October 16, this year is my 70th birthday, the dates, the memories, the loves, the loss, the songs that never seem to age, but we turn the page, write another song, stay strong, and carry on
So many gigs, travels, losses, all run together, in fragments, some as clear as yesterday. Before moving to Spain, I had a steady house gig at a beach resort on the Alabama Gulf Coast, that turned into almost 4 years. I liked the steady income, but in a way it was like being a busker in a busy airport I was very good at the piano bar gig, with a repertoire, of thousands of songs, from Beethoven, Jellyroll Morton, Bach, Bacharach, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bowie, Barry White, Barry Gibb, and Frank Sinatra. I got tired of the same 10 requests, Piano Man, Sweet Caroline, Sweet Home Alabama, Wagon Wheel, Mustang Sally, and put together this Song List poster, displayed near my piano, to remind the folks, what an amazing musical legacy we have, and the gift that I had to know all of these songs, by ear and by heart, and having the experience, to work with many of the writers and performers of these songs, throughout my life. My musical memory is an incredible gift, where I learned to play most any of these songs in any key. It was like a mental exercise for me, and also because my voice was changing and I continually had to adjust the range, not only for me, but for whatever singer I was backing up.
I'm thankful now, that I am back doing concerts in great venues, with amazing musicians and writing some inspiring music. .
One of the waiters, who was from Budapest, would always request “My Way” from Sinatra. I would jokingly say “I’m saving it for my 100th birthday, but I would sometimes play it, even thought to me it was a bit too “grandiose” and over the top for a bluesman at heart. Yes, regrets, I’ve had more than a few, but life is good, and I am grateful for all of you and the incredible experiences, touring the world, and doing what I love. I was just watching Tony Bennett on 60 minutes, still singing, even though he’s going through Alzheimer’s. The Week I was born, in 1951, he had a top ten hit, and amazing he’s still singing. I wrote a song on my new CD called "Let's Get it Right This Time". Perfect for Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, duet with The amazing vocalist Vanessa Bryan. The lyricist on this song and a few others on the upcoming CD is Nancy Krasn Gumbiner. She discovered me on Airgigs.com, The melodies seem to jump off the page in this musical brain of mine, and so glad we connected.
I now live in Palos de la Frontera Spain, about an hour south of Seville, which was the historical launch of the 1492 Voyage of Columbus and those 3 ships we memorized in 1st grade that arrived in the Americas on October 12, 4 days before my birthday. Replicas of them are docked a few minutes from my home, which seems a bit surreal, when I think of our shipping container leave the Mobile Bay, making full circle coming here.
As we approach Columbus Day or in my take on all of this, to many of my friends in Canada, Berkeley and the East Bay, Indigenous Peoples Day, or “First Nations”, as we re examine our history considering the people of the earth, conquest, racism, slavery, religion, monuments, and other reckoning to come to terms with.
JLS & The Gospel Messengers, My band here in Spain and I are mostly all immigrants, me and our Bass player, Nick Sullivan, via Minneapolis, Americanos, my drummer Akin and 2 beautiful talented backup singers, Deborah Ayo, and Astrid Jones, are of Nigerian descent, and stars of their own on the Madrid Music scene, and are well versed in American black soul blues and Gospel. and from the first rehearsal, everything clicked. I'm grateful for my friend Gecko Turner on guitar, an established Spanish Roots music artist/songwriter who helped me become established here in the music scene in Spain.
We had an amazing tour last December of Gospel music, in concert halls with Concert Grand pianos, great acoustics, lighting and road crew, that was a dream come true.
I had a life of privilege, and a great university music education learning orchestration, classical music, and jazz, but much of my first paying gigs, were playing rough juke joints of North Louisiana and East Texas where I learned Funk, blues and jazz. During the early 70s, at the university of North Texas, I played the country Honky Tonks at night, while learning Classical orchestration and Bach counterpoint during the day.
My first visit to Europe, age 21, was a Summer University program in Rome, in 1973, I saw the Montreux jazz fest, meeting legends like Freddie King, Professor Longhair and Dr. John, where American roots music was praised, and put in beautiful concert halls, and studied, where back home, it was in the back alleys, and small clubs. I have a long way to go with my Spanish immersion, but every day becomes a bit more fluent.
It’s a long story, which I won’t go into here, but hard to believe, 10 years ago I was going through radiation/Chemo treatments for stage 3 cancer on my tongue in British Columbia Canada, which I am now a survivor. I’m ever grateful of their single payer health care system that saved my life. You may be familiar with it through the tragic death of Eddie Van Halen. I guess I never got my affairs in order, because I’m still here, thank God, Still touring, writing, and married to the love of my life Maria, I guess 3rd time’s a charm, We just celebrated our 6th anniversary last week, but we met in 1995, on a Long John Baldry Tour of Germany, where she lived.
We moved here on Thanksgiving Day 2019, and our shipping container arrived on Christmas day, a few days after we had signed a lease. I guess there is serendipity in all of this, and I wrote a song about it on my new CD, called “Palos de la Frontera”, with a great lyricist, Nancy Krasn Gumbiner, which is on my new CD.
I start another tour, December 2021, dates still to be confirmed, and hopefully a new release around the same time, called “Songs Have A life of Their Own” with all instruments, music, lyrics, orchestration, production from me. I think this is one of the best songs I ever wrote, and hope you enjoy it. I’ve posted a few of the tracks as a sampler on the Bandcamp link, for pre-orders.
On the new CD, I wanted to write about what many of us have gone through as a people, guardians of the planet, citizens, and did not want to be confined to genres, such as the blues, Americana, or whatever. Many of my favorite composers write for film soundtracks, where they are conveying the emotions on the screen, and take on another dimension and depth.
I took one semester of film scoring at San Jose State, and this CD is the soundtrack and my story of the last 4 or so years, which covers romance, The great divide, climate change, Pandemic response, The Church, Spirituality, travel, Wanderlust, Human Rights, The afterlife, social media and its effect on us all. There’s only so much you can cover in a 12-bar blues shuffle, even though it’s a blast to play, I have much more to say as a composer.
I have 20 or 30 hard drives that I’ve kept for over 20 years and found some emails that my family and friends wrote around 1995, before Facebook, Instagram, when most people still wrote postcards, and snail mail. I remember my father tapping out 5 or 10 letters a night on his loud clacking typewriter, at 50 words a minute, after dinner, late into the night, he was a outstanding and prolific writer, and I miss him. He took a computer course at age 80, and learned to use Compuserve/ Prodigy, the first online service available to the public in the early 90s.
There seemed to be so much hopefulness and a bit of innocence in those early emails, that this technology had the power to change the world for good. I watched the Senate testimony of Francis Haugen, The Facebook whistleblower who explained how Facebook uses algorithms to addict young teens, and how polarization and hateful speech increases the bottom line and drives up profits. One of the songs on my new cd, a fun funky dance number, “Put Down Your Phone”, is about the social implications, and addiction of our phones, and social media, such a drastic change in such a short time on this planet, where 60% of the planet is on Facebook. I have a bit of an addiction to it all, I confess, living much of my life in Silicon Valley, working with creative people and using the technology, it’s changed the way I create music for the better. Even so, I still miss the live recording sessions with the whole band in the studio.
I thank you for your friendship over the years, and all that has connected us. If you have a moment, check out some of the links, for my music, old and new. I hope to hear from you.
Much love and gratitude for all of you
John Lee Sanders