First official communique from Pokhara, Nepal.
NAMASTE FROM POKHARA
I am currently in Pokhara, a developing region which is the second largest city in Nepal, a small country that borders Tibet and India. Pokhara has a beautiful lakeside not far from the Annapurna Mountain Range and is packing a quarter million people into a radius of 55km squared.
I have a bit to say about that and everything else, and I’d like to address some of the who/what/when/where and why’s pertaining to this expedition across the Pacific ocean. Before I get too far into that though, I will start by talking about something that is slightly more relevant to this site which is music.
LETS TALK MUSIC
My current project Ryan Cook & The Valley Singers is turning out to be the most fun I’ve had since the early days of Ryan Cook & Sunny Acres in 2008. In the time between I’ve been working a hundred shows a year as a solo performer, mainly acoustic-based, and in folk settings like songwriters circles, cafes, and house concerts. Serious stuff for a guy who sings and yodels about zombie romance, social media stalkers, and genetically modified corn. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be comfortable in a Yuks Yuks comedy club then on stage at a folk festival? Comedy is a delicate thing in music and though Weird Al, Homer & Jethro, and Tenacious D make it work, it’s a micro genre that is often overlooked as novelty. As an artist, one strives to be taken seriously. And so, I continue to try and balance my songs and stage show somewhere between life, love and laughs.
The Valley Singers evolved out of the realization that my love affair with classic country music was starting to wane. About this time I began a deep exploration into the parade of vocal groups that emerged in the 1940′s and 50′s in American Pop/Folk music. What began as a mild obsession with The Beach Boys (1960′s) soon turned to The Four Freshmen and then meandered back to the Country/Bluegrass field in the form of gospel groups like The Jordanaires. I’m admittedly obsessed with it all. Luckily, obsession is a key component of creativity. I previewed The Valley Singers idea on a few stages in 2014 and the response was overwhelmingly positive. After years of travelling alone with my dog I certainly don’t mind the companionship on stage and in the van.
The show presents myself centre-stage in familiar fashion thumb-picking an acoustic guitar but now accompanied by two and sometimes three back up singers. I love the sight and sound of harmony and the overall mood and energy it brings to the stage. More importantly this arrangement allows us to delve deeper into the individual songs not just of my catalogue but the folk/country songs that have become a staple in my show. We can meander into the pop, jazz, bluegrass or gospel world for portions of the show when desired. Even Hank Williams’ gets new life accompanied by layers of melody that can work to either enhance or soften the sorrow of his lovesick blues.
Lastly, the show isn’t so different from the acoustic solo show I’ve been presenting until now. This show is as intimate as anything I’ve done on my own but I would argue that it’s better.
WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
Last month I entered Signal Path Studios in Almonte, Ontario accompanied by the sexiest and smartest singers in the Ottawa Valley: Kelly Prescott & Kelly Sloan. With help from a few others providing guitar and mandolin the whole thing added up to a three song demo partially funded by FACTOR. I’m reviewing the sessions now, reporting to FACTOR and writing continually with hopes that these tracks become the foundation for a 2015 commercial release. I’m hoping that FACTOR or another third party will be interested in backing this project.
Until then it will be an interesting journey throughout Asia as I continue to book the 2015 schedule in Canada for Ryan Cook & The Valley Singers. I will be taking a break from performing solo next year in a move to journey to new territory, hopefully new venues, new faces and ultimately to give my music a new voice, so to speak.
I’d like to mention one last thing now before I part which is that I am very thankful for all of the friends and fans I have met in my travels. In all the venues I visit I’ve noticed two different camps of people in the audience. One camp is that which seems predominately in attendance to hear my original songs and stories, songs that are on the albums of mine they’ve purchased. The other camp, attends (as I perceive it) predominately in the anticipation of hearing classic songs from the 1940′s, 50′s, and 60′s. Songs by artists such as Hank Williams, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, and others from the heyday of country, blues and jazz. More and more the two camps are meeting up in fans who seem happy to hear whatever I’m doing, regardless of specifics.
I won’t be abandoning either camp anytime soon. As much as I love to write and create new music those vintage songs are as much a part of me as they are the journey I am on. Since we’ve now lost most all of the country greats I feel a growing responsibility and duty (one that I don’t mind) to preserve these songs and share them with the audiences I encounter. It’s not unusual to hear a modern country music celebrity name drop Johnny Cash but I don’t hear anyone mention Johnny Paycheck, Faron Young, Jack Greene, or Merle Travis. There are many overlooked greats in the country/western field. “Who’s gonna fill their shoes?” the song asks, well, I can’t fill George Jones shoes but I’ll keep singing his songs. The overwhelming stream of new music available today actually has me longing to hear something I’m familiar with, as conservative as that sounds.
Wether you discovered my music on YouTube or at a Hank Williams Tribute show you are always in mind when I’m writing songs and making setlists. You are with me everywhere I go, be it Griffith, Ontario, Nashville, Tennesse, or Kathmandu. I thank you sincerely for investing any bit of your time into my life and music. When you live on the road, the people you meet quickly become your family, and the venues you visit become a home away from home.
Thank you for reading. My next post will delve into life and times in Nepal, power outages, technology, what it’s like to live off Dahl Bot, and adapting to travelling without a dog or vintage RV. I hope you’re enjoying your holidays in North America.