Thursday, April 17, 2008

How to write a music column


Have you ever wondered how to write a music column?

For me, it takes some modern technology and the assistance of many people.

My laptop computer has been a godsend because it stores the email, photographs, and other documents necessary to complete this column every week.

Email has been especially useful because it allows me to communicate with people around the country without having to make long distance phone calls or resort to writing letters, dropping them in the mail, then waiting for a reply. Sometimes email is answered almost immediately, if the other person happens to be at their computer at the time.

I receive some interesting emails, too.

Last week Richard C. Robinson, an instructor in the department of communications at the University of Tennessee in Martin contacted me. Conducting research for his Ph.D. dissertation in mass communication and media arts, he saw a story I had written about a pioneering late-night rock 'n' roll radio program I remembered from my youth called "Beaker Street." My article, posted on the internet, was one of the first to spotlight the show which broke radio programming rules to the delight of millions of fans, beginning in the mid- 1960s. A DJ known as "Doc Holiday" who operates a website about the KAAY program, offered a link to my story, which contained the reminiscences of a few people who fondly remembered the show.

My story, dated Oct. 4, 2007, was titled simply "'Beaker Street' swayed listeners."

The title of Robinson's dissertation, however, is slightly more elaborate: "KAAY's 'Beaker Street,' 1966-1974: Late Nights of Underground Radio Programming from Little Rock to the Western Hemisphere, on the Airwaves of the Nighttime Voice of Arkansas." I can't wait to read the dissertation that goes along with that descriptive heading.

Another email I received about the same time came from Chris Claflin, who grew up in Algoma, Wis., a community located on Lake Michigan between Sturgeon Bay and Milwaukee. He was hoping I could identify a song he heard between 1966-1968 which he hasn't been able to get out of his head since.

"It was a bit of a novelty record, and the lyrics listed many of the towns along the Lake Michigan shoreline, on the Wisconsin side. The song had a distinctly twangy/folk/bluegrass sound, and featured a solo singer and his guitar, with a light rhythm backing," Claflin recalled.

Claflin remembered that the refrain went: "Up along the shoreline, you hear them lonesome sounds..." Unfortunately I wasn't familiar with the song, but I referred Claflin to someone I thought might know, Gary E. Myers. Myers has researched the Wisconsin pop/rock music scene of the 1950s and 1960s for decades. Not only that, but he's published two books on the subject, "Do You Hear that Beat?" and "On that Wisconsin Beat." Hopefully, he'll help the frustrated radio listener in his quest to pin down the obscure tune.

My emails have yielded some unexpected results as well.

Last month former Escanaba resident Al Gossan emailed me a color photo of his band, 3 Days and a Night, performing at a 1968 Battle of the Bands contest at the Upper Peninsula State Fair. The photo showed Kim Erickson, organ; Al Gossan, drums; Dick Peterson, lead guitar; and Tim Mulvaney, bass. Five bands performed during the competition, and 3 Days and a Night was the only band for which I didn't have a photo.

Gossan asked me for bandmate Erickson's email address, which I just happened to have, since I've built up a collection of contacts in the years I've been writing about the Upper Peninsula music scene. The former band members have now re-established contact with each other. "Because of you, our band is re-connecting and we're trying to have a picnic reunion sometime during July when I'm in Escanaba," Gossan told me.

Upstairs to the Left

Erickson's name came up again when Mick VanEffen of Escanaba recently brought me an old band poster he had been saving for decades. The 17 x 22 inch poster pictured VanEffen's group, Upstairs to the Left, which had played a Valentine's dance at the Escanaba High School commons on Friday, Feb. 13, 1970. Besides VanEffen, members of Upstairs to the Left included Dick Peterson, Dennis Combs, Kim Erickson and Dave Berndt.

It turns out plenty of people are willing and eager to preserve U. P. music history. With the help of many people, I've gathered enough information to put together 143 weekly columns, so far. If you haven't been reading them from the very beginning, the entire series is available at Because of unlimited space on the internet, the web version of the stories often contain additional photos, and are updated when new information becomes available.

Music from many of the bands I've profiled is also available. In fact, the U. P. jukebox category allows you to listen to 88 songs performed by 30 different northern Michigan performers. Most of music originated from hard to find 1960s era 45 rpm singles issued by musicians who hoped their record would propel them into the big time.

I've discovered many people are also interested in reading about the U. P. music scene, both past and present.

My wife Sue, webmaster at, has been tracking visits through Google Analytics, which gives detailed statistics about how visitors find your site, how long they stay and their geographical location.

We just started gathering information on March 13 and in the first month, the site has received 2,567 hits from 65 countries. People from every state, except Wyoming, have visited, as well.

Escanaba has been responsible for the most visits- 230, as you might expect, but people from 711 U. S. cities have stopped by the site. I don't know why, but Brooklyn, New York, is in second place with 130 visits, averaging almost six minutes each. Appleton, Wis. is third and Los Angeles is fourth in the number of visitors.

Google has calculated that the top drawing post concerns the rock band the Excels, followed by a story I did last summer about the Goose Lake Music Festival, Michigan's version of Woodstock. Until my piece, very little information was available on the internet, although it's estimated that 200,000 people attended the event held near Jackson in 1970.

So, there you have it. With the help of Google, my laptop computer, email, and some great readers, before you know it, I've written another music column.


Anonymous said...

Steve, you have done it again. You manage to bring our rock and roll days back like it was yesterday. Again I thank you for all the great memories.

Kim Erickson


How to make a Hollowday song for a Popes' visit