soundtrack of my life

I saw this meme going around social media lately and it looked like a nice subject to ruminate on and reminisce over, but I’m not feeling posting on Facebook much anymore, so I decided to do one big post here. I know I’m tweaking the rules a little bit: more than 10 albums, these stretch before and after my teen years, and of course I’m offering a little explanation. But who cares! It’s been a fun, if challenging, activity!

Stevie Wonder, Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)
My parents have this thing where they “assigned” us kids songs when we were born. When I was born, they “gave” me Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” so it’s “my song.” (Aww.) It originally appeared on Songs in the Key of Life from 1976, but I still get warm family-love fuzzies when I hear this song and this compilation from 1982 is the album I remember my parents playing all the time when I was a kid. Plus, I just got a new bass so I’ve been having a lot of fun learning bass lines off this album lately.

Stray Cats, Built for Speed (1982)
One of the first vinyl records I “borrowed” (read: took) from my dad’s extensive record collection. As a young teenager and new guitarist I learned Brian Setzer’s guitar parts from the album top to bottom, using the vinyl!! Kids these days will never know.

Sir Neville Marriner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Amadeus (Original Soundtrack Recording) (1984)
Whenever I stayed home sick from school as a kid, Amadeus was my go-to movie. I had this album on vinyl too, and when I was a budding composer in high school I drew a lot of inspiration from the movie and the soundtrack. Maybe basic, but what can I say, I’m pretty sure it was a catalyst for me to start composing.

Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream (1993)
This was legit on repeat for pretty much the entirety of my teen years. It’s another album from which I learned all the guitar parts (almost… I couldn’t achieve Corgan’s psychedelic soloing and didn’t have all the gear anyway). Beyond Siamese Dream being one of the most quintessential albums of the 90s and no doubt influential for many people, I also latched on to this one because its producer, Butch Vig, was one of my idols at the time. He embodied my first dream “career:” musician, record producer, studio owner. Bonus: Vig’s from Wisconsin and his iconic Smart Studios was just a couple blocks away from my house where I grew up.

Weezer, Pinkerton (1996)
Ah Pinkerton, the nostalgia runs deep despite the problematic sentiments. I still love it, so what. This is another album I had on repeat throughout high school, and again I learned all the guitar parts. Not to mention it was on the Pinkerton tour when my epic and notorious “Weezer Tour Bus Incident” took place. In eighth grade, I hung out with the band on its tour bus before its January 1997 show at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, during which guitarist Brian Bell dedicated “In the Garage” to me. My parents were not pleased with me!

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Prelude to a Kiss: The Duke Ellington Album (1996)
I was just starting to listen to and learn about jazz in ninth grade, and this is one of the first (if not the first) jazz records I ever bought. I remember really loving the saxophone parts, only to realize years later that it was Bobby Watson playing, whom I met when I moved to Kansas City for college. He was on faculty at my school, and it’s an honor to call him a friend and former colleague! Serendipity.

Phat Phunktion, Here We Go! (1999)
Phat Phunktion is a local Madison group that my high school band teacher knew from Summer Music Clinic (I participated one summer as a jazz guitarist). My teacher invited the band to play a gig at my high school when I was a junior. I don’t remember if it was for a fundraiser or just for fun, but I was very involved in the promotion of the show. I sold tickets at lunch for weeks and interviewed them for the school paper. This may have sparked my interest in writing about music, which was one of my side hustles after college in Kansas City. Besides that, Phat was my introduction to funk music (at least of which I was cognizant, if you don’t count my folks’ excellent collection of 70s funk played when I was little) and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Grant Green, Born to Be Blue (1962)
In high school I was pretty serious about jazz guitar—I took lessons from a respected local veteran of the Madison and Milwaukee jazz scenes, I was in the big band at school, I had my own jazz combo for fun, and I wrote a few jazz charts (yes they’re recorded). I listened to A LOT of jazz guitar recordings. Obsessed. It was very hard to narrow this down, between Les Paul and Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass and Kenny Burrell and Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt and Freddie Green and Tal Farlow and and and… But I decided ultimately on Grant Green’s Born to Be Blue because it’s just a great album and I love the version of “Someday My Prince Will Come” on it.

Ani DiFranco, Little Plastic Castle (1998)
Here’s where the boys come in. My high school sweetheart dumped me around sophomore/junior year—my first love, my first heartbreak—and this new Ani DiFranco album affected me on several levels. Yes there are songs mired in angst which was perfect for me at the time, but also I loved her unabashedly introspective lyrics and killer guitar playing. Ultimately this isn’t my favorite album of Ani’s, but after that devastating breakup, this one helped me feel like myself again.

Charlie Hunter Quartet, Natty Dread (1997)
And here’s the one that reminds me of my college sweetheart. He introduced me to this album, and Charlie Hunter, and I love him for it. Charlie Hunter arranged Bob Marley’s 1974 Natty Dread track-for-track as a soul jazz album, and it is executed perfectly. I adore this version of “No Woman No Cry.” Nothing but good feelings when I listen to this record, still in semi-regular rotation for me.

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, World on Fire (2014)
My husband asked me to tack this onto an Amazon order I was making one time in 2015, and when it arrived he happened to be away on a summer residency. So I decided to give it a listen and basically it was the only thing I listened to for the entire summer. When he got home I had all the lyrics memorized. There were some depressing life things that happened in 2015, and World on Fire was a great emotional outlet for some of my bottled-up feelings.

Beyoncé, Lemonade (2016)
2016 and 2017. What can I say. So much happened, so much didn’t. Excitements, difficulties, adventures, terribleness, boring times, discoveries, stresses, identity examinations. Lemonade got me through some shit.


I have innumerable honorable mentions. For jazz, it was nearly impossible to pick out just one album from a guitarist—I also drew much inspiration from Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone in high school when I was into jazz. I also went through an intense Buddy Holly phase. When I was a kid, music was always playing in our house, from soul and Motown to Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead to Carole King and Joni Mitchell to Michael Jackson to Tom Waits and more. We’d listen to rock n’ roll on Saturday mornings and classical music on Sunday mornings—it’s tradition. Switching from guitar to bass in college was life transforming for me, that could be a whole post all to itself. And of course now I have tons of musician friends I love to support, and my music world has opened up immeasurably as an adult. This has been so much fun to think on! What are some important albums that have been the soundtrack to your life?

slash

Of COURSE I had to read Slash by Slash last month! I tried to finish before going to his concert in Denver for our anniversary, but ended up finishing just in time for Halloween. Blurb from Goodreads:

For the first time ever, Slash tells the tale that has yet to be told from the inside: how the legendary band Guns N’ Roses came together, how they wrote the music that defined an era, how they survived insane, never-ending tours, how they survived themselves, and, ultimately, how it all fell apart. Slash is a window into the world of the notoriously private guitarist and a front seat on the roller-coaster ride that was one of history’s greatest rock n’ roll machines, always on the edge of self-destruction, even at the pinnacle of its success. Slash is everything Slash is: funny, honest, ingenious, inspiring, jaw-dropping… and, in a word, excessive.

This book is a little nuts. I was expecting more, I guess, based on the near-500 page length—more insight into his addictions and interpersonal relationships, more about his guitars and development as a player. His Guns N’ Roses anecdotes, when he goes on tangents about his guitars, and the touring are definitely the best, most engaging parts of the book. It was great to listen along to GNR’s Appetite for Destruction and the Use Your Illusion discs as I was reading about their process in writing those songs and recording the albums. Time and again Slash didn’t seem to be deeply affected by his demons, especially his drug abuse. “I OD’d and was dead for a few minutes which sucked, but then I kicked again, NDB.” That’s how some of those stories read to me. There are a few weird moments where Slash repeats or contradicts himself (saying he doesn’t “remember exactly” what was said, and then not five words later claiming “but I’ll never forget” what was said. Huh? Maybe co-writer Anthony Bozza dropped the ball on that, or the editors).

Slash is personable and down-to-earth, considering his fantastic journey and rock n’ roll lifestyle. Slash was a fun book that was compulsively readable. The chapters are lengthy, but the sections in each chapter are not, making it easy to pick up and read a bit here and there easily. Any fan of Slash, GNR, old-school rock, or rock music biographies and memoirs would enjoy Slash. Of course, Slash has accomplished a lot since its publication (2007), and continues to write, record, and tour. Despite my wanting a little more depth in general, in the end, I felt like I was hanging out with Slash and he was telling me his stories from life and the road, which is just what you expect from a rock memoir. It was an awesome warm-up to get me pumped for the concert last month!

Read from October 1 to 31, 2015.

set this world on fire

Slash (© mylittleheartmelodies), 10/16/15, Fillmore Auditorium, DenverNick and I celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary on October 16. Concerts were a big part of our anniversary always, starting on our actual wedding DAY; after the courthouse ceremony and dinner with family and friends who were in town, I played a concert with Civic Orchestra. The second year… I played a concert with Civic! The third and fourth years we were apart—I was at a funeral one year and he was away at a composer residency the next (and I went to a Yo-Yo Ma concert in KC). So THIS year, for our fifth, we decided we needed to do something awesome, and seeing SLASH live in concert was absolutely the most perfect way to celebrate.

Nick got World on Fire last summer, Slash’s latest CD featuring his new band, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. Nick was a composer fellow at a music festival for the month of July, and for some reason I just felt like giving this CD a spin. I fell in LOVE. Seriously just went crazy for it and could not stop listening. I had it in the car on repeat for weeks. I played it at least once a day in full at my desk during work. I watched all the YouTube videos I could find. It’d been a long time since I was so obsessed with an album—years. I couldn’t help look up Slash online and saw he was still touring World on Fire, but sadly he wasn’t coming through KC (of course we missed him at the Voodoo Lounge here in summer 2014! We didn’t know about the album then, though). The closest options were Louisville (midweek, not good), Minneapolis (weekend, but sold out and we had a conflict in KC anyway), and Denver… ON OUR ANNIVERSARY, Friday, October 16. We looked at our calendars and saw no conflicts, so we went for it.

That Friday night, we got to the Fillmore Auditorium at 5 pm and got in line. We were among the first people there—the doors didn’t open until more than two hours later. First things first, as soon as we got in there we bought matching tour shirts, then found a spot close to the stage. The opening band, Raven Eye, was decent but we were just so pumped for Slash we could barely hold onto our patience.

The Conspirators set was SO AMAZING. Again it’d been years since I’d been to a concert like this, getting as close as possible to the stage; this was a much-needed night of rocking out. The band played a lot of tracks off World on Fire, of course, but also mixed in songs from Apocalyptic LoveSlash, and several Guns N’ Roses tunes and even a Velvet Revolver tune, too. Here’s the set list:

1. You’re a Lie | 2. Nighttrain | 3. Avalon | 4. Standing in the Sun | 5. Back from Cali | 6. Wicked Stone | 7. Too Far Gone | 8. You Could Be Mine | 9. Doctor Alibi | 10. Welcome to the Jungle | 11. Beneath the Savage Sun | 12. Mr. Brownstone | 13. The Dissident | 14. Rocket Queen | 15. Bent to Fly | 16. Word on Fire | 17. Anastasia | 18. Sweet Child O’ Mine | 19. Slither (with Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love”) | Encore: Paradise City

One major thing I loved about this show was that Slash didn’t play everything just exactly as you hear on the albums. He would start off a solo with the familiar strains we all know, but soon would expand on those ideas in epic improvisations that I could have watched and listened to all night. It’s hard to put into words! He really let loose the most during a several minutes-long solo on “Rocket Queen,” which was just incredible.

Not only was Slash super awesome, the whole band was fun to watch as well. Myles Kennedy has just the right type of voice for this music—versatile, melodic, emotionally charged—and it’s clear that he and Slash have an indelible musical chemistry that I hope lasts for many more years. The other members of the Conspirators were equally cool. Bassist Todd Kerns stood out, though, singing lead on “Doctor Alibi” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” I really wish we had been able to catch one of his picks he tossed out to the crowd!

It was a night to remember—I was still buzzing about it for days after (still now, even!). I almost can’t believe I finally got to see Slash, a living guitar legend that, as a musician and guitar nerd, I’ve admired for years. It was such a thrill. And I couldn’t have imagined a better way to mark our fifth anniversary; there’s no one else I would have rather experienced it with than my rock star husband. 🙂