Meet the Silverbacks … SB Mike

Fourth of July, 2018

[SB Mike, of the Post Island Troop of SBs, waxes nostalgic about his so-called musical career.]

First , thanks for the kind words on my songs. You ask if I write songs anymore? Here’s the “extended play” answer.

The Million Clam Quartet provides the backup … CLAMS,CLAMS,CLAMS,CLAMS

Almost as soon as I started to play guitar (and never very well) in the early 1970’s, the songs started flowing, some not so good and many I still  feel good about. They were all earnest expressions of what was going on for me and my wife, Cyndy.

There was always a story or hook. I was totally obsessed, always jotting down ideas and lines. From 1970-78 I worked on a 4 hour evening shift at UPS in Watertown. A great group of wild and funny college guys and grads in this giant warehouse complex where we sorted packages and loaded and unloaded trailer and delivery trucks.

The pace was like Charlie Chaplin on the conveyor belt in Modern Times. Rock music blared from overhead speakers– Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love at max volume– with packages tumbling off the sorting belts all around. Conversations and jokes were yelled above the din, but I always had a pen on me and between package avalanches I’d jot down song ideas, lines, hooks, anything profound or funny, mostly on the back of blank timecards.

The shift ended at 10 pm and I’d drive home to Cyndy –who always had a chocolate reward waiting. After she went to bed, I’d start to match the day’s notes to some tune on the guitar. Cyndy, often the inspiration or companion to many songs, was very patient and supportive with my obsession.

The songwriting was greatly boosted by the fun and fuel of playing with others- “Buffalo” the banjo player, Ralph on bass, guitar/pedal steel/mandolin player Dave, vocalist Debbie, and my childhood pal, Hobbsie on guitar/harmonica/banjolele, Dave, drummer PJ and Phil, a musical phenom who could play anything and any style on electric and acoustic guitar/flute/keyboard/clarinet/vibe.

We played on WCAS AM radio in Cambridge, The MIT station, WJDA Quincy, The Nameless Coffeehouse in Cambridge, Club Zircon in Somerville, (the ultimate!) Club Passim. The  SeaBright Album came out in June 1981. We had a grand launch at the Quincy Yacht Club down Houghs Neck, then the party at “Al’s becoming Grumpy White’s.” Inevitably, the momentum slowly slipped away.

I had been laid off from my teaching job of 7 years. This, I concluded, would be the time in my life when I supported us by writing songs, performing some choice gigs, and recording …WRONG!

I promoted the album as much as I could, pitching it as much and as often as possible, but without much success. As the fall progressed, I was reduced to digging clams like a Neanderthal in miserable circumstances. A counselor helped me see that feeling anxious and depressed was a normal response to my situation. While our marriage and family were healthy and thriving, my two major roles as teacher and musician/songwriter had disappeared.

Thankfully, in January got a job with the American Lung Association which helped a lot. By 1983 I was back into teaching. I wrote maybe a dozen more songs, and as a holiday treat, under the guise of creative writing, I presented a class on songwriting to my class. Music became fun again, and I looked for ways to bring it into my everyday life, performing at Christmas concerts at specialty hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters, patient homes and house parties. We do a mix of Christmas songs, old time sing-a-longs (Side By Side, Heart of My Heart), a few Beatles tunes, some of my originals, and cap things off with Feliz Navidad.

This year we are going virtual on You Tube, the best we can.

I still crank out an occasional song, such as The Will Power Song when my grandson, Will Power, was born. I played my song Gratitude at my Mom’s burial. I still enjoy playing my old, trusty tunes, reliving the memories, and stumbling around to see what comes out of the guitar. Music is still an important part of my life.

Silverback Mike (Post Island Troop)

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