Thursday, August 6, 2009

CHICAGO: Afternoons, Sixty Miles Due South

I’m sitting in front of my computer monitor, gazing out my front window, wondering what to write about. A thought occurred to me. Why not write about writing? Not the article, but the song. I have been dabbling in songwriting for a very long time. When I get stuck turning a phrase I use some basic techniques to jump kick the old noodle. Here are some of the things I keep in mind as I go about my everyday life , because after all a song is a mini snapshot of life..

Curiosity; an excessive interest in other people's affairs, eagerness to know about something or to get information, an interesting and unusual object, person, or phenomenon

An example of an unusual phenomenon was an industrial accident that happened in 1979. I wrote a song many years ago about a foundry mishap that killed seven metal workers. When I heard about it I was eating lunch. I happened to be sitting in my van listening to the radio, in the parking lot of a foundry. I was serving a five year woodworking apprenticeship there. It could have been me. It hit close to home. I have about ten pounds of paper towels from that foundry. I used that paper to jot down song ideas. They are around here somewhere. I’ll have to check the basement.

Observation; the attentive watching of somebody or something, the careful watching and recording of something, e.g. a natural phenomenon, as it happens, the result or record of observing something such as a natural phenomenon.

Take Coyotes for instance. I live in a rural area 60 miles due south of Chicago. Coyotes are always lurking. One summer afternoon I was watching the sunset after consuming a grilled chicken dinner cooked on the Weber. Out of a clump of pine trees walked 3 coyotes. They lurked at distance of about 300 feet.

I see farmers working in the fields all the time. I overheard two farmers at the local coffee shop talking about how many coyotes they see while riding their John Deere’s. Most of these farmers carry guns to help ward off the coyotes. The fact that coyotes are out there inspired me to pen this song lyric.

God Bless America Again

Copyright July 2007 Terrance B. Lape

You and I girl small town, Saturday night another week in the fields we're doing alright Heart of America family plans we both have Let’s make it better than what our parents once had


Living in America Place of my birth Living in America really doesn’t hurt to Say god bless America today

Walking down Main Street, your hand in mine Talkin ‘bout the kids we plan on having some time Mom and Dad, thanks for what you’ve sacrificed They gave it all for a better life for you and I

Riding my tractor way where the coyotes roam Smell the air; touch the earth, where it all grows, Soybeans, corn fields, laid out in straight rows Heart of America, you better believe this is what I call home!


The blues started in similar fields of yesteryear. The work song of the farm workers evolved into the blues. If you listen closely you can almost hear the hoe hitting dirt in some of the modern blues songs. Listen for the kick drum. It has replaced the hoe.

I know you are thinking the above is not much of a blues song. Well it was not penned for any particular genre. That’s another trick I use, just write don’t worry what comes out. You can always rework later.

Listening; make conscious effort to hear, pay attention. That is pretty obvious.

Another for instance I was at Chicago West side Blues man Smilin Bobby’s house about two months ago. I overheard him talking on the phone to one of his girlfriends. Bobby always has a lot of women following him around. My wife threw a surprise B-Day party for me and Bobby played at it. He walked through the door with four women. It was wintertime and they all wore full length mink coats. He smiled at me, winked and said, “These ladies are friends of mine”. Back to the phone conversation, he told the woman on the other end of the line,” Come on over baby. I just changed the sheets on the bed”.

Notation is the act of making a note, or writing something down. I used to keep a PDA in my pocket at all times. My PDA was a small memo book and a pen or pencil. Now I use my cell phone.

That hit me like a ton of red clay bricks. Right out of a blues man’s mouth into my ears. I penned the following lyric by reciting raw idea lines into my cell phone voice recorder on the way home that evening. By the way it is illegal in the city of Chicago to talk on your cell phone while driving. Here’s the lyric and it is played to the standard I-IV-V pattern. Of course I know some of the lines come from other songs, but hey that’s what makes it the blues.


Copyright 2009 Terrance B. Lape

I went to the corner got your favorite bottle of wine I went to the corner got your favorite bottle of wine Come over I'll hang up that do not disturb sign

I got a ruby red pillow for your pretty little head I got a ruby red pillow for your pretty little head come over baby I just changed the sheets on my bed

You know I hate talking on this wall telephone You know I hate talking on this wall telephone There's brand new sheets waiting and I'm here all alone

Curiosity, I am always curious about other people and the way they live. I guess it stems from my college days and the sociology courses I took. Observation, I watched what Bob was doing and listened. Notation, I recorded the ideas into my cell phone.

My wife is an award winning pastel and oil portrait artist that is teaching our youngest daughter some of her techniques (pictured is a pastel of Tom Hanks. My daughter snapped him during filming of "Road to Perdition.) One of the things she shared with me was the idea that in order to create anything out of thin air you must first learn how to see. She meant that people look at things and never really see what they are looking at. The same holds true with music. It is all around us. We all see and hear things without really listening or seeing. When writing songs one must open their eyes, ears, and most of all their heart.

Blues Me Or Lose Me,

Terrance “Gatorman” Lape

To hear some my work visit

PS. I do not profess to have all the answers when it comes to songwriting. If you have some ideas please share them with us in the comment section.