, and that I'd like to share with you. This is what I learned:

1. If you'd like to save yourself some embarrassment: Before you dance clumsily to Billie Jean with one of your female co-workers, ask if she's a dance instructor so you don't make a fool of yourself in front of a professional. Ah well...But if you'd just like to have fun, don't worry about it!

2. Travis M., a way cool dude from Google, said one of the coolest things on the subject of leadership. "Learn to be a good follower." He stated that there are many situations, especially as one starts to achieve real success, where it's as vital to be able to sit down and listen as it is to stand up and speak. Hey fellow guitar players - I think we could all learn from that!

3. It seems like the coolest, most successful people are secure enough in their accomplishments that they don't have to tell the whole world. My favorite speakers followed this trend. Unfortunately, I didn't. I'll be adjusting. I've heard that Stevie Ray Vaughan was pretty down to earth. I bet if I met him on the street, I would say "Oh, I'm Josh, and I have a one-man rock show, and I'm leading the revolution." It would take me weeks to get my foot out of my mouth!

4. People seem to converse at the age and level that you initiate the conversation. Too bad I talk like a ten year old! Hey Apple! Hey! Hey! Hey Apple! Haha, in all seriousness, talk to people like adults, and they'll answer like 'em.

5. Goal setting is something you can practice! This made a big impression on me. Hunter gave this riveting talk on - you're not going to believe it - goal setting. How could it have been cool? Trust me, when a speaker connects with the audience on the level that he did, he could have been telling us why he thinks foreign investments are a better choice than municipal bonds. And then, in addition to the connection, he presented some darn good information.

The thing that struck me was - as obsessed as I am with career success and world domination, I don't have a series of clear, explainable short and intermediate term goals. He said that one can, and should, practice setting goals. It's a skill, and can be refined. The stats are overwhelmingly in favor of writing things down!

What are some of your musical goals?

6. Anyone who claims to have the answers is a moron. Unfortunately, once or seven times, I verged on the moronic side, but I guess the growth process starts with realization of something that needs to be changed, right? Uhhh, but I don't claim to know, 'cause remember the main point!

The weekend was rockin', exhausting, and most educational. It was like the biggest company picnic ever, because I think we'll all be working for these kids very, very soon. I was honored to be a part of it, and I, for one, am going to start writing down my goals!

- Josh

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We are the sky

Hey Comrades!

Well, nobody paid me ten bucks, so I didn't wear my comrade shirt to the Joint Service Open House air show this weekend. (Probably just as well.)

There will be many lessons in the weeks ahead related to jet fighters, but for now, I'd like to share a cool thought I had prior to jet fever setting in.

If we're pilots, we love the sky, and the feeling of being free, groundless, and boundless in the wild blue yonder.

When I swim in the ocean, I feel like a baby turtle returning to my rightful home. When the waves wash over me, I feel connected to the water.

When I play music, not only am I swimming in the sound, but I'm also the source of the sound. I am the sky that the pilot soars in, and the plane. I'm the water that the turtle returns to. I'm the man who strikes the match, and the conflagration itself.


- Josh

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ahoy! Pirates arrives to rock my world, and Tiffany's here to rock yours!

Ahoy, Comrades!

Let me hear you say Arrrrrrr! Yes, yes, Pirates 4 is out tonight, and I'll be there to see it. Can't wait! Johnny Depp is such inspiration for me to keep being a weirdo! I'm sure I'll have a few life lessons from the movie, so stay tuned.

Now, down to real music business here. I'm excited to announce that a colleague of mine has a really cool gig coming up.

Tiffany Thompson is a talented musician in the DC area, and good thing for all of us, she's a little more mellow than I am.

Check her out here.

Now, listen up, comrades. Anyone who's sat in my classroom has learned the song "A Horse with No Name" by America, right?

Get this. Tiffany will be opening for them on Thursday, May 27th, at the Birchemere, in Alexandria, VA at 7:00 pm. http://www.birchmere.com/c

Savvy, comrades? She's opening for America!

I'm super excited for her! What an awesome opportunity, and I think she'll be right at home on stage with such a legendary band. I hope you can make it out to her show!

I won't be able to make it due to my teaching schedule, but I will have all of my students plan an E minor chord really loud all at once, and hopefully the sound will be extra good luck for her.

Ahoy, mates, I'm outta here and changing into my best pirate clothes. Keep on rockin', and I'll talk to you soon. Savvy?

- Josh

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


My students often make me laugh. I heard a great "your mama" joke last week that had me howling like a banshee, and before that, an eight year old told me he would take me to the mall and help me pick up girls.

My students often make me think, and refine the information I share with them. "It's as clear as mud, man" one of them just said after I asked him if the concept made sense.

And my students always make me proud.

He had been asking about writing a song. I went in to my lecture about the craft. He comes back two weeks later with a drum machine, charts, lyrics, and a clearly defined song structure, sits down, and plays and sings it. I was floored! He had all the pieces put together, and had showed great talent, skill, and most importantly, initiative. Bravo, bravo! (Hey, let's hope he remembers where he learned about song composition when he's got all that royalty money, and just happens to stop by the Corvette dealership!) Well done, sir.

Her mom set up the guitar clinic for her fellow home schoolers. There she sat, patiently through my explanation of what a fret was, transposing the examples of "Iron Man" to accommodate the drop C tuning her guitar was in, and playing pentatonic scales up a whole step from the written example. I'm glad my 13 year old self didn't realize that there were girls the same age who could rip my face off with their guitars. Trying to convince the class that improvising was possible, I asked her to the front of the room. She proceeded to improvise beautifully, and showed the whole room what was what. It was great to stand next to a student on stage and know that I could count on them to play something cool.

These are just two examples of many. You all make me very proud. Thank you.

- Josh

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My mom

Hey Comrades!

Guess what! My own ma turns 50 today!

Wow, I'd like to wish her a very happy birthday! It's truly incredible how influential one person can be, and change the world both directly through their own actions, and indirectly, by affecting others.

If it weren't for mom's encouragement, I would have never played guitar, and you would have never been reading this blog of hot air! (So blame her.)

I think it's important to remember how we all make a difference, be it just encouraging someone after playing their first gig, or raising a child. Strike that - Especially when raising a child.

I hope I can someday repay those who have been such a great presence in my life. Maybe all I can do is "pay it forward", and do my very best, especially at things I'm not too keen on...say, playing a gig with two people there, or being extra patient with an annoying student. ("I'm not annoying! I'm a student!")

One of the things I'm most impressed about with my mother is how she raised us boys. I think it could apply to music, too. She was 110% in to parenting. It's what she did. She read books on the subject, read kids books to us, home schooled us, counseled us, challenged us to do the best we could, cooked, was on call eight days a week, played with us, and most importantly, listened to us. As a matter of fact, with the exception of home schooling us, she still does!

If we were as dedicated to music, promotion, practice, and marketing as she was, and still is, into being the best mom possible, we would have Van Halen touring to support us.

Now, I'd just like to make it clear: she's much more than a mom! She's a successful business owner, artist, poet, writer, friend, and does more introspection in a day than most people do in a lifetime.

Dedication and heart, comrades. Those are the elements of such a successful person.

Happy 50th, Mom!

- Josh

Monday, May 9, 2011

Happy Birthday, Doghouse!

Hey hey!

The Doghouse has passed the four year mark! Cooooooooolio! Happy Birthday, Doghouse!

I was reminded today that everything - EVERYTHING - is communication. You could say that everything is sales, but that's part of communication, too.

We're musicians, and music communicates ideas and feelings. However, to even get on stage, we need to spend quite a bit of time on the phone talking to the venue, time on the internet inviting our fans, time in person at band practice, etc etc.

All of this is wasted if the communication is poor. Sure, sure, it's a cliche, an abstract idea, and at first glance, pretty much a DUH.

But, I ask you, entertainer extraordinaries...Do you have a good handshake? Do you excel on the phone? Can you write a decent email? Look people in the eye?

Ha, now I'm yelling! But I'm just getting warmed up! *Switches to "thundering" mode.*

It's our music, and to get it out there, we gotta sell it like there's no tomorrow.

And according to some loonies, there's only 11 left. (May 21st marks the end of the world, they say.)

These communication skills are the limo in which the music rides to the concert in.

Sell it! Err...not the limo, your music.

Arrgh! I need to hone those skills...

- Josh

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The day I became a leader

'Sup, Comrades?

Today's post is a total about-face from yesterday's. Anyone want to hear about the day I became a leader?

I just realized it driving along to my studio. Over the muffled roar of the engine (I'll never get tired of it!), my mind drifted back to a place quite some time ago.

A distant relative had died. I was at the house, a creaky old house with two stories of floors and more than two of the narrative kind.

I was upstairs with my brothers, and a few random kids. We were bored out of our minds, slightly uptight from all the grieving going on, and well, kids. BAD combination.

We were clattering around like kids are apt to do, when all of a sudden, this other kid our age yells up the stairs "HEY! Be quiet up there!"

That is when Pfc. Josh became Lt. Prancer. In a flash, I looked around at my suddenly platoon of other hooligans. "Men! Stomp the floor!" I ordered. They obeyed, even the girl among us.

The kid downstairs is naturally incensed, and starts yelling and storming up the stairs.

"Men! Into the closet!" I barked. We all crammed in there. "Shhhh!"

The kid comes into the room, yelling "come out with your hands up!"

"Now!" I whisper.

We all charge out, yelling at the top of our lungs, right past the terrified kid, down the stairs, and out into the yard to freedom. I climbed up a tree. I'm not quite sure why. It wasn't exactly a good hiding place, being it was the middle of winter and right by the back door.

And that's the day I became a leader.

What's your story?

Vive la revolution!
- Josh

Monday, May 2, 2011

Leave space - lessons from my parents

Hey Comrades!

I hope everyone had a good weekend. I went over to Dad's on Saturday, and biked 40 miles with my brothers and 60 year old father. We're training for a 100 mile ride in a few weeks to celebrate his 61st birthday. He has a lot of interesting ideas, in addition to the epic trek on two wheels.

He again mentioned on Saturday about how in certain Zen philosophy, the music is to make the silence sound better. (How did they know elevator music was on the way?) I always liked that though, and have tried it in improvising. It takes a lotta guts to use silence to make a point, but when done right, it's dynamite.

I was whining to my mom that I was in a grumpy mood the other day. She told me "hey man, just tune in to what's going on, get out of yourself, and pay attention."

I was sitting around with my family later that evening, and instead of throwing my usual bellowing commentary into the conversation, I just listened...the conversation kept going, and took some most interesting turns without my help. OK, for those of you shaking your head in disbelief that I could keep my mouth shut, I wasn't quiet for long.

It made me realize how it's vital to listen. I already know what I would say. But I don't know what the other person is going to say, and I'd like to find out.

I've been on stage and in conversations where I'm just so excited to be there, I have to say something. However, it typically turns into more of a flea market of moldy ideas and less an information exchange. I was on a date with a girl once where we just said random trivia about ourselves. If I hadn't been so scared out of my mind, I would have been bored to tears. I already know what movies I like. If we had both shut up, no afraid of an awkward pause, maybe one of us would have used the space given to bring some real conversation to the table.

It seems if I could apply these two concepts of silence and listening from my parents, my music, and conversation, would get a lot better. I guess it's ironic to talk about this in a blog.

- Josh