If there is one thing we can learn from Shawshank Redemption, it is this: we have to either get busy living or get busy dying. Americana trio TheDeepHollow are firmly planted in the former. Through their sophomore record, Weary Traveler, Micah Walk, Liz Eckert and Dave Littrell dig into this sorrowful life of getting older, longing for a stable home and the sometimes unbearable weight of the open road. Sonically, the band fits somewhere between the pulse of Patty Griffin and John Prine and the adventure of Jason Isbell, The Lone Bellow and Brandi Carlile. Below, Dave Littrell shares the story of his first musical experiences and how they shaped him as a musician.
Growing up, like many, our home was filled with music. It seemed like the radio was always on, a record or cassette was always playing, or a music video was always on our TV. After all, I am most definitely a product of the MTV generation. When Sting sang “I want my MTV!” in the introduction to “Money For Nothing,” his declaration was powerful and something this 7 year old could rally behind!
I am so grateful to have grown up in a home where music wasn’t just entertainment or background noise, it was important. You could even say it was a family value. I remember walking into the house after school to the sounds of Otis Redding, The Temptations, Diana Ross, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, and on and on. The Beatles LIVED in our home as far as I was concerned. John and Paul sang me to sleep most nights. We even had a full jukebox in our basement where my parents and their friends would spend nights and weekends singing (loudly) to their favorites. My mom had this charming habit of taking anything you said to her and breaking into a song. If I was being annoying to my older brother and he said “Stop!” she’d burst right into “Stop, in the name of Love, before you break my heart…” She still does it this day. This pure love for music shaped me in a way I could never imagine. I was just a kid who liked dancing in the kitchen to Motown artists, never realizing what an influence those experiences would have on me as I grew older. As a father, I try to pass that love onto my kids and there’s nothing more fun than watching my kids sing and dance to those same songs.
With that said, it is a little difficult to write about my “First Record.” To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what that record specifically was, because there were so many. But, The Beatles were kings in our household so “My First Record” has to be a Beatles album.
My uncle owned a huge record collection AND a great stereo system, which means Uncle Del was obviously the coolest guy in the world. Our tight-knit extended family all lived in the same small town in central Illinois so naturally we spent a lot of time together. Anytime I was at his house I would run directly to his stereo and start poring over his records and cassettes. He had these expensive headphones which allowed the music to be directly implanted into my brain. It felt like these musicians were playing just for me. The music was so crisp and clear, much better than my little tape player at home. It sounded so amazing! My first experience with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” were through these marvelous wonders of technology, but hearing The Beatles through these headphones was one of the most perfect memories of my young life.
“Beatles” was hand-written on this cassette tape and once I started listening I couldn’t stop. I think I had heard a lot of the songs before, because like I said, my Mom was a big fan. But this was different. Listening on headphones made these songs have more depth and they came alive. I couldn’t necessarily relate to the infatuated teenage lovesick lyrics or the heartache caused by my crush not answering the door or telephone in “No Reply.” (I would uncover those gems later as I experienced my own girl-crush drama.) But the melodies, harmonies, energy, and songcraft were undeniable. I distinctly remember swinging on the swing set in the backyard as the sun was setting and listening over and over. I couldn’t believe that I loved every song. With other artists, even artists I loved, I didn’t like every single song. My uncle gave me this tape (or I just kept it, who can remember?) and I became a life-long Beatles fan.
Later, I wanted to use some birthday money to buy my own, proper copy of my favorite record. (Uncle Del also said it would probably sound better if it wasn’t a taped copy.) After perusing through the cassettes at our Sam Goody at the local mall with my Mom, I realized I didn’t know the actual name of the album. It just said “Beatles” on my tired, worn-down copy. After looking at all the titles, we discerned that the tape I had listened to religiously contained the first side of “Beatles For Sale” AND the entire “Rubber Soul.” Just looking at the songs on these two records floods me with memories and remind me what incredible songwriters they were. I still play several of these songs, and “In My Life” was used in my wedding ceremony, for example.
I am constantly on the lookout for new music, and I hope to find an artist that can even come close to replicating that feeling I had listening to Rubber Soul for the first time. Unfortunately, I don’t think it can really happen. My adult brain inevitably gets in the way and I immediately decipher lyrics or chord progressions instead of listening to music the way I did as a kid. I think we should all try to listen like a kid, because it was magic.
One part June Carter sassing Johnny Cash along with two dashes of Itzhak Perlman on a midnight hayride, Mad Crush’s songs contain theatrical, back-and-forth performances between their singing protagonists Joanna Sattin and John Elderkin. Complete with humor and heartbreak, their songs are in fact bright little dramas about fussing, fighting, and occasionally making up—universal truths sprinkled with brand-new magic dust. Below, Elderkin discusses his first musical influences, which are readily apparent upon listening to Mad Crush’s recently-released debut LP.
I have a habit of dismissing great albums on my first listen. I had friends with an advanced copy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” who freaked out when they heard it, but when I listened, I thought it sucked. Later, I gave it another try and realized I was way wrong. Like the rest of the world, I ate it up. I had a similar reaction to R.E.M.’s first EP, called “Chronic Town.” Friends I respected said that it sounded unlike anything they’d ever heard anywhere. I listened and shrugged. It was different, but what was it? But when I pulled the record out again a few months later, I was flabbergasted. Those guys were speaking my language!
The one time I got it right came before these albums, on my first listen to The Clash’s “London Calling.” I was a teenager but I’d never heard of The Clash, and I bought it because I liked the cover picture of the bass player smashing his guitar on stage. I turned on my record player and by the end of the first song I was jumping up and down on my bed like a maniac. When my younger brother came in to ask what the hell was going on, I pointed to the record player and sure enough, he jumped on the bed, too. The only time I got down was to turn over the sides. I didn’t own a lot of records yet, and afterward I probably assumed that most albums would knock me out this way, that life would be one “London Calling” after another. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t so impressed later with other records that were supposed to bowl me over. Or maybe it’s just that great…
A lifelong resident of Jeffersonville, IN, NickDittmeier finds a needed reprieve from the looming presence of loss in his life with his new record All Damn Day (due October 26th). Fronting NickDittmeier & the Sawdusters, the singer-songwriter lingers on the omniscient Grim Reaper in a way that’s hopeful and uplifting as it is forlorn, harkening to the works of such literary giants as John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Roald Dahl and Mark Twain. Read Dittmeier‘s story on his first musical influence below:
The first musical experience I had that really made me want to be in a band was watching the scene in The Muppet Movie where Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem are introduced at their rehearsal space. Although the band was comprised of Muppets, they looked like an actual rock n’ roll band and the song they played really grooved. But it was really the band’s attitude that made me wanna be in a pack like the Electric Mayhem.
If you don’t recall the scene, let me refresh you. Kermit and Fozzy, on their road trip to Hollywood, stop in an old church where they discover a psychedelic Muppet band playing music. Dr. Teeth, the band leader, has a strikingly resemblance to Dr. John and other members of the band had loose characteristics to other rock stars of the day. You could say Janis resembles Joni Mitchell and Animal resembles John Bonham. They lay out their long term plans for the church, which included a music venue and coffee shop with organic food.
What I loved about Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem was that everyone in the band was visibly weird and quirky but were completed accepted within the context of the group. They had invented their world and all lived in it. Part of the larger premise of the Muppets was racial and gender diversity, and that’s why many of the characters’ identity was fairly ambiguous. Some characters you couldn’t really discern if they were animal or human. Why they had bright green skin, if they were human, but that wasn’t important— all you needed to know is they looked different but were accepted.
The lyrical content of the song they sang was basically how great it was being in a band and helping people and each other. Also, everyone in the band sang. That scene didn’t make me go out and get a guitar, but it did plant a seed in my head about what kind of community I could be a part of if I learned an instrument.
All of those lessons in the scene are applicable to the current situation I have with my band and the people surrounding it. We’ve gotta manage quirks and personalities and realize we’re for the most part strange people, but those are the personalities that drive this business. It takes a certain kind of weirdo to stop band practice to help a frog and a bear paint their Studebaker psychedelic colors.
Follow the Roof Dogs as their live music journey takes them through Cincinnati, Lexington, Nashville, St. Louis, Bloomington, Chicago, Toledo, and all the in-betweens on their most recent autumn tour!
Cincinnati, Sean and his bass on the drive. Touring in a Toyota Corolla can be difficult. While The Bascinets’ vehicle held most of the gear for tour, on the way to Cinci we had to travel with Walker’s drum hardware and Sean’s bass in the backseat.
Pre-show R&R at the Airbnb
Found a lighter with some flare.
Nick Wellman of The Bascinets fishing for Pigs at Northside Yacht Club.
Tristan (Bascinets) before he lost his glasses. Tristan would continue to lose several other items before the tour was done.
Andrew with Bourbon (neat). Andrew played NSYC’s “$4 Whiskey Wheel of Wonder,” he landed on Jim Beam.
Dinge. Was the first time we played with them for about three years. They rock.
Trevor (The Bascinets)
Tired after day one…
Our friend Nick (left) let us hangout on his rooftop in Northside after the show. He also let us play his harmonium and theremin. Great fun was had by all.
“Please, no pictures” – Zlata
Eden Park, Cincinnati
Lexington, KY. Game day. The show didn’t start until 11:30 because the Wildcats were “stomping ass.”
Andrew strings up
There was a lot of time to kill, but luckily the door guy charged the folks who came for the game. Many hung around when the show started, too.
The Bascinets, feat. Mannequin
Abandoned motel shoot between Lexington and Nashville.
Twinning. It seems that almost all of the Midwest claims ownership of Lincoln. The same cannot be said for Andrew.
Nashville: Trevor insisted on $5 cups of coffee at his favorite spot. (They were actually amazing though so it’s okay). Jesse pictured here writing nursery rhymes.
Alberto & Friends in their delightful basement.
Matt of Superstarfamus1day. He was closely supervised by the doll. They played an impressive impromptu set when their drummer George got very sick right before and couldn’t play.
Our performance did not meet Alberto’s expectations. He locked us up by the doghouses.
Shew (left) and Alberto (right). Post-show hangs in the backyard. His house was an old doctor’s office from way way back in the day (the 40’s?) so his backyard was actually a parking lot that was converted into a giant driveway. They have the perfect band house and we are jealous.
We loved the wallpaper.
Sleepy bois. The Bascinets brought along portable cots.
Wellman in the haunted basement.
“No pictures in here, honey. Some people aren’t here with the people they’re supposed to be with.” Hermitage Cafe in Nashville. Great country-fried steak.
St. Louis: At the Arch
Bright bois, where’s Walker?
Andrew with the cigarette machine at CBGB.
The Snapchettes, they typically perform as a seven piece.
Frankie Valet. Jack (at microphone) hosted us and took us to a good breakfast spot the next morning. Incidentally, he and Jesse share a birthday on September 14.
Felix at the board.
Sean relaxes at Jack’s. He managed to cranked out The Silmarillion on tour. Jack’s excellent cat can be seen in the background.
Jack, our host in St. Louis
Tristan after breakfast. There are more cash-only diners in this country than I ever knew.
Forest Park, St. Louis
En route to Chicago. It was somewhere around this point that Sean and Jesse began to argue over the fortitude of their respective bladders. Sean would soon prevail.
Chicago. We had two days off here with a show in the middle. There was a lot of relaxing but we didn’t get as many pictures here, but had a great time exploring the city. On our last night we rode the train to a 107 year old jazz club, the Green Mill in Uptown where they were broadcasting live on AM radio.
But first a visit to the lake.
Beers on the pier
Tristan and the great beyond
Curious old maintenance man tinkers at the venue.
Fahrenheit 808, who was, sadly, not allowed by the venue to play due to dumb age restrictions. They were gracious about it.
Oxford, OH. Captain Redbeard and the S.S. Friendship. We played at our friends house, The Secret Garden. It’s a beautiful home.
Trevor, some light leak, and a stray vine. After the show we all went to Bagel & Deli and waded through an ocean of college students to the counter. Every five minutes or so, one worker at the shop would get iced (Smirnoff) by customers and proceeded to jump on the counter and chug to the applause of everyone. I’m pretty sure we waited in “line” for like half an hour. Someone stole my bagel once and I had to order again. Ultimately the wait was worth it. -Andrew
Hot sauce with salt at Hometown Eatery. College Corner, IN. Tristan apparently eats this to curb his appetite. He chose to spend his diner money on a candy apple red Jaguar.
Propane rodeo star, Andrew Marczak.
At Joe’s house in Oxford.
“Joe, where are the forks?”
Wellman with spork.
Toledo, OH. Ottawa Tavern, our last stop, with bangin’ sign.
Watching the game. “Pizza Cat,” the attached restaurant, was delicious and had good deals for performers. We were all satisfied.
Teamonade ripping it right up.
Trevor the angel
“It Can Happen to YOU”
One shot of the Roof Dogs playing.
Family photo. We then parted ways and ventured back to Columbus for a day off before we all went back to our day jobs at NASA.
I had the good fortune and complete ambivalence of being surrounded by excellent music from a very young age. I had The Eagles, Rod Stewart, and The Boomtown Rats coming at me from my father, and Elton John, Toni Braxton, and Whitney Houston coming at me from my mother. While those great songs were being absorbed by my brain in some sort of osmosis way that would show itself later in my life, at the time, my heart and ears belonged only to the pure ecstasy of 90s pop. Take a trip down memory lane with me to a simpler time… MTV was in its golden age, the Lip Smackers and Gelly Roll pens were plentiful, the Gushers and Dunkaroos were delicious, and Britney Spears ruled the world.
From age 3 to 9, I had the coolest babysitter ever; a teenager named Katie who helped me make scrapbooks and watched Clueless with me after school. She introduced me to the Starbucks Strawberries and Cream Frappuccino, took me to the pottery painting place to make my own mugs and plates, and even let me hang out with her and her high school friends sometimes – the ultimate achievement for a mere elementary schooler. We were two peas in a pod, and she would frequently take me with her on her teen excursions to the mall while my mom was building her business.
One day on one of these trips, when I was around 7 years old, we walked past HMV (the big music chain store in Canada) and I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of a blonde, bronzed, blindingly bleached-teethed teenager. Britney Spears. Baby One More Time. The album with the curly lettered font I had been seeing all over MTV and in the pages of Tiger Beat magazine, had finally arrived, and I needed it.
Katie, a saint if there ever was one, looked down at my desperate face, walked right into that HMV, grabbed a shrink wrapped copy off the shelf, took it to the register, and paid for it with her own money right then and there. Assuming she was buying the CD for herself, I was green with envy. I wished I were a cool teenager so that I could have a job and money and could buy my own CDs. I silently glared at the pink and white plastic bag in her hand, and without a word, we left the store and continued on our journey towards our Frappuccinos. As we waited at the Starbucks counter, my jealousy subsiding at the prospect of an impending sugar rush, she handed me the bag and smiled, “it’s yours.” WHAT!!!!!!!!! Pure excitement, pure delight, what a joy! My own CD! Oh my god!
In the car, before we even left the mall parking lot, we tore off the shrink wrap, put the CD into the disc drive, and gave ourselves over to the magic of a 1999 Britney induced bliss. It was the best thing I had ever heard. It sounded to me like fun in sonic form. We slurped our 1400 calories of cream and syrup, danced our faces off the whole way home, and continued to do so every day for the rest of the Summer. Still to this day, no matter how “good” or high-brow or critically acclaimed the music, nothing has made me feel that same visceral joy and pure excitement that Baby One More Time did almost 20 years ago. Just last week a song from that album came on, and I immediately found myself craving a strawberry Frappuccino…
When I was about seven years old, I was introduced to my first record by an old man on a train. He was seated with three other older men, as the train car rolled through a warm summer’s evening. His face seemed weary and craggy with years of travel, and despite his small stature he drew me in and commanded my attention. With a voice sharp yet gruff, he dispensed life advice in exchange for whiskey and cigarettes, which he bummed from the silver-bearded man seated across from him.
After the conversation wound down, the old man put his head against the window and drifted off to sleep. And then, quite unexpectedly, this old man passed away in his sleep. He died right in front of me. And unbelievably, an apparition began to fill the train car. It was the ghost of the old man, looming large over the other men. The silver-bearded man was singing this song, and the ghost began to dance and sing along. Finally, the ghost pulled out a deck of cards, threw them in the air, and showered the train car with them. Then the scene ended.
I was seven years old, watching an episode of The Muppet Show. I was completely transfixed by what I had just seen and heard. And the song that the silver-bearded man and the puppets had been singing was absolutely infectious. “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em…” It just completely took over my mind. What was this song? Who was that silver-bearded man? I was possessed with the need for answers.
And after demanding more information on all of this from my parents, they eventually bought me a cassette tape. 20 Greatest Hits by Kenny Rogers. And I played that tape until it wore out, on a little brown Fisher-Price cassette player. “The Gambler” was the greatest song ever written, according to my seven year-old ears. And for the next several months, wherever I went, that song came along in my head. Sometimes complete with the dancing ghost of an old man. And a group of puppets, their voices rising together in that rousing triumphant chorus.
It’s weird. Now that I look back on some of my earliest attempts at songwriting, they are replete with references to gambling and card playing. Despite the fact that I never cared much for either of those things in my real life. As I started to get into other music, I remember hearing gambling references in several Grateful Dead songs. And then on to Bob Dylan. And I began to see a metaphorical thread appearing. I followed that thread for a long time, and it led me to some amazing music. I owe the writer of “The Gambler,” a debt of gratitude for jump-starting a life in pursuit of beautiful song. Thank you, Don Schlitz. Also, while we’re at it, thank you to Jim Henson. And Kenny Rogers! I think of that little seven year-old kid in front of the television, stumbling on a seminal moment in his life. Ears in rapture to a truly great song. Worlds of possibility developing in his little brain. Future songs murmuring from somewhere far ahead in embryonic time.
Memory is a funny thing. Why did this record make such an impact on me? Was I merely seduced by Muppets with a clever hook? Or maybe it was my own budding interest in ghosts, cemented by the release of the film Ghostbusters at around the same time. Or maybe it was the fact that I almost died myself from anaphylactic shock resulting from an allergic reaction that same year. I can’t really know for sure. But that record, and that song, stuck with me. Somewhere deep in the darkness of my mind, the Gambler sleeps. On a train bound for nowhere. And there will be time enough for counting, when the dealing’s done…