Tuesday, September 4, 2007

"Home Again" Retrospective

Guest Blogger:
Jeanette A. Lundgren,
Mother Hen Promotions

"All My Life I've Waited for this Day ...
I Am Home Again"

Yeah, John. Me too.

For me, it started back in 2004 when James Lee Stanley was producing and recording All Wood and Stones with John Batdorf, and I was working part-time at Longs and had extra time on my hands and was doing office work for James. The first time I ever met John, James was walking me through a project and John sat down at the piano and started to play and I was blown away. I don't know what the song was and it hardly matters. I've since heard John say that he doesn't really play piano all that well but I know for a fact that he does and I have that moment in time as my proof.

When I first got the finished All Wood & Stones CD, I played it a few times through and kept going back to "Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing In the Shadows)" ... there were other songs I liked, of course, but it was Johns' vocals on that one song that made me want to hear more from him. On January 15th, 2005, at the first (real) Kulaks All Wood & Stones show, I was disappointed that he only did 4 solo songs but I was enthralled by them too. On those four songs alone, John Batdorf hooked me on his music for life.

His first song was "Oh Can You Tell Me" which *felt* SO familiar. Next came "I Will Not Be Afraid" which became one of my top favorite songs of his. "It's Not Love" followed, which told me that this guy really knew what it was all about. "Let Me Go" was his final solo song that evening and I remember being caught up in the guitar work. I'd met John all of four times by then and that night I called up the courage to ask him if he had any solo CDs for sale. Yes, he had -- and I happily brought DON'T YOU KNOW home with me. "I Will Not Be Afraid" is on that CD and it became one of the most important songs in my life at that time.

During ensuing shows, I got to hear "I Will Not Be Afraid" and "Oh Can You Tell Me" a lot which was fine by me. I also heard "Working Man Blind Man" and "Let Me Go" and I desperately wanted more of his solo stuff (and I was plenty pissed off whenever he had to give up a song because the first set had gone too long). After the first few shows, no matter where I went to see the show performed, I always made sure to get there early so I could get a seat right up front in a place where I could see past the music stand and watch this man play guitar ... he played with both hands and it is plain to see that he loves his instrument. The way he plays illustrates how intricate and versatile an instrument it can be, and he plays those strings with all fingers and both hands and doing things with the guitar I hadn't seen or heard in years. The lyrics all spoke to me but moreso even than that I was seeing a musician who *wanted* to be on that stage, who had the music inside of him bursting to get out, but there was something else too. I found out later that he'd played to crowds of 30,000 or more back in his youth but he'd spent the last 20-30 years doing studio work, so all of a sudden being thrust in front of a small crowd of appreciative listeners/watchers made it difficult. So I made it a point to sit strategically so I could watch his hands and eventually I was rewarded: the music stand was moved aside.

Aside from the All Wood and Stones shows where I *lived* to see Johns' way too short solo spots, I was scouring the internet for his other music. Monetarily, I wasn't breaking even a lot of the time but when the original Batdorf & Rodney records were re-released on CD, I scrimped to buy them. I heard pieces of some of Johns' other music off his old website ... one of which was the instrumental leading up to the song "It's Not Heavy" and I *knew* I had to hear more of that song as soon as it was available. On the B&R end, I didn't really want to hear what had gone down before - 30-35 years prior - because that wasn't the person who was sitting in front of me at these shows. So the first time I heard the original B&R recordings, I didn't hear them for what they were. It was only on the 2nd and 3rd (and 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, infinitum) that I heard what was there ... and yet - I wanted them now. I wanted to hear those songs but from the person I now knew in the matured voice I was used to, singing lyrics he never should have known the meaning of when he first wrote them as a teenager, but with the lifetime of experience he now had.

I think I pretty much became an expected fixture in the front row of the Southern California shows. I slowly made my way from sitting on James' side of the stage to sitting closer to Johns' side. I didn't want to insult James but at the same time I sensed that James already had his schtick down - he already had his fans and his lists and his publicity machine up and running. All I did for him, office- as well as fan-wise, was to execute what was already in place. What John needed was to get back to a place he hadn't been for many, many years. He needed to gather the fans he knew were still around. At the same time, I needed to be in on something that I could help grow.

2005/2006 was a turning point for John, as he found himself on stage more and more. I think he re-discovered somewhere he always loved being but forgot about while raising a family and surviving in a different area of the music business. When he found that there were people in the various audiences who wanted to hear and see him play solo, aside from the part he played in All Wood and Stones, he started to dig up the gems from the B&R days and give us gifts of them. For me, the real ride started one late August '05 evening at Kulaks Woodshed when John played a solo show because James was on the road. All the AW&S shows previous to that, for me, were interesting in that I got to hear little bits and pieces of John's music and I continued wanting more. I wanted to see him do a solo show, all his own. That's what that late August evening gave. And from there, I wanted more still. It turns out - so did John. He wanted the stage back ... and I wanted to hear and see more and find welcoming stages. Even though I had been at all the Southern California shows prior to that, I had been at those shows as a fan. From that late August '05 evening was borne a friendship and a working relationship toward getting John more attention and finding the old B&R fans as well as making new ones.

Different from any other musician I've come to know over the course of the last few years, John approaches the stage in a whole 'nuther manner. He's a perfectionist with regard to his artform but he gives to an audience no holds barred -- that is a flesh-and-blood inspired person up there giving us unplanned introductions to his songs while he lays out the song itself and we get a glimpse inside of whatever it was that inspired him to write it.

In February '06 I got to meet some of the "old" fans for the first time ... there is a certain smile that John wears when someone he hasn't seen in 30 years shows up to see him play ... and thats when the family started to re-build itself while the Yahoo Group continued to add members, the mailing list began to grow in leaps and bounds, the new website was announced, AW&S was touring, and several paths lay out in front of him.

In late March '06, I convinced him to allow me to build a Myspace site, to work together with his newly rebuilt website in marketing himself and his music. I devoted part of my own personal myspace to promoting him as did a few of his fans who became friends of mine, in addition to his sister, Jackie (who is also now a friend of mine). You could go to any one of our pages and hear one of John's songs and read about the next show. In addition, I continued to be able to attend shows in the California area where I enjoyed his performance as part of AW&S but he was building on his solo performances too. While I was booking for Gayles' Perks, I put him on my own stage as many times as he let me. And then he got the solo booking in San Diego - just him and Bill Batstone ... a show I'd been waiting for ... just John and Bill performing alone -- his own music -- for 2+ hours.

When John Batdorf walked out onto the stage for the second half of the August '06 Acoustic Music San Diego show, he walked out alone - just himself and his guitar - and he gave us a huge surprise.

Sometime in the weeks' prior he'd taken to heart the fact that many of his long-time fans asked for "Home Again" whenever they came to see him play. He always said that he couldn't play it solo. And originally that San Diego show was supposed to be a reunion with Mark but for health reasons on Marks' end, it didn't work out. John is not one to say "I can't do it" for long. So a few days prior to the Acoustic Music San Diego show, he sat down and re-arranged the song so he could play and sing it solo. I'm not sure re-arranged is the quite right word though because what he played that night - and has played since, still solo - is the song we all know and love from that first Batdorf & Rodney record. It's got every beat, every nuance, the bass line, the lead guitar line, the rhythm guitar and the vocals ... except it's just one man with just one guitar, ten fingers and six strings, and a whole lotta heart and soul.

I think that show was when John started to see that he was truly on the road home. I certainly felt it from the fans' reactions to him and his music and the CD sales we experienced and two standing ovations.

All along up till that show he had been working on the new CD but I don't think he really had a theme or a trajectory until San Diego 2006. That's when he gave us the solo version of "Home Again" and at the show itself, when he sang "Happiness at last found me", I felt it ... the road home. A road we all travel at some point in our lives. Funnily enough, it's a road I've been travelling too so maybe that's why this CD means as much to me as it does to John.

Cause I lost touch with music and how important it was in my life when I was 24 ... around the same time as the B&R and Silver days for John. But even when we lose touch with something we truly love, we continue to live and to survive and we learn things along the way that will aid us when we stumble back onto the road less traveled to come home. For John, he became a studio musician and a composer for television shows, commercials and playing and singing backgrounds for other well known musicians. For me, I became a sales-person working with promotion and publicity experts.

Let there never be any mistake about it - the young man that was the Batdorf part of Batdorf & Rodney - was (and continues to be) brilliant. I never met Ahmet Ertegun but I've heard the reverance with which John speaks about him AND I've read a lot of artcles about the man. He knew talent even when it was still in the bud, and John is no exception. I listen to the remastered CDs and hear the music and words John wrote back then and all of those songs still hold water. But the talent was raw and unbridled. John got the experience he needed all those years in the behind-the-scenes business ... and here we are.

He just about broke my heart singing - again, completely solo - just him and his guitar, one of his favorite songs created while he was part of B&R: "Ain't It Like Home". Completely raw, completely alone, completely wanting to be where he knew he needed to be in that moment of time. Home - an ever-growing need over the years - the wandering minstrel, the acoustic rock pioneer has finally found his stage and his studio. He's found some of his long-time fans, and those fans and his family and friends are standing steadfast with him. John has a very strong hold over everyone he knows and that's because he is just plain all-around good in all aspects of the word.

And so we have the CD entitled HOME AGAIN with the title track being that same song -- performed, on the CD, with other people but created by a master craftsman with harmonies and guitar work -- all live in the studio, with Mark Rodney ... both of whom have come home to this one song and this one friendship - performed to perfection.

Another year later - almost to the same date - August 2007 - once more John appeared at Acoustic Music San Diego, also with Bill Batstone as well as with James Lee Stanley. But this time, he had Mark Rodney with him ... and I got to hear and see, for maybe the first time ever the groove those two had lived on the stage those 30 years ago. I got to hear the songs I've gotten used to on the old B&R records performed - as I've always wanted to hear and see them - in front of me by John and by Mark right here and right now. By the 2nd half of the show, the two of them stepped into a groove, into a time machine, and gave us a stellar set. I've seen John perform tight sets with James Lee Stanley; I've seen him perform awesome sets all by himself and now I got to see, hear and witness the groove he'd been telling me all along had been the magic of Batdorf & Rodney. Songs that I had gotten used to hearing solo from John all of a sudden having another guitar, adding something even more to those jams that had always impressed me when he'd done them by himself. It was awe-inspiring; it was magic.

But see? That's the thing about John - whatever he does is magic. Whether it's an AW&S show or a reunion show with Mark Rodney or a show all by himself ... his music is magic. And despite the awesomeness I've seen him deliver while playing with others? I still prefer him solo. Just John and his guitar giving us his gift of music.

As a fan I want to keep hearing and seeing this man play live; I want to continue sharing his music with everybody I know. As someone who has come home and become Johns' internet publicist and sometimes promoter? I want everybody - everywhere - no holds barred - to hear and see what I hear and see and I will stop at nothing to accomplish just that.

"Home Again" indeed.

jal, 9/4/07

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