THANK YOU LORD

NOBSKA LIGHTHOUSE (Woods Hole, Massachusetts)

(A beacon of hope on Cape Cod. Nobska Lighthouse, Woods Hole, Massachusetts.)

In 1994, I vanished. I didn’t reappear until sixteen years later, in 2o1o. As far as the fans of my music were concerned (and I was fortunate enough to have quite a few around the world) Grayson Hugh had evaporated. He had stopped releasing records and doing concerts. People shook their heads, clicked their tongues and wondered “Whatever happened to Grayson Hugh?”

In that decade and a half, I went from the top of the music world, having two gold records, songs on the radio, videos on tv, world tours with a band, tour buses and stage crews, playing big venues and actually making some money for a change – to living in a single room above a barroom, playing the piano for my rent, spending my unemployment cheques on booze, and hiding from life. My brother put it perfectly, during a concerned phone call back in those dark days. He said “Grayson, it’s as if your life is getting smaller and smaller”.

How can one descend into such bleak insanity, settling for so little? The answer, I know now, is: denial and fear and the unwillingness to face my demons. In my case, the demons were alcohol and xanax.

I had quit drinking in 1980, after getting steadily worse from age 14, in 1964. After getting arrested and put in jail, fired from jobs, I got scared when I pushed my girlfriend down and gave her serious bruises. I had never been violent towards women, and this frightened me. I went to one AA meeting in 1980 and did not pick up a drink for twenty years.

However I did start taking xanax in 1990, prescribed by a psychiatrist for panic attacks and anxiety disorder. It cured the anxiety, but at a terrible price I would only discover fourteen years later.

During that twenty year dry period, many things happened, some of them very good. In 1986 I moved to New York from Hartford, Connecticut and was signed to a multi-record deal with RCA Records. With their support, I formed a new band, went on several U.S. and world tours, made videos that were on MTV, VH1 and BET, did national television network appearances, and had hits on the radio around the world. My first album “Blind To Reason” and the single from it “Talk It Over” both went gold. I was grateful, and prayed often, thanking God for His blessings.

BLIND TO REASON album cover

(“Blind To Reason”, RCA Records 1988.)

ROAD TO FREEDOM

(“Road To Freedom”, MCA Records 1992.)

But in 1994, after two critically acclaimed albums and songs in Oscar-winning films, “Thelma and Louise” and “Fried Green Tomatoes”, the person who signed me to my second record label was fired, and I was dropped from the label along with the rest of his acts. I couldn’t find another label, and didn’t really try. I also found out my business managers had not given me good advice about my taxes, while taking their cut from my earnings each month. As a result I eventually had to go bankrupt.

Fed up, I moved to the south, and did what I did best: hide. Living with my girlfriend in a rented house just over the North Carolina border from South Carolina, I was increasingly unhappy and unfulfilled creatively. I eventually moved back north, alone, and got a job teaching songwriting at a prestigious music school – Berklee College Of Music in Boston. A couple years later I moved in with my stepdad and mother at their house in Newton, to help take care of mom who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For a couple years I did well at Berklee, but the resentment against the music business derailing my career (and my fear of doing anything about it) started to eat away at me.

I started to think about drinking, more and more. I knew I shouldn’t but the attraction seemed irresistible. As my first sponsor told me later “the most natural thing for an alcoholic to do is drink”. Who cared if twenty years of not drinking was about to go by the wayside? And so drink I did.

Well, you know what happened. My drinking at first didn’t work, so I drank more. I started going right from being sober to a blackout. I got fired from Berklee, for drinking on the job, refusing help when it was offered. Then I got kicked out of my stepdad’s house for doing things like jumping over the balcony stairs in the middle of the night, causing him to wake up to bandage my wounds.

NIMROD RESTAURANT

(The Nimrod Restaurant and Jazz Lounge, Falmouth, Massachusetts.)

In 2002 I was without direction, had no money, and was wondering where I’d go. I remembered a restaurant/bar where I had played in Falmouth for the Woods Hole Film Festival. The owner had told me he had “rooms for musicians” on the second floor. I called him and moved up there. I was literally living above a barroom, playing the piano for my rent, and drinking and still abusing xanax.

It was an old colonial building with alot of history that I dubbed “that house behind the hedge”. I had three other housemates. We were all lost souls, gypsies that were stopping temporarily at this place. Jam sessions in the bar downstairs occurred on most weekends and the music and booze flowed freely and copiously.

HAND WAVING UP IN ATTIC OF NIMROD RESTAURANT

(Hand of one of my housemates waving from his attic apartment at The Nimrod.)

HEDGES OUTSIDE RUNDOWN NIMROD RESTAURANT BUILDING

(The Nimrod and its overgrown hedges, shortly before it was closed down in 2013.)

Finally the doctor who had been prescribing my xanax refused to refill my prescription, since it was obvious I was taking too much of it. So, terrified of the seizure that would most likely come, I started drinking 24/7. I rarely left my room. My anxiety increased to intolerable levels and only blind drunkenness eased it. I was too naive (and too lazy and anxious) to try and get the drug on the street, but not smart enough to check myself into a hospital. That was taken care of for me.

That seizure I had been fearing did indeed come one night in an alcoholic blackout in late October, 2004. The only thing I remember about it was the fire department breaking down my door, and me being unable to move, lying in the darkness in front of my door where I had fallen. I had knocked out a front tooth, hit my head hard on something and fractured my nose. Carried out of there on a stretcher, I wound up in the hospital where, after treating me for a few hours, refused to discharge me since I was still drunk. I was not welcome back at the restaurant, and, after some phone calls to my bothers in Connecticut, they and the doctors decided it would be best for me to go to a detox facility in Falmouth called Gosnold. I agreed, sensing a finality of things.

To his credit, the proprietor of the restaurant offered to bring me some clothes and drive me to the facility. Having no money, the State of Massachusetts paid for my eleven day stay there. For the first three days, I was too sick to do anything but lie in my bed. I hallucinated, watching a “movie” about Duke Ellington on the wall. It was then that a moment of clarity happened. As I lay there listening to the nurses’ conversations, I knew without a doubt that I was going to not only give up drinking, but also stay off of xanax for the rest of my life. After all, I told myself, I’d gone through the fire of the withdrawal; let’s leave that awful addiction behind once and for all. They put me through not one but two phenobarbital withdrawal protocols, and still I was shaking and generally in very bad shape.

When it came time for me to leave, I found out my brothers and father would not take me in. I’m glad now they practiced “tough love”. I know it was hard for them to refuse me. My after-care counselor gave me the address of a men’s shelter in Boston, and I was not too happy about that prospect. Then, at the last hour, she interrupted a class to tell me a bed had opened up at a sober house in Wareham called Evergreen House.

2875 Cranberry Highway, Wareham, Massachusetts

(Evergreen House, in Wareham, Massachusetts.)

You’ve heard that saying “God puts people in your path”? Well, the first angel he put in my path on my road to recovery was the director of that sober house, a short, heavy-set man with a heart of gold and the loud, bellowing voice of a drill sergeant named Bob Marshall. He put me on a rental grant for the first three months until I could get a job. That job was at McDonald’s, where I showed up from 7am to 3pm Monday through Friday for two and a half years, working mostly with teenagers. That job was one of the most honest stretches of work I ever did up til then. I showed up and worked hard, swallowing my pride and collected my paycheque which was just enough to cover my meager rent and leave some money left for groceries. I also faithfully attended twelve step meetings every night (that was mandatory at the sober house), got a sponsor, did chores with the other guys, had house meetings and group therapy sessions there. My brothers and father came up to visit and were thrilled to have me back in their lives. They were thrilled I was simply alive, and sober.

But the xanax withdrawl was not entirely done with me. During the first three weeks at Evergreen, I suffered a (mercifully short-lived) psychotic break  where I thought dreams I had were real, until I would realize to my horror I had only dreamed things like getting a job as a detective at the Wareham Police Department. I also had bad hand tremors and even suffered one more seizure, during which I bumped my head on the bed post and developed a subdural hematoma. I was to later learn, from a neurosurgeon friend, that such alarming symptoms are common in what is called “abrupt benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome”.

After spending a few days in the hospital until my brain bleed resolved, my journey in sobriety began in earnest in late November of 2004. While I was in detox, I had missed the Red Sox winning the World Series for the first time since 1918. But more importantly I was back in the game, raw and still weak from the ravages of alcohol and drug withdrawal, but clean and sober and about to begin the best journey of my life.

The second angel God sent me was a counselor from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission named Dean Gilmore. He came to Evergreen and interviewed me, to see if I might qualify for some funding to help me get back into society. When I told him I was thinking about going to college to get certified as a substance abuse counselor, he suggested another idea. It turned out he was a fan of my music and said “I know who you are, in fact I’d like you to sign these CDs of yours I have in my briefcase!” He told me that, while it was laudable that I wanted to help others, he would like to see if he could get his agency to obtain some seed money for me to do what I do best: make another album. He said that alot of people like himself were wondering what happened to Grayson Hugh.

His faith in me woke me from a sleep that had begun way back in 1994. I will always credit him with reawakening my desire to make records. We went on to become very good friends, and would get together on a regular basis for breakfast, talk about music, life and trade books. Sadly, he passed away in 2008, much too young. I will never forget him.

Dean was able to arrange this funding and, in the Summer of 2006, I recorded the first rhythm tracks of my comeback album at a recording studio in Acton, Massachussets called Wellspring Sound. I took a careful, slow route with this project, wanting my first album in over fifteen years to be a selection of songs that were really important to me. It would be released in 2010 as “An American Record”.

AN AMERICAN RECORD

(“An American Record”, Swamp Yankee Records 2010.)

BACK TO THE SOUL Album Cover Final 1400 by 1400 pixels

(“Back To The Soul”, Swamp Yankee Records 2015.)

In the process of making this record, an old friend of mine named Polly Messer, who had sung backup with me in the early 80s, got in touch with me and offered to sing (for free, even!) on this record. After a few recording sessions with her in 2007, we fell in love and were married in 2008. We also began performing my music together and even did a two week tour in Poland in 2012.

I have since released another record “Back To The Soul”, which was even up for a Grammy in 2015, and, though it didn’t get one, I now have a renewed career. And I have a new band, Grayson Hugh & The Moon Hawks,  and have been doing sold-out concerts with them.

A few of the miracles of sobriety.

PAY PHONE GOODBYE NOTE FROM GUYS AT EVERGREEN HOUSE

(Message on the Evergeen House pay phone, wishing me well on my departure.)

So, from the top of the world, to the dark, lonely bottom, back to – where I am today.

Real. Sober. Alive. And always, always grateful.

My song “Thank You Lord” says it best. To hear it click HERE
– Grayson H., March 25, 2017 Danbury CT

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BLUEWHITE AND THE BLIZZARD OF ’78

heart-shaped-trees-on-buewhite-hill

(“My heart starts to bloom cold bluewhite”)

When the Blizzard of 1978 hit the Northeast I was living in the small country village of Coventry, Connecticut. I shared a second floor apartment in an old house with my girlfriend who was studying painting at The University of Connecticut. My cat, who would go on to live 25 years, resided there with us.

Playing nights with a Texas swing band in the seedy bars of Rhode Island and Connecticut, I spent my days visiting film schools and writing songs. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a filmmaker or a musician. The fact that I was, in fact, already a musician, with a growing pile of songs waiting for the right band eventually tilted the scale toward music. But the love of movies, of cinematography and stories, has never stopped being a big part of what inspires me.

One of the songs I wrote during that time was “Bluewhite”. It began as a poem that I wrote the day after the Blizzard of 1978, and wasn’t completely finished until I added a last musical section and edited the third verse lyrics some fifteen years later.

BARN AT CAPRILANDS

(One of the barns at Caprilands, when I visited in January 2011. Sadly the farm stopped operating as a store, herbal center and all-herbal restaurant shortly after founder Adelma Grenier Simmons’ death in 1997 at the age of 93.)

When the sun came out, suprisingly, two days after the epic February Blizzard of 1978, we were still without power, and would remain so for several days. It looked so beautiful outside, I decided to cure my cabin fever with a long walk. Normally a very outdoorsy type, my girlfriend covered herself in two overcoats, a scarf and a hat and worked on a painting to the light of candles. I took my trusty Miranda camera, covered my feet with two thick wool socks and my old army boots and proceeded to walk from Coventry village up to Caprilands, an herbal farm owned and operated by Adelma Grenier Simmons, known as “the firs lady of herbs”, and the author of over forty books about the subject. The bright winter sun was shining on the huge snowdrifts, creating those bluewhite shadows on the fields and in the woods. When I passed Caprilands, I realized I still had some of the little anise pastilles in a tin that I had purchased a week earlier on a visit there. I popped a couple of them in my mouth, and as the licorice flavor exploded in my head, the sights of the sun-filled snowy day and the subtle yet powerful taste of the anise pastille imprinted themselves in my brain. Proustian.

Flavigny Abbey ANISE-SEED PASTILLES

These pastilles have been created since the 1500’s in the Flavigny Abbey, originally a Benedictine monastery, now owned by the Dominicans. It took, and still takes, fifteen days for the monks at the Abbey to create these candies. Each tiny anise seed, is slowly covered with layers of sugar water until, half a month later, the pastille is ready.

Now whenever I taste one of these – or even think of that taste – my mind is flooded with wonderful memories of Caprilands, of my life back in 1978, of writing a ten minute song called “Bluewhite” about the snow in Connecticut hills.

IMG_5004

(Bluewhite shadows, deep in the woods by a brook, the day after a snowstorm.)

IMG_1708(“The town is melting, pull our windows down, hear the tires whisper black wet smooth..”)

That thing I call “bluewhite” is more than just the shadows on snow.  It is a feeling in the air that travels into your brain. On bright February days, driving around the snow-filled hills, when it’s just cold enough to keep the snow on the ground, but just warm enough also for the tires of cars to make that long swshhhhhhhhhhh sound, this feeling in the air contains not only the cold beauty of snowy woods, but also the hint of the coming melt and the hopeful rebirth of Spring. You can feel it in your sleeves.

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Hunters_in_the_Snow_(Winter)_-_Google_Art_Project

(“To the distant fields our eyes travel over the valley to those Bruegel woods..”

Bluewhite light has a look that is unique to the Nutmeg State.  It is partly because of the shapes of hills and valleys here that gather and distill it. And it it because of the way the many stone walls of this state go slinking across the fields toward the edges of the woods. The cliffs and curves, trees and bushes, meadows, rivers and brooks are of a scale that is like nowhere else. It is a landscape size bigger than the quays and inlets and rocky yards of Rhode Island. But it’s not real, real big like the Green Mountains of Vermont, or seriously steep and craggy like the notches of New Hampshire or as ferociously vast as the pine forests of Maine. No, bluewhite is a very Connecticut thing.

"Where the worn light's blurring the candle glow of a fox's fur nby the stone wall spine"

(“Where the worn light’s blurring the candle glow of a foxes’ fur by the stone wall spine”)

I would walk the five miles from my house in Coventry Village to the campus of UConn where I’d find an empty practice room with a piano. There, with two or three coffees to go, I’d inch my way forward in this film in my mind. The scenes unfolded with images and words about snow, the way it looked on distant hills and in cornfields, by brooks and stone walls, in the brief bright daylight of Winter and in the quickly fading dusk.

It wrote itself, really. Instrumental sections appeared and vanished, then demanded to be heard. Tones of instruments and shades of vocals became clear. Above all, the feeling of it all just felt exactly right.

All ten minutes of it. Long by the standards of radio, even college radio, but I wasn’t thinking about that.

long-bluewhite-hill

When it was what I considered not “done” but waiting to be performed, I set it aside until a year later when I formed The Grayson Hugh Quartet. I taught it to the musicians and recorded it. I performed it twice with this band, once in 1980 at a concert at The Children’s Museum Planetarium in West Hartford and again in the same year at a club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called Trax.

It was one of my favorite songs and always knew I wanted to do more with it, but it wasn’t until I was assembling the songs for  “An American Record” in 2007 – 2010 that it finally found a home. This was my first release in fifteen years, and I wanted this album to be stretch the limits of my musical styles.

Much like those aniseed pastilles, the creation of “Bluewhite” took as long as it took to be finished. There was no rushing it.

Here, then (on, as I write this, a cold February day in New England) is “Bluewhite”. It seems only appropriate that it should be presented as a kind of movie, a slide show, if you will, photos by yours truly.

I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did creating it.

TO WATCH THE VIDEO FOR “BLUEWHITE” CLICK HERE.

driving-up-through-towns-and-countryside

THE STORE AT THE END OF THE STREET

vanderbilt-drug-store-farmington-ave-west-hartford-ct-between-walkley-road-and-vanderbilt-road-circa-1940-copy-4

(A photo of Vanderbilt Drug Company, aka Vanderbilt’s, taken before my time, probably in the 1940’s.)

Vanderbilt Drug Store was at the end of our street and was the halfway point on our short walk to and from both Whiting Lane Elementary and Plant Junior High Schools. It was a reliable meeting place, a frequent destination and almost like another room in our house.

It’s where we got the Sunday paper and where I got all my comic books. It’s where I gathered with my friends for candy, before and after school. There were packets of mouth-puckering, sour/sweet Lik-M-Aid, handfuls of red licorice, molar-destroying rock candy, those bizarre, chewable wax lips that melted into thick, congealed puddles on the sidewalk, boxes of spearmint leaves, packets of sunflower seeds so salty your eyes got thirsty, red-hot jawbreaker balls that rearranged your teeth, not to mention those wax six packs of brightly colored, sugary syrup called Nickel Nips and, of course, the ubiquitous and endless packs of baseball cards with the flat, powdery sheets of bubble gum. We traded those cards like inveterate gamblers. I’ll give you Roberto Clemente for  Harmon Killebrew. Well how about Sandy Koufax for Hank Aaron? No, I’m hangin’ on to Willie Mays. Mickey Mantle? You got The Mick? You lucky dog! Lemme see…

Vanderbilt’s is where I had my first job in the seventh grade (a few dollars paid under the counter) cleaning the store. It was a thankless chore, scrubbing the counters and ice cream containers, mopping the tile floor, that nevertheless made me feel proud and manly.

It’s where I bought my first girlfriend an ice cream soda at age thirteen, feeling incredibly grown up as I handed over the coins.

Marie was the lady who worked the soda fountain for all the years of my childhood and adolescence. She wore the standard white soda jerk uniform with jaunty cap and sported glasses with pointy corners as big as Cadillac fins. I remember that she was dating a helicopter pilot, which made her very very cool.

I must have walked through the door of that establishment five million times. One Sunday morning, when I was fourteen, I walked up our street to get our Sunday paper. I had, just an hour prior, answered the door and listened to a rather boring lecture by two Jehovah’s Witnesses. I told them, probably with a bit of the attitude I could have at that age, that I disagreed with them and that I did not feel their religion was the only true way to live.

Shortly afterward, as I walked through Vanderbilt Drug’s front door, I heard a loud crash and the breaking of glass. A woman had accidentally stepped on the gas instead of braking and had just driven through Vanderbilt’s plate glass window. I had been a mere couple of seconds away from getting severely injured, if not killed.

When I told my parents what happened, my mom said rather dryly, “Well I guess that’ll teach you to mouth off to Jehovah’s Witnesses!” She was a missionary’s daughter with a sense of humour.

You know what? Ever since then, I have courteously listened, at length, whenever door-to-door proselytizers have come knocking. Even if I disagree with their claims of having “the only true way”, I don’t give them anything but my respectful attention. I figure it’s just good karma, shattering glass window reprisals or not.

One of our neighbors, John Hyberg, a Swedish American bachelor who lived with his elderly mother way down at the end of Dorset Road, used to walk to Vanderbilt’s most evenings around dusk for a coke. On those heavy, humid Summer nights, my brothers and I (and often one or two cousins and friends) would be sitting with our parents on lawn chairs in the cool dark of our front porch on Walkley Road, drinking mint iced tea.

As we sipped our drinks and smelled that strong aroma of lilacs from the bushes by the porch, we would peer into the dark to see the slump-shouldered shape of John Hyberg approaching like a talking shadow under the streetlights. When his barely visible self reached our house, he would say, without fail, the exact same thing, directed to my mother, in that distinct, adenoidal voice of his: “Hot enough for ya, Jean?” That phrase came without variation out of his mouth automatically as he passed, as if our front porch triggered it from deep within his chest.

We would laugh and imitate his voice, and I would feel privately a bit guilty for making fun of him. I doubt he could have known how comforting the ritual of his nocturnal walks past our house were to me.

His nightly walks, in fact, were a sign that all was right in our neighborhood, in our sleepy little town, in the whole state of Connecticut and quite possibly in the whole wide world.

When I remember those nights and those long childhood days, I realize how incredibly lucky we all were. Lucky to have one another, to laugh and love and be loved, to be safe in the embrace of our family in that town of long, shady streets and corner stores like Vanderbilt’s.

ROOMING HOUSE NIGHTS

55-highland-street-west-hartford-ct-my-old-rooming-house-and-my-first-apartment-in-1968-copy-3

(The rooming house at 55 Highland Street, West Hartford, Connecticut.)

Not in vain did I stay up all those nights, listening to the dreaming murmuring of birds.

In that rooming house on Highland Street in West Hartford, Connecticut, where I lived when I was eighteen years old, I wrote many a song and poem in the quiet of those nights. The only sounds would be the clanging of the radiators, or the dripping of snow from the eaves in Winter. Or the occasional footsteps in the hall of one of the eccentric occupants.

We were a motley collection of souls. There was me, second floor back right, with the gable windows, the young musician in his first foray out of his family home.  On the first floor front room left, there was Wayne, the Frank Sinatra-obsessed postal worker from Torrington, who, though in his early twenties, sported a carefully combed and coiffed pompadour from the 1950s. He wore cardigan sweaters and Italian loafers and would invite me in to hear Sinatra records, enthusiastically gushing all the while, his voice steadily rising to an alarmingly loud volume. He was in a constant state of exasperation that the world didn’t seem to recognize the fact that Frank Sinatra was a genius and very possibly a saint.

Across from Wayne, first floor front room right, was Guy, the long-haired Swedish-American dude who spoke and moved at the pace of an rain-forest sloth. He worked in the kitchen of one of the clubs my band played in. He spoke so slowly, with heavy lidded eyes peeking out of his medieval-looking bangs, that you had to resist the urge to strike him squarely on the top of his head to get him to complete his sentences. He was always home.

Then there was Susan, the pretty older woman (thirty was practically ancient to me at the time) who played flute in a chamber ensemble and studied at Hartt College of Music. She was attractive in that Lindsay Crouse kind of way, in her wire rimmed glasses, intelligent and with the body of a cyclist. Knowing I was a pianist and sax player, she gave me a rosewood bagpipe practice chanter.

My nearest neighbor, in the second floor front right apartment, was a middle aged woman named Gladys. She was quite overweight and rarely left her room. I’m sure she was on assistance of some sort. Though it was against house rules to cook in your room, she would often fire up her hotplate and fry up large meals containing lots of onions, usually at midnight. At her request, I’d help her turn over her mattress every few weeks. I thought we were friends, until one night, while I was on the  hallway payphone with my girlfriend, she came storming out of her cave screaming at me “You’re the devil! I’ll piss on your head!”. Obviously she was mentally ill, and I gave her a wide berth after that.

side-view-of-my-old-room-at-55-highland-street-rooming-house

(That’s my room in the middle on the second floor, with the two circular windows.)

I was working full time as accompanist for modern dance classes at The Hartford Conservatory during the day, and playing with my band Portrait Blues at night. I found it most efficient to compose music in the night hours, writing out the parts on music paper to give to my band members at rehearsal. I always loved writing music parts, and would give each musician a nickname, along with a drawing at the top of his part. Bassist David Stoltz was “Drake Cottony”. Drummer/blues harp player Ralph Rosen was “Smilin’ Corn”. Tenor sax/flute player Mark Kaplan was  “Triangle Reed Beard” and guitarist John Webber was “Little Johnny Stringshanks”.

The nicknames changed with each new part, but some, I hear, are carried forward to this today, with pride and affection, by the musicians themselves.

portrait-blues-band-photo-1970

(Portrait Blues, 1970: left ro right, John Webber – guitar; Mark Kaplan – tenor sax, flute; Grayson Hugh – vocal, piano, organ, soprano saxophone; Ralph Rosen – drums, blues harp.)

gray-day-single-cover-for-45

TO HEAR “BREEZY FARM”, ONE OF THE SONGS I WROTE BACK THEN, CLICK HERE.

TO HEAR “GRAY DAY CLICK HERE.

Here are three poems I wrote while living there.

••• MUTE SNOW •••

we’re half here and half there
and all inbetween like the light

the moon is a half fish dune
like a lark in a black creek
and all i want to eat
is the white of the shadow
of the blooming pear moon

ah the night goes about to be
down dark where you can’t see
just like your dumb dark hair

then the pine trees clap
on all the hills
and the woods are white
with all those quiet spills

••• SOLO •••

the moon needs no name for its light
which wanders from itself
onto the new world earth at night

through the sky it falls also
into the sea and seen by fish
and onto all tree branches

outside above the streetlight
slow moths wake
and hover against no wind

 

••• ROOMING HOUSE WHALES •••

In the rooming house where ten humans lived
I was lying awake several hours past midnight
listening to the college radio station playing undiscovered folk soul songs
and I turned it off to think

I thought about the shadows of moonlight
sliding slowly off the big leaves of trees
and dropping onto the summer grass outside
where lawn chairs
and birdless lilac bushes
stand silent in the scene

I thought about all the people who were inside now
curled up sleeping in their second floor burrows
dreaming their ornately unfolding big blossoms of dreams
their brains working unapologetic
and electric
all through the night
flashes and spasms of fear and desire
and long involved wanderings
and stumblings through childhoods

and I could hear the occasional car
softly slowly come and rip the quiet of the night
creeping like a shark
as it passed under the streetlight in front of the rooming house
a sad metal spirit dragging itself by

and there by myself in the vanishing summer night
I imagined how beautifully terrifying it would be
to suddenly
just for one second
be transported next to the gigantic breathing body
of a huge whale
in some deep dim sea

with his huge half asleep eye
he would look at my odd speck of a body
perhaps thinking I was a sudden large seahorse
or a dream vision

and I would be immediately transported back to my bed
with the glistening remains of a miracle
wetly draping my arms like seaweed hair

but I would remember
and have forever imbued in the water of my blood
the feeling of that giant whale body next to me

hearing his big warm heart slowly beating
floating in the hush and pulse of his thoughts
blessed with the brotherhood of living
by this lord of all oceans

and lying there in the rooming house night
i shivered with terror and joy
knowing for a fact that right then
and at any moment

a whale is breathing
he is there
with his dreams descending
all around him like a sea snow falling
down there in the dark water
without me

© 1969, 2016 by Grayson Hugh

FROM A COUNTRY VILLAGE

In that turbulent lustrum of the second half of the 1970s, as the stormy weather of my twenties raged, I was on a mission: to find a way to best express all my creative visions, which encompassed music, writing and filmmaking. Music won out, but there were some wacky detours, including a long visit with Martin Scorsese‘s mentor Haig Manoogian at New York University. But that’s a story for another time.

For two of those years, 1977 and 1978, I lived in quiet little country village in the northeastern corner of Connecticut called Coventry. My girlfriend was studying painting at The University of Connecticut, five miles away. I was the lead singer and pianist in a band that played the club circuit in Connecticut and Rhode Island. My cat, also in his twenties by cat years, was happy to explore the woods, brooks, and the yards and fields of the neighborhood. We were a household of strong, willful personalities.

7-wall-street-coventry-ct

coventry-apartment-back-view-copy

(Front and rear views of my house at 7 Wall Street, in Coventry, CT. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

looking-down-wall-street

(Looking down Wall Street. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

pubo-sunning-himslef-on-floor-in-coventry

(My cat enjoying the sunny spot on the floor. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

We lived in the second floor apartment of an old white house on a hill that looked down onto Main Street, aka Route 31. The center of town was authentically rustic in the New England tradition: a Congregational church, an art gallery, a gas station, a general store/antique shop, an old mill. And of course a tavern.

coventry-church

(At the corner of Main and Mason Streets, Coventry. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

During the days I would walk the four and a half miles from Coventry to the music department practice rooms at the college, where I’d find any empty one with a piano and work on music. It was a pleasant walk, giving me ample time to think about the songs I was working on. The practice rooms themselves ranged from claustrophobic to tiny, but once I started drinking my coffees-to-go and delving into the music, the spacious worlds of the songs opened up like movies in my mind.

view-of-main-street-form-old-coventry-apartment

(The Walk: Beginning from my house – on left – on the corner of Wall Street and Monument Hill Road – to Main Street below. Photo courtesy of Google Street View.)

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(Heading up Stonehouse Road. Photo courtesy of Google Street View)

past-eagleville-lake-on-mansfield-border-copy

(Past Eagleville Lake and the bridge on the Mansfield/Coventry line. Photo courtesy of Google Street View)

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(On the way, I’d pass this little store in Mansfield. In 1977, it was a natural food store and it’s where I first discovered Häagen-Dazs in the form of their long since discontinued boysenberry sorbet. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

I still remember with vivid clarity the yards, sections of woods, hills, trees, brooks, frozen ponds, farm fields, horse barns, old stone walls and houses that I saw on that and other those long walks I’d take in Coventry. I began to look at my songs as sound and word paintings. And if I could find the right chords, rhythms and melodies to give me that indefinable feeling of the place and time I was trying to describe, it worked. That’s what I did in those practice rooms with pianos at UConn Music Department. Search for feelings.

barn-at-caprilands

(One of the old barns at Caprilands in Coventry, which was once a bustling center of herb gardens, herbal products and even dinners made entirely form herbs. The “First Lady of Herbs”, Adelma Grenier Simmons, owned and operated this amazing place. At Christmas time especially, the smells of all the decorations, packets, bunches and garlands of herbs were intoxicating. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

I wrote several of my favorite songs this way. Having always been strongly affected by the different seasons here in New England, it was inevitable that I would write a song for each one.

WINTER: I worked on “Bluewhite” for months. It started with a poem about the snow and transmogrified into a song with (as Dylan Thomas used to say about the writing of his poems) “glacial speed”. The Blizzard of ’78 and long walks on those brilliant sunny days that followed it gave me a wealth of inspiration. Having completed it in March, I placed it in the “to be recorded one day” files. A little over thirty years later, I included it on my 2010 album “An American Record”.

TO HEAR AND SEE THE VIDEO FOR “BLUEWHITE” CLICK HERE.

GRAYSON WITH HIS BAND "GRAYSON HUGH & THE WILDTONES" 1982

(The band that played on my self-titled album which I released in 1980 on Nineteen Records. From left to right: Rob Gottfried – drums; me; David Stoltz – bass; Tom Majesky – guitar.)

SPRING: I wrote “Just When I Was Dancing” about the time I first met my first major girlfriend at a party where, to some Marvin Gaye, we were all dancing. She was 16, I was 18. The song is about falling in love in Spring, breaking up a couple Summer later, getting back together one awkward Fall day, and getting on with your life, remembering how that tsunami of obsession brought you such joy and misery.

TO HEAR “JUST WHEN I WAS DANCING” CLICK HERE.

diving-board-at-indian-cove-high-tide-copy

(At the beach at Indian Cove, Guilford, Connecticut, August. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

SUMMER: “In The Hour Of The Loon” takes place in the heat of August, at my cousin’s cottage on the Connecticut shore. I spent many weeks of the Summers of my youth there and continued to go there through the 70s and 80s. While living in New York, working on my RCA debut album “Blind To Reason”, I’d take the train to new Haven where my cousins would pick me up and take me back to Indian Cove where we’d spend the weekends sailing, eating roasted corn by the fire, swimming and walking on the rocks. This song recounts a “soul music dance party” I hosted at that cottage, with cousin Doug, when I was in my twenties.

TO HEAR “IN THE HOUR OF THE LOON” CLICK HERE.

frosty-dawn

(November frost. Photo by Grayson Hugh.)

FALL: Give me a cheatin’ girlfriend, a broken heart and I’ll give you a song. That was the case with “November Nocturne”. The stark beauty of Autumn trees, papery birch leaves and the Harvest moon (with a nod to one of my favorite Chinese poets Li Po) framed this song about a tortured love affair.

TO HEAR AND SEE THE VIDEO FOR “NOVEMBER NOCTURNE” CLICK HERE.

 

From a little country village came a whole bunch of songs. My broken heart healed and my address changed from rural to urban. I left the village for the big city, a pattern I would repeat several times.

I cherish the memories of the time I spent in that peaceful place. Though my life was at times anything but serene, the pain and progress of my spirit helped shape my music, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Happily, in that resilient way of art, those songs, and I, have endured.

 

TALK IT OVER: FROM FORGOTTEN DRAWER TO THE RADIO

TALK IT OVER Single Cover copy 2

[The cover for the vinyl single of “Talk It Over”, released in May 1988.]

People have asked me about origins of my hit “Talk It Over”. It is an interesting one.

I discovered the song at the co-writer Sandy Linzer’s house in suburban New Jersey one day in 1986. It was gathering dust in a file of old song demos in his basement. I was trying to get a record deal and was looking for a song for my demo reel.  Sandy agreed to look for something that might fit my voice. Sandy, who had some big hits for people like Frankie Vall & The Four Seasons, Kool & The Gang and The Toys, had co-written and recorded a very rough demo of “Can’t We Talk It Over In Bed” along with co-writer Irwin Levine. He played it for me and told me Smoky Robinson had passed on it. He was about to play me the next song he had in mind, when I said “Stop! Let me hear that last one again!”

I immediately heard a hit in it, but it would need extensive changing around. With Sandy’s blessing, I took it home, slowed it way down, changed the key to fit my voice, added a few chords and wrote a very detailed arrangement, adding electric sitar, thick gospel- style background vocals, and used a warm synth sound I had designed which I called “exploding organ”. I had changed the attack and velocity, etc. on of the pre-set sounds on a Korg Poly 61 (preset #85, to be exact), and created something that could only described as a puffball exploding with a long warm echo tail.

In hindsight, I should have asked for a “co-writing” credit. I’ve heard songwriters that do less and get one. But suffice it to say, I was young and naive and I was happy to write the arrangement that would best suit my voice. So you could say that I breathed life into a song that would have just continued to languish as a demo in a forgotten drawer. I made it my own.

I recorded this arrangement and it became one of the songs RCA loved when they decided to sign me as an artist in 1987.

My producers, Michael Baker and Axel Kroell, didn’t want to change a note of my arrangement and RCA wanted to release it as my first single from “Blind To Reason”, which was released in September of 1988.

Mike Ax

[My producers Axel Kroell (eft) and Michael Baker (right) in the hallway of RCA Records in New York.]

Somehow Sandy obtained a “right of first release” for this song for Oliva Newton-John  with my own publisher, behind my back. I was not happy with this, to say the least. But legally we had no choice but to wait. Her version (which, by the way used my arrangement without crediting me of course) fizzled and died, and we then released “Talk It Over” as my second single. “Tears Of Love” was my first and did decently well. The video for it, shot in Big Sur, CA, enjoyed a modest run on VH1 and MTV.

But “Talk It Over”went on to become a big hit for me. It was number 19 in Billboard Hot 100 charts for 9 weeks in the Summer of 1989, number 9 in the U.S. Adult Contemporary charts for nine weeks and rose to number 4 in the Australian charts for 10 weeks. The video was featured in heavy rotation on VH1, MTV and BET.

And here’s the story of the video.

RCA PROMO HEAD SHOT copy

[RCA promo shot, 1988. I was doing my best Elvis impersonation.]

The song was climbing the charts in early ’89 and RCA wanted me to do a video for it.
So I left my band in Minnesota once cold wintry day. We had just played at the club Prince had made famous)  and flew to London. , where director Nick Brandt (who also directed videos for Moby, XTC, Michael Jackson, Jewel) had the sets all built and the actors all cast. And I never did figure out where he got a yellow cab in London!

We filmed the song several times, standing in a half-crouched position in oversized suitcases with no bottoms. By the time were done, my thigh muscles were burning and my lower back was about to fall off. But it paid off, with what became an award-winning video for a song that became an international hit for me. The video turned out to be a very popular one, shown alot on MTV and VH1. It even enjoyed a three month run on the silver screen in selected movie theaters across the U.S. and overseas as well.

Thanks again, Nick, for this great concept and production. And thanks to the actors/actresses that did such a superb job here – We were introduced, then we went our separate ways, but I’ve never forgotten how all of you added so much to this video.

TO SEE THE VIDEO FOR “TALK IT OVER” CLICK  HERE.

 

1966: THE SUMMER OF GREAT SONGS

INDIAN COVE START OF COVE ROAD

(Indian Cove, Guilford, Connecticut.)

It was August 1966 and I was fifteen years old. I was just starting to write songs in earnest. I had a band called The Braekirk Aggregation, a pretty strong inkling that I wanted to do music for a living, a heart and head full of passion and angst and a cool, gorgeous, folksinger girlfriend with really, really long hair.

GUILFORD COTTAGE FRONT VIEW AND SHED

(The cottage that Uncle Carl Bergengren built, in the 1950’s, showing the shed and the big rock in the front yard where we all spat out a multitude of watermelon seeds. It’s a wonder a watermelon patch didn’t sprout up.)

Every Summer my family would usually stay for a week or two with my mother’s sister’s family at the house Uncle Carl built in a little bay on the Connecticut shore called Indian Cove, in Guilford, Connecticut. This Summer my parents heard about a cottage on Lower Road available for rent in that little community of beach bungalows. So they splurged and rented it for two weeks. And my best friend Deke came to stay for one of the weeks.

HOUSE WE RENTED AT GUILFORD copy

(Our rented cottage on Lower Road that faced the salt marsh. It did not have these stairs and deck when we were there.)

That Summer it seemed you could not turn the radio on without hearing a great song. In all kinds of styles, too. I’m talking about Soul. English Rock. American Rock. Pop. Psychedelic Blues Rock. Folk. Folk rock. Folk pop. Punky Frat Rock.  People like The Four Tops. The Temptations. Wilson Pickett. The Isley Brothers. Sam & Dave. James Brown. The Beatles. The Byrds. The Hollies. The Kinks. The Animals. The Beach Boys. The Lovin’ Spoonful. Cream. The Young Rascals. Johnny Rivers. Richie Havens. Donovan. The Standells. The Troggs. Bobby Hebb.  The Cyrkle. The Righteous Brothers. Percy Sledge. The Supremes. The Dave Clark Five. Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs, just to name some.

To hear “Bus Stop” by The Hollies click HERE.

To hear Wilson Picket’s “634-5789” click HERE.

To hear “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys click HERE.

To watch the original video for “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks click HERE.

To watch The Cyrkle perform their hit “Red Rubber Ball” click HERE.

To watch Bobby Hebb perform his hit “Sunny” click HERE.

To hear “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes click HERE.

To hear “I Saw Her Again” by The Mamas & The Papas click HERE.

To watch The Lovin’ Spoonful perform “Daydream” click HERE.

Staying in that cottage, perched on a hill with a steep sloping yard of boulders, grass and scrubby pine trees, we perfected a schedule. We’d wake up around 6 or 7 am, with the sunlight streaming in all the windows, and make a pot of coffee. Deke and I and my brother Dave would take our coffee out on the porch. Robbie was too young for the stuff so he stuck to orange juice. We’d turn on the portable radio and listen away. Our mood just got better and better as we heard one fantastic song after another. After an couple hours of listening to all this exciting music, we’d head out to the beach, the boats, the walk along the rocks and the land of Summertime girls.

INDIAN COVE YARD LEADING TO PUBLIC BEACH WALKWAY

(The public access, through someone’s yard, that led to the “rock walk” at Indian Cove.)

PUBLIC WALKWAY STEPS TO WATER copy

(The public access steps to the rocks and beach.)

Falkner's iusland Seen From The Rock Walk, Guilford CT 7:5:15

(Falkner’s Island, seen in the distance from the one and half mile “rock walk” that we’d take from Indian Cove to Sachem’s Head in Guilford.)

The loud, chiming 12 string guitars and fourth and fifth harmonies of the Byrds’  “Eight Miles High”. That one alone made you ecstatic to be a live breathing teenage boy. The explosive quarter note drumbeat thumping of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”. Primitive and wonderful. I could already see myself performing this at the next Junior High dance. And their madrigal fancy-lad song “Lady Jane”; I performed that one as well, with my band The Braekirk Aggregation, in my best cockney accent. The unabashed romantic soul of “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers. I’d be slow-dancing big time with my girlfriend to this one. The snare drum-like bombs and cheerful Californian harmonies of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys, who I was just starting to take more seriously and end up loving. The dense, meandering melodies, harmonies and sharp, jagged guitar lines of “Bus Stop” by The Hollies. And when the radio played “Good Lovin” by the Rascals, forget about it. We’d be up and dancing like Frankie Avalon! That song was tailor-made for me, too: Felix Cavaliere played the  organ and sang lead. Hello! That’s what I did!

To watch The Byrds performing “Eight Miles High” on American Bandstand click HERE.

To watch The Stones perform their hit “Lady Jane” live on Ed Sullivan click HERE.           (It’s interesting to see Brian Jones playing dulcimer.)

To watch The Rascals performing “Good Lovin” live on Ed Sullivan click HERE.

Since a Summer vacation is a way to escape the heat and crowds of the city, it was fitting that one of the biggest hits that August was The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City”. The car sirens, snare drum shots like a weapon, and great electric piano and guitars John Sebastian’s unique voice, all created one of the main theme songs to that season.

The soulful growl of David Ruffin on the Tempations’ hit “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”. The knee-droppin’, gospel-style pleas of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World”, with those iconic piano chord triplets. The elastic, sliding vocals of The Isley Brothers on “This Old Heart Of Mine”. The kings of soul Sam & Dave singing “Hold On, I’m Comin'”. Besides those amazing voice straight out of the the church, and the unstoppable groove of a runaway trolley train, this tune had the strong-as-gravity staying power of Steve Cropper’s guitar curls and stabs.

To watch The Temptations performing “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” click HERE.

To hear The Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart Of Mine” click HERE.

To watch James Brown performing “It’s A Man’s World” click HERE.

To hear “Hold On, I’m Comin” by Sam & Dave click HERE.

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(On the rock walk, looking back towards Indian Cove .)

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(Pausing on the rock walk.)

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(Sea grass and good diving rock, seen from the shore along the walk.)

Then there was the good-natured quirkiness of “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles, featuring Ringo’s happy go luck singing. And the song you had to love, even though it sounded like it was written for your parents: “See You In September” by The Happening. I never could remember that band’s name. And there was Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”. I really liked the blues shuffle of the song. It was fun and a good Set Two closer for my band, in those days of playing three and four sets at clubs. And there were the great stupid songs. Songs with lyrics you knew were inane, but they were just good old rock ‘n roll, begging to played by your band for screaming girls, even if it was in your basement, and the girls were your little brother’s friends from the neighborhood. And you played them LOUD. Songs like “Hanky Panky”, by Tommy James & The Shondels. “Dirty Water” (The Standells). “Cool Jerk” (The Capitols). And the menacing testosterone-laden “Lil’ Red Riding Hood” by Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. A good follow up to “Wooly Bully”.

To watch The Standells performing “Dirty Water” click HERE.

To hear “Cool Jerk” by The Capitols click HERE.

To hear “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James & The Shondells click HERE.

To hear “Wild Thing” by The Troggs click HERE.

These were the songs that fueled my dreams, both romantic and musical, in the Summer of 1966. They played on our transistor radios, in our minds as we walked down the dirt roads to the beach, as we rode in cars into town to buy corn and clams and hot dogs and soda. They played all day, all night, ALL SUMMER LONG!

To this day, when I hear these songs, I can taste the salt of the ocean air in my mouth, and feel that same happiness I felt on those sailboat rides through the Thimble Islands with my cousins, uncle, aunt and brothers and on those long walks along the rocks and down those wandering beach roads.

To hear “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles click HERE.

To hear “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles click HERE.

Here’s a more complete list of the songs that blasted out of those radio speakers that Summer:

HOLD ON, I’M COMIN’ (Sam & Dave)
YELLOW SUBMARINE (Beatles)
PAPERBACK WRITER (Beatles)
I’M ONLY SLEEPING (The Beatles)
BUS STOP (Hollies)
634-5789 (Wilson Pickett)
HANKY PANKY (Tommy James & The Shondells)
RED RUBBER BALL (The Cyrkle)
PAINT IT BLACK & LADY JANE (The Rolling Stones)
AIN’T TOO PROUD TO BEG (The Temptations)
THIS OLD HEART OF MINE (The Isley Brothers)
SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER (The Happenings)
WOULDN’T IT BE NICE (The Beach Boys)
EIGHT MILES HIGH (The Byrds)
GOOD LOVIN’ (The Young Rascals)
I’M SO GLAD (Cream)
SUMMER IN THE CITY (The Lovin’ Spoonful)
MORNING, MORNING (Richie Havens)
RAINY DAY WOMEN #12 & 35 (Bob Dylan)
SUNNY AFTERNOON (Kinks)
IT’S A MAN’S WORLD (James Brown)
WILD THING (Troggs)
LIL’ RED RIDING HOOD (Same The Sham & The Pharaohs)
COOL JERK (The Capitols)
SUNNY (Bobby Hebb)
DIRTY WATER (The Standells)
MONDAY MONDAY (The Mamas & The Papas)
I SAW HER AGAIN (The Mamas & The Papas)
A GROOVY KIND OF LOVE (Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders)
DON’T BRING ME DOWN (The Animals)
YOU CAN’T HURRY LOVE (The Supremes)
PLEASE TELL ME WHY (Dave Clark Five)

INDIAN COVE ROCK WALK BEGINNING ON BEACH copy

(The beach at Indian Cove, where the rock walk began on the right.)

DIVING BOARD AT INDIAN COVE - HIGH TIDE

(The diving board at the beach, at high tide. When the tide was low, you could walk out to it.)

ONE OF THE HOUSES ALONG THE ROCK WALK copy

(One of the houses and lawns we’d see along the walk.)

IN BACK OF INDIAN COVE July 5, 2015 copy

(Walking down a back dirt road at Indian Cove, through marshes.)

Sailing through Thimble Islands with Charlie and Doug

(Mother In Law Island, one of the Thimble Islands. I took this photo in 1978, sailing with cousin Charlie and Uncle Carl.)

Thimble Islands, Egret copy

(One of the smaller Thimble Islands, with egret.)

COMING INTO INDIAN COVE

(Coming over the hill to the Indian Cove entrance on the right.)