Singin’ on Sunday with Terry Dyke

Terry is one of our own, someone who worked on the Rag in its time. And now he gets to work for the Rag, again, by singing for us. Clever and talented, please give him a hand. rdj

I enjoy the writing a lot, average maybe one or two new tunes a year, but as for performing, I pretty much aspire to adequacy. Once in a while the tunes are political, but generally not. The two tunes you’re posting are in a kind of an island/low-latitude bag that visits me often, but it can vary — I wrote one recently that turned out to be a “traditional” pub-type drinking song. Go figure.

I got interested in writing songs when Bob Dylan came along and Shakespeared the medium. I was blown away (me and everybody else’s singer/songwriter brother). Lyrics that mattered — what a concept! As a bonus, he was making the world safe for, um, less-than-golden voices. As I got more into the medium and started coming up with tunes that actually worked, I really appreciated how they had a “real life” the moment you finished them — no messing around with publication and so forth, you just sing them and they’re everything they need to be, right then and there. Early on, of course, the main task was how not to sound like a bad Dylan imitation. I eventually found a voice that was more or less my own, but it was always a defining issue: doing Lyrics That Matter while trying to avoid sounding like Mr. D.

Over the years, I was alternately inpired by the vast new possibilities he’d shown, aggravated that I wasn’t him, and knock-down gobsmacked by his latest killer line. He still does it, dammit. We can talk about it now: Rodney Crowell’s song “Beautiful Despair” has that line in it “…hearing Dylan when you’re drunk at 3 a.m. / Knowing that the chances are / No matter what, you’ll never write like him / Oh brother.” I think the sentiment is made somehow complete by the tag “oh brother.”

The Folk Music Scare (as Tracy Nelson referred to it) was fairly short-lived, though. When it subsided, there was rock and roll, which had a lot of possibilities of its own. I was in and out of rock bands for years, really liked the way the rock combo worked, particularly the structural aspect of the bass and drums. It was okay now to have Lyrics That Aren’t Completely Idiotic, but the focus, ulitmately, was getting bodies to move on the dance floor. I always liked Mick Jagger’s comment about lyrics: “They don’t really have to mean anything — they just have to sound good.” That had its own peculiar sort of liberation to it. And there is nothing quite like that sensation when all four or five of you are hitting the groove and all that lovely loud music takes off and takes you with it.

My own process for coming up with new tunes isn’t real well-defined, even now — I can coax them to come visit, but it still seems to be pretty much on their terms. There’s the usual question Do you do the lyrics first, or the melody. For me, the answer is “Both.” Usually, it’ll start with some line that pops up; it’s catchy or evocative in some way, and the sound of the words will have its own suggestion of a rhythm. Fleshing out a rhythm with notes has always been pretty straightforward for me, and I just try to listen for what the rest of the melody is, and then put more lyrics to it. Even though I don’t read music, I know music theory pretty well, and that’s always a big help when it comes to extending or elaborating a musical idea.

Music has gotten a lot more diversified now, fragmented, even. Genres within genres. There’s a lot of crap, of course — you’ve probably caught yourself saying “These kids, the music they listen to, it’s just a bunch of noise.” And a particularly sweet irony I once heard from some forgotten stand-up comic, who said “Bob Dylan — he invented rap music, you know.” Well, if you think about it… When I did, I was dismayed.

But there’s also genuinely interesting stuff now and then. The most recent stuff I’ve listened to in the “genuinely interesting” column are Green Day and Norah Jones and Jack Johnson. And Texas music is strong and sassy as ever. My current fave there is Albert and Gage. To listen to Chris Gage play guitar and piano, I think, is to be in the presence of greatness. Things have opened up a lot with digital technology and online delivery, and I think those changes are great. The effect has been to shift the emphasis away from the record companies and let us hear a lot of stuff we just wouldn’t get to otherwise. Heck, nowadays anybody can make a CD at home — I’m here to tell ya!

Terry Dyke
Here are two of his tunes:

In Case It’s Too Simple
Jewel In The Sun

His Web site – Terry Dyke – is worth a visit, as he’s got lyrics and more information posted there. Thank you, Terry, for letting us do this.

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