At the Root of the Music

Uncle Tupelo is the fulcrum of my ROOTS music universe. All things good, bad and ugly; happy, melancholy and sad, flow thru the music and the people and the places of the boys from Southern Illinois.

The melancholy is mine–youth is wasted on the young they say. While I was navel-gazing up at Urbana, potential contemporaries Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were finding their way with a guitar just a stone’s throw across Midwestern cornfields. If I would have got off my lazy, hair-metal-addled, butt and explored something off mainstream country/rock radio I coulda found these guys when they coulda saved my wasted youth. I took a move to Denver and a long drawn-out journey thru Rocky Mountain Bluegrass for me to find my musical Roots.

It just kinda hit me this week, listening to the Compadre Records podcast. They were bought out by an L.A. R&B outfit. The deal looks good on paper, I thought, more cashflow & distribution for Billy Joe Shaver & company. Then the podcast turns to sh*t this week. It’s all Beyonce, whose daddy pays the bills. It’s their choice to push that, but I don’t want no part of it. Don’t say you’re still ROOTS then pull that stuff.

Then again, who am I to say what “ROOTS” music is…. Where for me, I seem to throw a fairly wide lasso around the term. It’s likely ROOTS to me if it’s somehow connected, back or forth, through UNCLE TUPELO.

Most obvious example: Carter Family‘s No Depression (in Heaven) was the inspiration for a favorite genre tag, magazine, etc. UT brought the Carter Family music to a new generation, both faithful to the original and making it their own. Similar ex. can be found for Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. UT’s music is modern, grounded in the roots of original folk and country.

Less obvious example: Take the flip side, I’ve been arguing lately with teenage stepdaughter why Shania Twain & such are more a POP star than a TRUE COUNTRY (ie. ROOTS Country) star. I can argue song structure, songwriting, instrumentation, marketing, till I’m blue in the face, ain’t going to change her mind. There’s no context there. It’s not that I don’t like her Shania (much preferable to the above Beyonce ilk). She walked a hard road, but she’s a master of bubble gum and empty anthems, not the meat & potatoes and heartfelt gospel of the boys in Uncle Tupelo. They’re both masters of their craft, they just do different thangs.


Repost from, November 2007.  As far as I know, the last year was just more of the same.  Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression just scrobbled #80k on my



Following the pied piper of social media, you can now find me at LinkedIn:

RT @BrickandClick Retweet @cheeky_geeky LinkedIn is my Rolodex. Facebook is my scrapbook. Twitter is my lifestream idea generator (hmmm)

I’m looking at my claim on my professional name @ LinkedIn as more of a defensive mechanism than an offensive move into new public policy career space.  I am more and more convinced of the old saw: It’s who you know as much as what you know.  So for those in the know, John Shepard be there on the Rolodex of Web 2.0.  All 3 dozen of us.

Mostly it’s another bee in my bonnet on the topic of work-life integration.  There’s some buzz going on there.

As for Facebook, yeah.  Scrapbook.  that’s good.  I’m leaving lots of scraps on there.  Not keeping track of my Friend-count to see if I’m scaring ’em away.

Twitter, tho, that is becoming my idea drug of choice, in multiple flavors @johnshepard, @jcshepard, @johncshepard.  Watching The Matrix In Code.  Good ideas.  Bad ideas.  Data, data, data….


Edit 4 Feb 09: 8 Twitter Networking Tips: From Online to In-the-Flesh 

1. Use Your Twitter Profile As You Would a Business Card, 2. Let Your Twitter Feed Be Your (Ongoing) Portolfio, 3. Grow Your Twitter Network, 4. Get the Lowdown, 5. Tweet Yourself Up, 6. Ask for Help, 7. And Help Others, 8. Plan a Tweetup.

Vigilantes 1864

 Vigilantes at Bannack 2001

Vigilantes 1864

Cold cruel winds blow down intent

upon the Bannack mining camp.

Just days before an Innocent

had spilled his guts, the saddle tramp

Told one and all:  the Road Agents

were sheriff’s men, which none could trump.

In Virginia, Nevada, all up Alder Gulch,

Catholic and Mason, from South and from North,

Stormed forth the Committee for Vigilance-

defend their homes, they swore the oath.

‘Cross rivers frozen and sagebrush adrift,

a vision, revelation, to the very last pale horse.

Come ghosts of the hundred murdered before.

Come Deputy Ray, you will kill no more.

Come Deputy Stinson, leave your saloon whore.

Come damned Sheriff Plummer, let us finish this chore.

Come dance in the gallows, plead for your souls.

Come peace to Montana, 10 January 1864.


(c) jcs 18.01.01

Reposted in honor of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada, this week. Bannack became first capital of Montana Territory on May 26, 1864.

Kiwi Architecture

Friends of mine had the opportunity to work on sabattical in Christchurch, New Zealand last year.  Dan Barringer is an architect, now back in Ohio.  While he favors a more avant garde style than I, he’s a smart guy and knows architecture.  Dan posted some bullet observations & photos on architecture in New Zealand on his blog. 

  1. Along with the social and political framework of a planned city, comes a idea of an architectural style to match. Style can come from existing cities that match the social and political ideals of the planned city.

We can argue about urban planning another day.

Durum Delivers

U.S. Durum Growers Assoc. held a You Tube Pasta Contest last October to celebrate and promote National Pasta Month.  Winners were just announced, including 1st place to Sara Neubauer, Bottineau, ND, for “Durum Delivers” filmed at the Air Force Academy:

Durum wheat flour is used to make pasta and bread.  North Dakota has about 72% of all U.S. acres in durum production.  According to North Dakota State University statistics, most of that is grown in the northwestern part of the state.  (I could do the math, but I do work in Minnesota now, and we only have a very few acres in wheat overall.)  Montana and Arizona were #2 & #3 in durum production as of 2002.

New 2007 Census of Agriculture stats are due out next week.

(Tip of the hat to Red River Farm Network radio news. )

All Alone In This Together

We Are All Alone In This Together

Graham Lindsey

Spacebar Recordings (2008 )


What is it in a simple progression of notes that can bring a person close to tears?  Even before adding in a well-crafted lyric.  How a few notes strung together in a very specific manner evoke a primal reaction, a blood lust of the ear.


Graham Lindsey does this to me with “The Bird That Lived In  A Burning Tree”, on his new Spacebar recording, We Are All Alone In This Together in general circulation this week.  I’m a long-time fan of Graham, once compared him to Bob Dylan channeling Hank Williams.  Twangville compares and contrasts him with Old Crow Medicine Show or The Avett Brothers.  Yes.  And no.  Graham Lindsey simply brings together an honest appreciation of folk traditions with a hard-driving post-punk honky tonk spirit.  Graham is the man.


The album opens with a plaintive line on “Tomorrow is Another Night” and moves through a dozen strong tracks of love, life and stuff on the shovel.  “Old Roger” caught my attention right away.  Graham uses a variety of session players to enhance his typical solo show, adding dobro, pedal steel, percussion, fiddle, upright bass, organs, horns, even piano and Henry’s bark.  I’m sure more than a couple of those instruments saw the inside of Music Villa in Bozeman.


Yet it is Track 4, “The Bird…” that grew on me with each play.  A simple one-two progression builds, adds lyrics without overpowering the instrumentation, builds acoustic instrumentation without overpowering the guitar, then fades away into the night.  I’m sure that somebody who stayed awake in music appreciation class could swiftly identify the artistic device.  The technical terminology.  The proper analytic context.  How the melody and instrumentation build a memorable wave.


I just know there are a very few times in this life when a melody hits me upside the head like a shovel.  The 2nd part of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor.  Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.  And now Graham Lindsey.


Check him out on Myspace at


Cold wind blows

make you weep and moan

why has this found my home?

because that’s the one we chose

everybody’s got to choose

everybody’s got to choose


(Cross-posted from

Blogs vs Twitter II


Had an A-Ha! moment on the Blogs vs. Twitter debate this week, late in the day Thursday catching up on the day’s twitter traffic after a mildly productive afternoon.

I’m thinking of Twitter like a stream and the blogosphere as lakes and oceans.  Fishing moving waters requires different techniques than still waters.  You have different gear, different approaches.  It would never occur to me to try to catch every fish that swims by.  Just the one that happens to be in the pool that i can reach.  just. right. then.

I am also a slow learner.  So I’m going to give an example.  The material is political, but my point is about the social media tools.

  1. First, I noticed a tweet by a Brit I follow re: a muslim cleric spouting off in support of spousal abuse.  Political topic, trying to stay away from that on this blog for now.  A quick retweet @JohnShepard, don’t think much about it.
  2. Over on JohnScout, I had written a post touching on the newly inaugurated president’s time as a Cub Scout in Indonesia.  This islamic nation has the largest number of Scouts in the world. I had referenced @JoshuaGodinez‘s blog  in that post, then saw him tweet about muslim Scouts in Scotland and their special Oath.  Hmm.  Maybe a topic for a follow-up post, so a quick retweet.
  3. Then, I noticed another headline on Geert Wilders.  For a few months I’ve seen the Dutch parliamentarian in the news.  He made a film, Fitna, about the dark side of Islam.  Many people are unhappy;  Thursday there were several tweets about charges filed by Dutch courts.  Again, at face a political topic, but Freedom of Speech and cultural issues—this is getting closer to what I’m willing to tackle at  However, by this time I was late for dinner.  So I did the re-tweet thing.

It’s not about the ends but the means. 

Perhaps the world is a better place for me not taking time to blog this political topic.  Who knows, perhaps we averted a new Crusade.  Either way, the Twitterverse is good for quickly bringing in data and sharing it.  Not alot of processing is going on in 140 words let alone 140 characters.  This blog is about 400 words, more or less.  It takes time to process data into information.

I used twitter like a stream.  Topics come, topics go, here’s the link, read it and see what you think.

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