Saturday, January 09, 2010


One of the things any band has to do when starting out is to do covers. First, that's what people expect when they go to hear an unknown band in the bar. They're okay with the band doing a few of their own songs, but they want to hear covers of their favorite songs too. But also, there's the simple fact that you have to know how songs are put together before you can write songs of your own, and the best way to do that is to listen carefully to other songs and deconstruct them and put them back together again in your own style as you play them.

You haven't heard any of the songs that I cover for the simple reason that I'm in no mood to worry about ASCAP, which has started trolling websites looking for covers so they can get the mechanicals due to the original songwriters. Besides, it's pointless -- given my (lack of) singing voice, you're better off listening to the original. Still, a list of lyrics printouts in my pile above my screen that I've played recently might give you an idea of what's at my fingertips influences-wise:

  • The Animals/Traditional: "House of the Rising Sun"
  • Steve Earle: "Goodbye"
  • Pete Seeger: "Where have all the flowers gone"
  • Steve Earle: "Ft. Worth Blues"
  • Lucinda Williams: "Drunken Angel"
  • Drive By Truckers/Jason Isbell: "Decoration Day"
  • Cat Power: "The Sleepwalker"
  • Bruce Springsteen: "Downbound Train"
  • Townes Van Zandt: "Pancho and Lefty"
  • Oasis: "Wonderwall". (Okay, I only learned this one because everybody else was covering it, so why not me? ;).
And of course a bunch of my own songs that get played from time to time when my fingers get itchy and want to play with my guitar. When I get the urge to play something, I print out the lyrics and prop them up against the drawer unit above my computer so it's at eye level with my microphone (I don't need to print out tabs or anything, I already know what the song sounds like, it's the lyrics I don't remember). Then when done, the printout goes into the pile above the screen. Thus my reference to a pile...

-- Badtux the Songwriting Penguin

And if you're a masochist... a quicky bounce of a *very* rough take of 18, this is about the fourth time through and I'm still deciding what I like and don't like so I can change it to be what I like.

1 comment:

  1. Heh. Houston Baroque Ensemble (~1980-1989) was incorporated and had a music-loving lawyer. Once, ASCAP contacted HBE to harangue us about copyright issues. Our lawyer very politely asked their lawyer(s) if any of the composers they represented ceased composing and publishing before, say, 1750. End of discussion...

    ... almost. I suppose the publishers of library collected editions could argue that their published transcriptions were the only game in town, so we must be trampling their rights to music they never really owned in the first place. (I told you it was odd!) Our lawyer quietly pointed out that over half the members of our ensemble could, at need and with permission, go into an archive of manuscripts... manuscripts, mind you, not old printed works, copy and transcribe parts and (if desired) a score into modern notation, and perform the work from our handmade copy, usually in under two months.

    Early music people create their own modern editions, if we're any good at what we do. And ASCAP, to whom we are always polite, has no choice but to STFU: they don't own the music anymore than we do.


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