Loving Sonya Part 3

I did it again. 

Sonya was conveying to me information that was heavy and made herself vulnerable … and I found a way to completely insult her, like an insensitive prick. I called her back to let her know I'd come to see her when I got home and that we'd figure it out. But now I had to go into a dinner with my new girlfriend's family and pretend nothing was wrong. 

I was in shock. I tried to be pleasant at dinner but I made some excuse about being tired from playing shows all week and politely exited. My girlfriend could tell something was off so when we got back to my hotel, she wanted to know what was eating at me. I came clean that my ex was pregnant with my second child and that I didn't know what I was going to do. She was unfazed by the news and was taken aback. 

"You don't know what you're going to do?" she said. "Are you breaking up with me?" 

I assured her I wasn't, but I wasn't so sure that we'd make it. She started talking about moving back to Louisiana and befriending Sonya. I knew that wasn't gonna fly. The next day, she came with us on a bus trip along up the coast. That was the last day we ever spent together. It was a nice enough day, but at some point, I realized I didn't love this girl and that I couldn't stop thinking about getting home and seeing Sonya. 

Sonya didn't necessarily feel the same way about me at the time. I remember her encouraging me to work it out with this new girl, albeit with some tinge of sarcasm. What she didn't want was a man who pitied her situation, and that's what she saw from me. I was only ever that attentive, that serious, when the shit was hitting the fan. Sonya had seen it too many times by that point and wasn't going to let me back into her heart again, easily. 

I don't know if it's because of the way I was raised or something else altogether, but I knew I was supposed to be with the mother of my children. I wasn't quite ready to get married, though. By that point, I had stopped all the lies, but I was still leaving Sonya alone most nights to hang with the boys. I recall (with great shame) me haranguing her with, "Okay, I'll only go out four of the seven nights a week. That's way better than what I'm doing now, right?" 

(It should also be noted that this second pregnancy occurred while Sonya was on birth control, as was the case for our third pregnancy that would come nine months after the second child was born.) 

Gibb was born on September 11, 2005. My first big record, “Carencro,” had been out for about a year and my career was on the fast-track to riches and fame. Maybe it was the fact that I really did have two separate lives—the road and home—that caused me such mental anguish about fully settling down. Sonya, on the other hand, was so patient so and loving through all of the heartache I put on her. Finally, after misery and lingering questions, I was ready to ask for her hand in marriage. I had the approval of her family and bought a ring. 

After boarding a plane, we arrived in New York City in early December, right after Sonya's 21st birthday. My managers had arranged our lunch at MOMA. Here we were, a couple of country kids eating what can only be described as food art. 

She wasn't impressed. 

After lunch, I had planned for us to hop in a horse-drawn carriage and saunter over to Rockefeller Center so I could propose in front of the massive Christmas tree. It was quite the departure from my annual, "Hey, let's break up so I don't have to actually be thoughtful at Christmas" routine. It was so cold, though; Sonya was wearing some thin gaucho pants and was insistent that we go back to the hotel so she could change. I was like a madman on a mission and declined her request. She relented. I asked a cabbie where I could grab a horse carriage and was promptly informed that I wouldn't be able to get what I was looking for. When I then asked him for a lift to Rock Center, he told me to get stuffed as I was only a 10 minute walk from there. 

There we walked, Sonya shivering and me shaking (though, for very different reasons). I don't know why I was so nervous. She had never given me anything but love. This was something she had been waiting a very long time for. But I was a mess. Such a mess, in fact, that after looking at the ice skaters darting under that beautiful tree, she turned to me and saw a man in distress. 

"Are you okay?” she asked. “What's wrong? Are you about to break up with me?"  

“No,” I said, and pulled the ring box from my coat pocket. She was stunned! The lady standing next to us started clapping lightly and Sonya and I just stood there holding each other, and maybe shared a kiss or three. 

When Gibb was 11 months old, Sonya told me she was late and I went to the pharmacy to pick up a test. It was positive, and we were expecting our third. Sonya was 22-years-old. I was 25, and we hadn’t yet tied the knot. She knew I wasn't into a big wedding; between my income and her family we weren't going to be able to have a big ceremony, anyway. So, when I asked her to elope and get married on a cruise ship, she didn't blink. 

I handed out invitations to my musician friends that were on that boat as they walked past the chapel. David Ryan Harris sang softly as Sonya walked down the aisle. The whole thing lasted 10 minutes. Sonya was six months pregnant, but that didn't stop me from reveling in my newly found station. We threw a party about a month later at our house for friends and family. 

I was still such a piece of shit, though. I hadn't yet realized how terrible I was at supporting her during pregnancy. She handled it so well that I didn't think anything was wrong. She just continued to love me without condition. I took it for granted daily. Her love for me started to affect me deeply. I started to take notice of her behavior and realized how different it was from my own. She never gave me a hard time about anything, and I took full advantage. 

Like a rolling wave, my past gently rolled out of view. I was starting to understand that all the lies and deceit deserved justice. The vows I had taken echoed in my soul and I could no longer ignore my responsibilities as a husband and father. Shortly before we had gotten married, in an early attempt at honoring that notion of justice, I told Sonya about my prior indiscretions. I remember thinking so highly of myself for doing something that no other man I knew would do: come clean. 

In reality, I was trying to absolve my conscience by burdening her with information she didn't need or want to know. Ask her now and she'll say it was a good thing. What I thought was gonna be a clean slate was actually a great source of confusion for her. She still feels like she was stupid to give me so many chances, even though we have a very healthy marriage now. I can't say I disagree. 

We're very lucky to have made it out of those dark times. We've seen our friends get divorced for far less. Sonya's love changed me … slowly, steadily … because it never faltered. Like a summer rain in the desert, Sonya's love was my salvation. She taught me everything I never knew about the subject. She showed me what the behaviors were of someone who professed love, honestly. Without her undying support and ever present grace, I would probably be dead or close to it. She's my muse and my best friend. We continually find ways to keep our passion alive and we've never been better. 

I'm sure that deep down inside, she's still worried about me finding some younger, "hotter" girl. Truth is, though, you could bring me 100 hot young thangs and I'd be more than happy to shut ‘em all down. What I have with my wife is so much more powerful than fleeting moments of pleasure and friendly conversation. I have someone who I know loves me, without question or condition, more than any human alive. 

I've known it all along. Just took me a while to realize that it deserved respect. 

We’re celebrating 10 years of marriage in January of 2017, and we've been together going on 17 years. She's been with me longer than she wasn't with me. Sharing my life with her has become my source of joy and inspiration and I'm, no doubt, the man I am because of her. 

For all you moms and dads out there, when you see a punk like me come around asking about your daughters, show them this. 

If they don't want to read it, send ‘em packing. 

 

 

Loving Sonya: Part 2

There are certain social skills I’ve never quite gotten a handle of. I tend to spew from the mouth all sorts of nonsense often, especially if something has just jarred me. So, when my EX-girlfriend told me I was gonna be a dad at age 20, that lack of forethought before speaking resulted in a rather insensitive response. I did, however, try to correct course fairly quickly. After she hung up on me, I called her back and was a little more receptive and respectful of her immediate needs. I assured her that I’d come pick her up as soon as I got home the very next day. 

After a promising week in Los Angeles, showcasing my limited talents to industry heavyweights, I came home with no record deal. I decided that if I was gonna play music, it would be the way my dad had after he had kids: on the weekends to make extra money when he wasn’t at his day job. Where I’m from, if you want to make a lot of money, quickly, the oil field can be a great option. So, I decided I’d get a job on a rig and settle down with Sonya. I was still gonna make a record, but my dad was gonna try to produce it and fund it.

I called Leah a couple of weeks after I got home from L.A. to show my gratitude for everything she’d done and to let her know I was gonna make a record. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s do it!” She then proceeded to tell me she was flying a producer down to Louisiana and she was going to create an indie label just for me! No offense to my dad, but Leah’s offer was the more attractive and just a few weeks later, Marshall Altman flew in from Hollywood and we set about making “Momentary Setback.” 

Though the song wasn’t about the child I was expecting at the time, that title may have suggested something deeper about how I came to view my situation. None of those labels out West wanted to sign me? No problem. We figured it out. I was making a real record; that, alone, was going to lead to a proper manager and booking agent. I had a pregnant girlfriend and no job, but I was sure I’d figure that out, too. 

The truth turned out to be more complicated. Gavin was born September 1, 2002 at three weeks premature. We had a big release party/concert for “Momentary Setback” six days later. Gavin was still in the NICU. 

Prior to his birth, I ignorantly thought some “Wisdom of the Cosmos” would somehow be imbued onto my psyche the moment he popped out. But then I met him and realized that he was just like anybody I’d never met. I’d have to get to KNOW him before I could really know what he needed to feel loved. Sonya was so graceful and natural throughout her entire pregnancy, and I was a sloppy mess. She worked hard at doing everything right; I continued to coast, obliviously, into dissolution. 

Needless to say, the first few years of parenthood weren’t my finest moments. That plan to work on a rig got replaced by very real action with my music career. Island/Def Jam signed me late in 2002 and I was on tour with Maroon 5 the following February. I was taking it all in and then going back for more. I’m not sure how I didn’t die drinking some of those nights. I wish I could say I had more stories from that time but it’s all a bit hazy, truthfully. 

Sonya and I weren’t together. She had already moved on to a guy that out-classed me by a mile. I remember getting to Toronto one day. We had been on tour for a solid month and I hadn’t seen Gavin for more than 10 days in something like three months. My managers had flown in from New York to get some press done. After a very long day, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed out to the venue for sound check. Something hit me right after load-in and I just started sobbing. My managers tried to console me but I was a mess. 

“I just want to hold him,” I said as the tears poured out. “I want to hold my baby boy.” 

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I can tell you from experience that it’s true. I had never felt envy and inadequacy as deeply as when I got home and saw that another man—a better man, no less—had supplanted my role in Sonya AND Gavin’s life. I was determined to win her back and re-establish my place in this family. Much to my surprise, my efforts were rewarded. 

Sonya and I got a house together and “we” started working as a team. I say “we” because Sonya was really doing all of the heavy lifting. If we went on a date, she found a sitter and made reservations. I was touring non-stop. Sonya enrolled in the local university, but I was so worried about her meeting guys that I asked her to drop out. “We’ll be able to travel together if you’re not in school,” I’d say, knowing I was just scared of losing her to a better, more present and attentive guy. 

Why the hell I didn’t just step up my game is still somewhat of a mystery to me. I sure put a lot of energy into making a stink about how jealous I was, but I was also cold about taking Sonya anywhere, especially to my own shows. What Sonya thought was embarrassment of having her around was actually my desire to not have her in the room where I might have some other flings. 

Here’s the truth: I was a piece of shit boyfriend. Let’s not sugarcoat it.

Wisely, she dumped me just after Gavin turned two-years-old. It was right before Christmas. A friend of mine told me about a mutual female friend who was in town for the holidays and suggested I reach out. This gal and I were fast friends and spent a couple weeks together before she went back to Southern California. I happened to hit the west coast for tour about two weeks after that so I was looking forward to seeing her again. 

Our relationship was so different from what I had with Sonya. It felt more grown up and mutually respectful. In reality, I wasn't crazy about her. She had to ask me why I hadn’t kissed her yet when we got back to her folks house after our third date. I had been kissing girls since I was in kindergarten, so I wasn’t shy about making a move. After all, Sonya and I were full-on making out 10 minutes after our first meeting. I was going through the motions with this new girl because of how attractive the idea of us was. So, when she invited me to dinner with her folks, who just happened to be in town when I was coming through playing shows, I happily accepted. 

My phone started ringing right as we were all walking into the restaurant. It was Sonya. I told my girlfriend and her family that I’d only be a moment. Here’s how that call went:

Me: Hey, what’s up?

Sonya: I thought you should know that I’m pregnant again. 

Me: Are you sure it’s mine?

Sonya: (Dial tone…)

Loving Sonya: Part 1

In the summer of 1999, I was single, about to start my senior year, and feeling myself. I had successfully navigated life until that point without getting into too much trouble, and freedom was just a breath away. I was already enjoying some of those freedoms that very summer when fate intervened. It came in the form of a photograph held in the hands of someone as if showing me a precious jewel. It was picture of several young ladies, one of whom was the former girlfriend of the fella showing me the pic. This fool didn’t know what he was doing that day because he was stupid enough to give me her phone number!

I say I was feeling myself … but I’m not sure why. I had no game, as evidenced by the fact I just started singing the moment Sonya picked up the phone. I guess it had worked for me a few times prior, so that was not only my Ace-In-The-Hole, but it was also my only play. Sonya wasn’t impressed. In fact, according to her, that wasn't the first time she’d heard me sing, and in that first performance, she claims to have seen AND heard me … and come away thinking I was gay! (lol) Furthermore, my phone/singing game on this second, more exclusive occasion, was demonstrated to be even less impressive by her allegation that I sang a song I had written for another girl by a different name. 

(I contest my wife’s account of this phone call in respect to the song I chose. I claim I sang Brian McKnight, like a respectable crooner! Read on.)

It would be another week or two before we actually met, face to face. I was riding shotgun with a friend in his old Mustang when I saw, “the girl from the photo that told me to stop singing.” I still remember what she was wearing. My friend and I must have been doing nothing important because I just hollered at him to pull over and jumped out of the car right there, ran across the street right to her and said, “Are you Sonya?” She was with a friend who lived a walk away so I offered to see them home. 

Sonya was breathtaking. That photo had come close, but standing in front of her, seeing her in person, was the most exciting thing I’d ever felt. She wasn’t shy. She exuded confidence and had a wise skepticism about me from go. I was, after all, three years older than her and, at the time, that was kind of a big deal. As a matter of fact, that same afternoon we went swimming at her friend’s house. Sonya says that when I took my shirt off, she was taken back by how manly I was. She’d never seen so much chest hair! I, however, was taken back by how unbelievably beautiful she was. Years later, an artist friend of mine would go on to describe her as looking like “a Modigliani,” with her long, slender profile and classic features. 

I’m not sure which of Modigliani’s masterpieces my friend was referring to that day, but I got the point. Sonya looked like art. What came after that initial encounter is a bit of an uglier, more convoluted tale of lots and lots of heartache and misery at the hands of a man who claimed to love Sonya, and Sonya’s response to that man. I’m not at all proud of how I handled things in those early years, and I don’t have a good explanation for why I did the things I’ve done. I’ve made my peace with my past, and so has my wife. What lies ahead will not be pretty, so please don’t judge too harshly.

High School Sweetheart

I graduated in the year 2000. Sonya and I had been together not quite a full year when I took a job that required to me to move 45 minutes down the road. The job kept me close to church and gave me just enough money to keep out of trouble. I had awesome roommates who later became my first real band, Y. I mowed grass during most weeks, and I was music director for a youth program. Sonya was still in school and she lived 40 minutes away, but we managed to stay together and I managed to stay faithful. 

At the time, I didn’t have any long-term goals but I did have a system of accountability. My bosses and my roommates definitely helped keep me on the right track … for about a year. It all came to an end after a rather large mice infestation in my apartment and an unrelated inability on my part to keep my job. (Read—Didn’t show to work for days on end.) Without wanting to go home, I landed a room at a friend’s place and got a job in produce at his family’s grocery store. Gigs were far and few and I was barely scraping by. 

Sonya would visit me on the weekends and by this point, we were about two-and-a-half years into a very serious relationship. I don’t think I played more than 2 or 3 shows while I worked at the grocery for that nine months. It wasn't until Ross Dupre called for me to open for a band of his that I was able to even think of a set list. I played every song I’d written in chronological order. Barely passable stuff, no doubt, but luckily for me, there happened to be someone in the audience that night that could open all the doors and loved what she heard. About three days later, Leah Simon called me and said she was flying me to L.A. and introducing me around town. 

By the time I had landed in L.A. on January 27, 2002, a month had passed since that show. Sonya and I were broken up, again, and I was sure I was onto other things with music. I spent a week in SoCal meeting people all over town—from Lenny Waronker and Tom Walley to Gary Gersh and Jack Joseph Puig. These were, and still are, some of the biggest figures in the entire industry just welcoming us into their offices like we were old friends. Ross, Leah and I felt like everything was going to plan and were high from all the action. Ross had some friends in San Diego so with our last day in town we decided to head on down. 

Leah called us early that same evening to tell us to get back to the Palisades because a certain budding guitar virtuoso was potentially gonna swing by to jam and write. We high-tailed it back up to the house only to be stood up. It wasn’t so bad, though, I thought. It had been an amazing week and I was going home the next day a changed man. A man ready to conquer the world; to be bigger than Michael Jackson!!!

I called my mom and dad to tell them all about the trip when my mom told me Sonya had called and wanted me to call her back. I hadn’t even really talked to Sonya since right after Christmas, but we had ended things amicably so I didn’t think much of it. When I called her house, her mom gave me the number of a friend Sonya was with at the time. 

Here’s how the call went:

Me: (Kinda to-the-point) Hey, Sonya. What’s up?

Sonya: (Very to-the-point) I just thought you should know that I’m pregnant for your child. 

Me: FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sonya: (Dial tone…)

Meeting Heroes Part 3

In 2007, I had the unbelievable honor of opening 9 shows for Bonnie Raitt. It was a tour that I had been looking forward to for quite some time and I was over-the-moon excited about meeting the legend, herself. I wish I could say that there were choirs singing and doves flying overhead when I finally did meet her, but the meeting was actually quite casual. After our sound check, I went to catering for dinner and there she was, just hanging out with her band and crew. Immediately, I was struck by how unbelievably cool she was to me. She heaped praise on me and my records and promptly invited me to sing Love Sneakin Up with her that very night.

We kicked off the tour at The Beacon Theater in New York, a venue I had only ever seen on tv. The room was stunning. I had never seen such a gorgeous venue and yet, here I was, about to sing my little heart in support of a rock and roll icon on this very stage! That and the fact that Bonnie was so

damn cool had me convinced that we were embarking on an epic journey and I wasn’t gonna let it go to waste.

Luckily, for me, Bonnie broke bread with all of us every day and spent any extra time she could just hanging out and talking shop with us for the whole run. I got to sing with her every night and by the end of her encore, my entire band was on stage. After 9 shows I now know that Bonnie Raitt is not only an incredible musician, but she’s definitely cooler than you, as well. I remember asking her once if she had any kids ever. She smiles and replied, “No... well, I did have a few blues legends that I felt were like my kids!” (#lol)

As I’ve said before, I’ve never been the brightest bulb in the bunch and I often make hasty, completely irrational decisions if I think it’ll be fun or maybe I’ll get a laugh. Well, what I’m about to tell you about is a decision I made that was definitely irrational and quite stupid, but was something that I actually sought council on. Remember, by the end of the show, my band and I were all on stage with Bonnie, me singing and the guys in the band playing tambourines and shakers and whatnot. Well, the show would end with Bonnie’s band just playing one chord for a long time while Bonnie took a bow, smiled and waved, finally signaling the band for the last strike!

My dumbass thought, at the time, that it would be “amazing” if I did a break-dance backspin while Bonnie was doing her send off as the band played that last chord. I felt so compelled to do it and convinced myself that it would really be super, uper, duper cool. My band guys informed me promptly that my idea was horrible and should, under no circumstances, be attempted. I just couldn’t let it go and finally, on the last night of the tour, I made my move.

Well, there I am, spinning like an idiot about 6 or 8 feet behind Bonnie, dead center stage. Little, did I know, Bonnie throws up the peace sign as she starts to slowly walk backwards and she doesn’t know there’s an idiot spinning on his back directly behind her!!!

The way my drummer describes the scene is that he could see it all unfolding in slow motion. In his head, he starts running to save her from tumbling over me backwards and dives to catch her head only to miss it by a split second. Can you imagine?! Thankfully, what I said about Bonnie really is true; she’s too cool to be phased by a square like me. Right at the last minute, I finally quit spinning just as Bonnie sees me there on the floor right behind her. She gave me an amused smile and went on to close the show.

Despite my best efforts to critically injure a living legend and potentially end her career, Bonnie didn’t even sweat it. As a matter of fact, she was more gracious than I could have ever imagined. Not long after that, we had all retreated into our respective dressing rooms, and Bonnie’s tour manager told me that the boss lady wanted to see me. I was fairly nervous but no one, not even my band guys, were giving me a hard time about my near disaster, so I figured she just wanted to say goodbye.

We had already done our best earlier in the day to show our gratitude to Bonnie for her unbelievable generosity and grace. Bonnie loves flowers, you see, AND it happened to be her birthday, if memory serves me. That last show fell on a Sunday, though, so my tour manager called The Ritz and implied we were guests and requested a large bouquet brought to the venue. God bless The Ritz and that front desk attendant who went to a friend’s house, apparently, to build the bouquet from a private garden. It was a massive arrangement, fit for a queen, and it had the intended effect.

Bonnie’s first words to me when I walked into her dressing room that night were words of thanks for such beautiful flowers. She told me that it was such a pleasure having us on the road and that she has

enjoyed watching us every night. She then handed me an envelope and said, “Merry Christmas.” Her manager popped in right at that moment to pull her away, Bonnie and I gave one last hug to each other and parted ways.

As I walked out of the room, I looked inside the envelope and saw nothing but hundred dollar bills. I said to someone in my crew, “Oh my god! There’s gotta be $2 grand in here! I’m going to the bathroom to count it!” I emerged from that restroom $4000 richer!!!! Talk about a merry Christmas! I was able to bonus my road guys and still had enough for Christmas presents.

I have to pause here and say that I had never seen or heard of anything like this prior and I’ve never heard of it since. I’ve opened for a lot of big bands and none of them outside of Bonnie ever did anything like this. It was a powerful gesture that has stayed with and informed me beyond what I could have known that night. Opening slots, as highly sought after as they are, are not usually high paying. Openers regularly make barely enough to cover a couple of hotel rooms. So to have her be so thoughtful and so generous left an indelible mark on me. It’s caused me to think about my own openers and find ways to help them as much as possible.

Bonnie Raitt taught me that ego and lead singer were not synonymous. She showed me that joy and happiness emanate from genuine kindness to those around us. The experience of touring with her was life-changing and the effects will continue to shape me as an artist for the rest of my life, I have no doubt. She didn’t teach me with words but with her very thoughtful and purposeful action. Eating together and hearing her and her crew crack jokes, watching her perform every night and be absolutely flawless, seeing her Christmas card in my mailbox every year, the hand written thank you’s and signed records for not just me but my entire band and crew, all personalized and unique. I could go on and on about this woman. I think about her almost daily. I’m getting choked up writing this just thinking about how much she impacted my life and how she continues to influence my art and my life. She’s a legend for very tangible reasons and I couldn’t be more blessed to know her. Thank you, Bonnie Raitt, for being so real.

Meeting Heroes Part 2

My first major label album, Carencro, was released in the Fall of 2004 by Island/Def Jam. It was a win by most measures. Unfortunately, for me, capitalizing quickly on that initial success was never in the stars. As so many music business stories go, after only a short time at I/DJ, I found myself working with an entirely new staff of people. Like dominos, everyone I knew and trusted was hired away or fired outright once Lyor Cohen left I/DJ for Atlantic Records, but not before giving me the green light for a second album. Furthermore, I was assured by all of the incoming people that we were still good to go and they were happy to be working on my behalf.

We spent something like $175,000 making a killer record called Must Be The Water that would never

see the light of day. (The Must Be The Water EP was a totally separate recording) According to my old A&R guy, when the new CEO heard the record, after tracking, mixing, and mastering, he said it was “too urban” and killed the project. I was crushed. It had already been 2 years since Carencro and we needed to get something new out fast. I asked Island to let me go and they said, “No problem, but you can’t have your record.”

I could’ve been angry, but honestly, I was just happy to be out of my deal. So much time had already passed that my attachment to some of the material on Must Be The Water had softened.

A solution to the problem came in the form of SOS: Save Our Soul, a soul covers record that was picked up by Vanguard Records. It was also the first time I had a record released overseas, which is where the rest of this story really begins, but I thought you might like the context to get a read on my frame of mind.

...
Paul Carrack

Go Entertainment, a Dutch indy label, licensed SOS in Holland and quickly went to work getting Come In From The Cold on the radio there. To my complete astonishment, Holland loved them some Bayou Bruce! Soon, I was traveling to Amsterdam for my first ever performance outside of the States. It was a sold out crowd in the small room at a legendary club called Paradiso right in the heart of the old city that gave me and my dad a chance to do our worst. (I brought my dad along because my dad is a badass) That was the first of 7 trips to Holland in just under 2 years. One of those trips provided me with an opportunity to play the big room at Paradiso with another rock and roll legend, Paul Carrack.

You may not know his name but you most certainly have heard his music. “How Long” was hit with

his band, Ace. He followed that up with “Tempted” with the band, Squeeze. Then there was a smash that still gets me every time titled “In The Living Years” with Mike and the Mechanics. He’s penned songs for a litany of artists like The Eagles, Tom Jones, Bobby Womack and Michael McDonald. He was in 3 different bands that had major hit records, for god’s sake!

The point of all this is that the guy is the real deal, and better yet, I had learned from my mistake with Jay-Z a few years earlier (See Part 1) and decided to listen if and when Paul and I got the chance to speak. I took my shot as we shared an hour long drive back to the hotel after the show in Rotterdam.

Me: Paul, do you have any advice for me. I got dropped from my first deal and the deal I have now is a one off, so... what should I do? Go chase another deal?

Paul: Marc, I’ve had some of the biggest deals in the history of the business. I’ve played to thousands at a time. Now, I play clubs to 600 people. I run my own label. My management team works in my building for my label. My booking agent works for my label. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked, making more money than I’ve ever made, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

At this point, my head should’ve exploded from all that wisdom, but I think I just wasn’t quite ready to accept what his proposition entailed. (That or I was really high. We had just played Amsterdam, after all.) Regardless, his words stuck with me and I would come back to that conversation many times over the years.

What happens when an artist signs a record deal is that they really sign away a large amount of incentive for themselves. I’ll get into the details of record contracts in another post but trust that

there’s a reason for the saying, “The 2 best days of an artist’s career are the day he gets signed and the day he gets dropped.” Incentives matter, and it took me 4 record deals to realize just how much they matter. All of my major label releases ran up tabs into the 6-figure range with a couple of those records approaching a half-mil, and before I ever saw a dime from sales, that debt had to be paid back out of my cut, which was hovering somewhere around $0.65 per sale.

Needless to say, I knew I’d never recoup and it wasn’t a good feeling. Even if we sold enough to turn a profit on the label’s cut of sales, the way things are calculated by the bean counters, I was never gonna get out of the red, and that’s when the label loses incentive to work the record. So, with my profit incentive out the window and the label’s incentive tapped, can you guess what happened?

I would be let go by every label I worked with and my bankability was going to continue to be in question. I hadn’t quite fully learned my lesson after Atlantic, though, so I went back to Vanguard who graciously gave me a deal with a much more reasonable record budget. But even knocking a whole zero off of production expenditures can’t prevent that label math from getting in the way of honest dealing. When Vanguard blinked at the prospect of cutting another check for the next record, my manager’s and I agreed that it was finally time to go it alone.

Paul was not wrong about the workload. He wasn’t wrong about those other things either. What he didn’t mention is how incentive staying in house can be a huge boon for creativity. The idea that I can own my records makes me want to write and record more than ever! Don’t think that I’m some kind of baller now, but with every new record I release independently, I’m one step closer to making up for all that wasted time and energy.

Paul Carrack’s words that night let me know that this was possible. His delivery, so pointed and cool, gave me the courage to take that step, if maybe a few years late on the draw. I never got to say thanks so do me a favor and pass it on if you happen to run into him. His thoughtfulness in that moment was exactly what I needed to hear and I’ll forever be grateful.

Meeting Heroes Part 1

Have you ever met someone whom you already held in high regard? In my experience, these encounters are cordial, generally, with rare exceptions on both ends. I’m always a little leery about meeting my heroes because doing so risks revealing too much about at least one of us. Like this one time where I happened to walk into Island/Def Jam and jump on the escalator right behind Jay-Z. He had recently been brought in to run Def Jam after a HUGE regime change and I was just bold enough to say, “JAY! That’s you?! What’s up, man?!” He ended up inviting me up to his office. I sang and I talked. And I talked. And talked some more. It wasn’t until years later when I looked at the photo of us that I recalled how I had squandered an opportunity. Here I was with a bonafide-badass- record-mogul-artist-self-made-multi-millionaire and I can’t shut my mouth! I don’t even remember

what I said but I guarantee it was a bunch of nonsense because that was the first and last time I ever got to hang with H.O.V.A.

I still talk too much but I’m working on it. Hopefully writing all of this down will help. What I would like to do is tell you about three experiences with some incredible artists that shaped me in ways I could never have foreseen. The wisdom imparted in a moment or even in a gesture by someone who lived up to the hype shaped me because they’ve stayed with me. Let’s face it, you’re not gonna catch everybody on their best day, but when it goes right and you can reflect on the moment for years to come, you’ll find it quite informative. We admire people for reasons related to who we are and who we want to be. At least, that’s what I like to think...

...

Tori Amos

Ben Folds had to cancel his opening slot because of sickness and we happened to be in the neighborhood with a rare day off. When we pulled in backstage that afternoon, it was a pretty typical scene for an amphitheater on show day. Lots of crew guys and gals running around. Somebody from the kitchen staff napping in a hammock. I noticed a little girl near catering. She looked about as old as my son, Gavin, around 5 at the time. Someone said the girl was Tori’s daughter and I made a note to use our mutual parenthood as an ice breaker should the chance arise, which it later did in Tori’s dressing room.

Her chef made us both an excellent hot tea while I tried to make nice conversation about the kids. She wanted none of it.

Me: It’s so nice to meet you. I saw your little girl backstage. She’s precious and makes me miss my

son.
Tori: Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. Now tell me. Do your managers commission off the gross or the net? Me: Uuuuhh... Whut?
Tori: Do your managers commission off the gross or the net?!
Me: I have no idea.

Letter to My 20-Year Old Self

What’s happenin’ ya’ll?!

As you can probably guess, being on tour gives me plenty of time to reflect on, well, everything. I’m so thankful for all the good that ya’ll are doing through SOS2 for City of Refuge—and we have SO much more planned in the coming months.

Now don’t get it twisted; getting to this point wasn’t easy. I look back on my journey and often think of the advice I’d give to my younger self. I began to the think on this subject quite a bit starting about 2 years ago and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What I would say to my younger self seemed an

important question in need of a thoughtful answer.

So I wrote a letter ... to me. ——
Dear 20-year-old self,

What up, turd blossom?! Quick question: Why shouldn’t I just punch you in the mouth right now? Oh, that’s right ... there’s NO good reason I shouldn’t. Luckily for you, I can’t. Make no mistake, though, if I could, I would. When you’d inevitably ask, “Why?” I’d do it again. This scenario would probably play out a few more times because, let’s face it, you’re not especially bright.

You need to understand that my assault on your jaw is purely out of love and a strong desire to shorten the learning curve for you. The problem is, you already know the right path but you consistently sell yourself short. There you are, just riding the wave, oblivious to the sharp rocks just below the surface. When that wave hits those rocks, you’re gonna be screwed and the only person you can blame is yourself because you haven’t stopped—even for a secondto contemplate anything other than having a good time. So, let’s get busy, shall we?

The truth is the world owes you nothing. Not a damn thing. Until this point in your life, you’ve coasted on your talents, and the road you’re on is running out of pavement. If you don’t get serious about establishing some goals and relentlessly pursuing them, you’re gonna find yourself broke and alone real soon. Right now, you can’t conceive how low rock bottom is because the world is your oyster, or so you think. Well, I’ve got some news for you, pal. Not one of the people you work with cares more about you than they do themselves; self-interest is king in this world.

What that means is that no one but you can know what truly makes you happiest in life. But if you don’t know yourself, if you don’t take personal inventory from time to time, then how can you possibly know what makes you tick? You already have a clue that making other people happy is

something that gives you purpose, but you don’t have a ton of respect for that fact as demonstrated by your complete lack of awareness when it comes to some of your closest relationships. Quit being such a selfish prick all the time. Try living up to the standards you were raised by. I shouldn’t have to tell you this!!!

I could spend days just going over all of your massive mistakes and it would probably work well considering you’ve always been pretty good at learning from the past, but that’s my point. We’re talking about your future and maybe you need to make those mistakes to put them in the past where they belong. I’ll tell you one thing; you will have some GREAT stories. You’ll also have some dark

stories that you hope never see the light of day. Then you’ll get tired of the bad outweighing the good and you’ll quit being such a jackass. Too bad it can’t be different but, such is your life.

In all seriousness, if it were possible to impart some wisdom or insight onto you, I’d probably just say nothing in the hopes that you could see the wisdom in the silence. Your biggest problem has always been that you’re silence-averse. Yet, it’s in our quietest moments that we learn the most, not only about ourselves but others, as well. The noise this world generates can stifle any attempt at peaceful self-reflection and, yet, that mental exercise is what’s most-needed to attain personal peace. Your biggest hurdle in this pursuit of silence is not the world.

It’s yourself.

Ah, but who am I kidding? You’re not gonna read this stuff. Why would you? Like I already said, you don’t know yourself all that well. So how would you know that you wrote this? #Paradox #GrowUp #LoveYaBud #DontBeADoucheCanoe

The Re-Introduction Of Bayou Bruce

“What stays with you longest and deepest? Of curious panics, of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains?” ― Walt Whitman

I read somewhere a while back that without music, life would be a mistake. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but the message enclosed in that prose left an indelible mark on me. Music and the lyric within it – is freedom to me. It’s a way for people to bond. The experience of music and the storytelling within it is powerful and life-changing. I’ll never take that for granted.

It might sound strange, but my goal as an artist is to become an afterthought. It’s never been about

me. Rather, I want people to get lost in the music. I want them to escape. Just ... be.

I started playing music professionally in 2002. A lot has changed in the ensuing years, but now, as an independent artist, I’m at a better place than I’ve ever been. To get to this point, however, I had to go through countless disappointments, road blocks, high points, low points, and everything in between. This is my story.

***

My roots run deep in Southwest Louisiana. Carencro, to be exact. A bedroom community on the north side of Lafayette, we rode our bikes everywhere as kids. My first job was at the corner store. I played at catcher during baseball season and midfield during soccer. I was trying to kiss the girls ever since I was a kindergartener, and I was in trouble A LOT.

My dad brought me with him to gigs sometimes so I could sing and was setting a high bar for me early, musically. Both of my older brothers were legend when I got to Carencro High, but by that time, they were long gone and I was a little lost in the mayhem of it all.

After finishing my freshman year with a 0.87 GPA, I got involved with a local youth group and sang my lil’ heart for the rest of high school. I wrote our class song and was senior class president. Did I mention I married my high school sweetheart? Actually, writing all of this out makes it seem like maybe there was something storied about it all!

But make no mistake. As demonstrated by that atrocious freshman year GPA, I am no stranger to some pretty miserable failings. I signed my first record deal when I was 20, not long after high school. The story was in all the local papers and I was finally a professional recording artist. My

lifelong dream had been fulfilled and I thought I was gonna be a father-flipping SUPERSTAR!

I don’t know if anyone can consider themselves a “man” at 20, but I thought I was the man. At this rate, I thought, I’ll be rubbing elbows with Bono in no time. I was under some delusion that Lyor Cohen (a major music executive at my label) had this magic button he could push and the rest of the world would subsequently roll out the red carpet for me.

After all, every office I visited when I signed my deal had gold and platinum records adorning the walls. I mean, these people clearly knew what they were doing. I had an entire staff of well-equipped, talented music business professionals tending to the tiniest details of my career goals. I was on the fast track to stardom. It might not be like this for everyone, but for me, signing a deal was a destination, not an opportunity.

Based on their track record and everything I knew up to that point, I truly believed I was in capable, caring hands. Business strategies were developed and implemented on my behalf, and soon we started to play in front of sold-out rooms every night. Everything was great. Then I had to make a record and things changed. Now all these folks wanted me to record songs I couldn’t stand.

“Without this one, we don’t have anything for radio,” they’d say.

It was tough, because I’ve always taken songwriting and the overall musical experience incredibly seriously. It’s important to me. Deeply important. I’ve always seemed to have a good feel for the

musicality of things, and here I am being directed by people who have never written a song.

Not only would they push me to record these songs, but they would ask me go out and play them live. Being on stage is sacred and every song played is an expression of deep gratitude for the gift of being able to create music that leads to powerful human experiences.

Needless to say, performing music you don’t identify with or believe in is difficult as an artist. I remember playing “Home” as the first of a two-song performance on morning TV in New York City. My managers were there, and so were several executives from my label. The second song I was supposed to play was the one my label wanted for the first single.
I hated it.

So, as the anchor announced the second song, I turned back to the band. “Play ‘Rocksteady.’" I said.
“What...?” they replied, jar
ringly.
“Play ‘Rocksteady!’” I yelled.

Within the first few measures of “Rocksteady,” I could see the label folks and my managers storming out and stomping around. I took a stand, and they didn’t like that. It was kind of dumb and could have derailed my career, but in retrospect, I regret nothing about that day because it was the first time I realized I had the ultimate say in what songs I would and would not play.

Plus, I ended up feeling rather vindicated as their choice for first single failed miserably at radio. We turned the radio campaign around with what I knew should’ve been the first single all along ...

“Home.”