The Skin Game 

Friends, colleagues and associates-

The Skin Game

For musicians, there is nothing more important than our creativity and our ideas. It is our lifeblood. Even if the wider audience never embraces us, we know “I did this,” and can point to our accomplishments with pride. Take away anything and everything you like from me in this business and in this world (save my amazing wonderful wife), but not my songs, my ideas. My songs are part of me. My creativity is the one thing that is uniquely mine that I can hold on to through all the ups and downs.

In the past I’ve been very impatient with musicians who threaten to quit the music business because they were too sensitive for it--they were delicate flowers, and demanded an outpouring of support to stay. They were lucky to be making music! But recently, I’ve seen another side of this. An experience in the last few months in this sphere was the most crushing in my life and precipitated a crisis in my sobriety and my will to continue on.

One of the very first songs I ever wrote was cut by celebrated blues artist Bettye LaVette on her Grammy-nominated comeback record in 2007. It was a dream come true. I was invited to the record release party in New York City, and when she sang my song and graciously had the spotlight turned on me in the audience to announce me as the songwriter, I had tears in my eyes.

The song was one that I wrote very early in my career and recorded for my first album. I left it off the album at the last minute because I wasn’t quite happy with it, but I still have an early master of the album with the song on it. The version that Bettye ended up recording is a co-write with another Nashville songwriter, but much of the original content is intact from when I first wrote it. I had ended up working with my co-writer when I was looking to get my foot in the door in the Nashville publishing world. A publisher whom I knew casually suggested I write with one his writers because, in his words, “she was in a rut” and he thought we’d make a good team. I like to think that I give credit where credit is due, and when Bettye came to Nashville I invited my co-writer to the show and introduced her to Bettye and Bettye’s husband as the co-writer on our song.

Fast forward five years later, when Bettye’s biography is published. A fantastic account of Bettye’s amazing journey to survive and finally thrive in the cutthroat music industry, it deservedly hit the New York Times' bestseller list and earned rave reviews. However, when I read my copy and got to page 224, I was shocked to find this: “After weeks or deliberating it came down to ten songs [for her 2007 The Scene of the Crime album] including…'I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now' co-written by the brilliant Kim McLean.” I had been made to disappear.

I was heartbroken when I read that. Bettye knew full well I wrote the song, I was the one who personally brought her the song in the first place and she had singled me out at its release! I talked it out with Bettye and it became obvious that my co-writer had been courting Bettye and her husband. It seems my co-writer had snowed them with her past credits and maybe even talked about her contributions to our song to the point that it prompted Bettye and her husband to ask this question: “Sometimes a co-write is a co-write if someone is just in the room with you, how was it with you and Ed?” And according to Bettye, Kim’s answer was a shrug and a “Well, you know how it is.” Anyone who reads that book may not believe me when I say that was my song. And that was the crushing blow that finally broke me.

I’ve done some incredibly stupid things in my time and I’m extremely sorry to anyone I may have hurt or offended or caused to worry. But one thing my friends attest to is that I have heart, loyalty, and integrity. These are the things my parents didn’t fail to instill in me. They are traits that were the most important to them. I know, that’s asking a lot from the entertainment business.


As musicians and people we need to be better than this. In my mind what’s wrong with the music business is not illegal downloading, though that certainly and positively sucks. It’s that we have been given this beautiful and magical grace of God in our lives, the rhythm of life and language everyone on this planet can feel and understand regardless of background, and we’ve turned it into a skin game. Taken it for granted, made it disposable and maybe gotten lazy. We’re not used-car salesmen. We all need to cherish the creation a lot more and respect it with all our hearts and souls. It’s not something to be taken lightly.

Next time you hear a great idea or hear a wonderful tune, please give credit. Have a kind word, congratulate folks, be happy for them. Share the love, for we are not here forever--no one gets out of here alive, and I dare think we all got into this business because music makes our lives a little bit better. This applies equally to the musicians and to those of us who just love music. I believe music makes our lives a lot better. Richer. Let’s not let music, or its creators, slip away from us so easily.

Thanks for listening. I wish you love and peace. Support your local musicians!

P.S.-I guess I already wrote and recorded a song with my Norwegian band The Black Country that's perfect for this situation:

Year end list 

Best of 2012

Number 1:Beck-Song Reader (I know it's a book but check out the Portland Cello Project's version of the album.  It's incredible and the whole idea is brilliant)
Top 22
Mark Lanegan Band-Blues Funeral
Rufus Wainwright-Out of the Game
Mark Eitzel-Don’t Be a Stranger
Scott Walker-Bish Bosch
Hobart Bros. and Lil' Sis'-At Least We Have Each Other
Lambchop-Mr. M.
Fire-In the Mouth, A Hand
Aaron Novik-Secret of Secrets
Patti Smith-Banga
Scorch Trio-Live in Norway LP
Kalabalik-self titled
Wadada Leo Smith-Ten Freedom Summers
Shawn Colvin-All Fall Down
John Murry-Graceless Age
Ryan Truesdell-Centennial
Graham Parker-Three Chords Good
Martin Kuchen-Hellstorm LP
Donald Fagen-Sunken Condos
Stian Westerhus-Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers LP
Jason Isbell-Live in Alabama
God Speed You! Black Emperor-Allelujah Don’t Bend Ascend
JD McPherson-Signs and Signifiers

The rest:

OnoKimThurston-Self titled
Glacial-On Jones Beach LP
Velvet Underground-The Scepter Sessions LP
Joe Strummer-Live Fireman’s Benefit LP
African Guitar Box Set LP’s
Oran Ambarchi and Robin Fox-Connected
Tim Berne-Snake Oil
Garbage-Not Your Kind of People
Ravi Shankar-The Living Room Sessions
David Ware-Planetary Unknown Live
Charlie Haden/Hank Jones-Come Sunday
Matraca Berg-Love’s Truck Stop
Diana Krall-Glad Rag Doll
Leonard Cohen-Old Ideas
Neil Young and Crazy Horse-Americana and Psychedelic Pill
Ry Cooder-Election Special
Mary Chapin Carpenter-Ashes and Roses
Dave Leibman-Surreality
Pretty Monsters-Self titled
Ron Miles-Quiver
Sharon Van Etten-Tramp

*(A lot of these records I bought on LP. Those marked LP came out only as LP releases)

The Giuseppi Logan project 

This project is near and dear to my heart and very important.  I hate when they only talk about music legends after they die.  Here's a chance to help one out while he's still around and get some great music in return as a bonus.  Please lend a hand:

Top 25 of 2011 

Same journalist as last year asked me for my best of list so
even though I hate lists here's what I dug in 2011:

1.Matraca Berg-The Dreaming Fields
2.The Black Keys-El Camino
3.Ryan Adams-Ashes and Fire
4.Eddie Vedder-Ukulele Songs
5.Nels Cline, Tim Berne and Jim Black-Veil
7.Chris Cornell-Songbook
8.Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
9.Lou Reed and Metallica-Lulu
10.Anthony Braxton-Trillium E
11.Miles Davis-Live in Europe 1967
12.Thomas Dybdahl-Songs
13.PJ Harvey-Let England Shake
14.St. Vincent-Strange Mercy
15.Tom Waits-Bad as Me
16.James Vincent McMorrow-Early in the Morning
17.Grey Reverend-Of the Days
18.The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams
19.Richard Buckner-Our Blood
20.Foster and Lloyd-It's Already Tomorrow
21.JD Souther-Natural History
22.Ry Cooder-Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down
23.The Beach Boys-Smile (would have been higher but I was slightly disappointed)
24.Amos Lee-Mission Bell
25.Suzy Bogguss-American Folk Songbook
  Six more I forgot:
27.The Who-Quadrophenia Director's Cut reissue
28.Lindsey Buckingham-Seeds We Sow
29.Glen Campbell-Ghost on the Canvas
30.Tim Hecker-Ravedeath
31.Jessica Pavone-Army of Strangers

After the Flood 

Shortly following the Nashville flood, FEMA did a wonderful job of getting articles in the paper about all the many different types of assistance available to flood victims, from grants to repair houses, grants to replace personal belongings, and personal loans from the small business administration. Donations flowed in from around the country and many benefits events were held to raise money. The outpouring of concern and the helping hands that showed up spontaneously in several neighborhoods was heartwarming.
.. ..

However, as time goes on and flood victims realize that they do not fit a very specific loss profile, frustration is mounting over the lack of information of real assistance available. If you sustained between $1,000 and $29,000 in damage to your house, FEMA may have come and cut a check already. On the other hand, if you sustained more than $29,000 to your house or you lost significant personal belongings that were stored outside of your home, there is very little concrete information about what assistance if any will be available to you and when. Since it takes considerable time to go through the multiple inspections, SBA loan process, and additional grant process, it would help to at least have an inkling of whether assistance would be available in what circumstances. Otherwise many of us might be better moving on and just making do or rebuilding when and where we can without getting tangled in bureaucratic paperwork.
.. ..

In addition to getting better information on government aid, more transparency is needed when an organization such as Hands on Nashville steps in and says “direct all the money to us” and “do all volunteer work through us”. In the weeks following the flood, Hands on Nashville did not actually have any avenue in place for an individual to request assistance with flood clean up, nor were they able to answer their phones. And their website concentrated on recruiting volunteers while sadly offering no useful information on how to request assistance with clean up. And I know we are not the only ones wondering what happened to the millions in donations. On June 21st WSMV reported that they received large quantities of emails questioning how flood donations were being spent. The story that WSMV ran gave some good information on the aid offered by the Red Cross but ended with “The Community Foundation has raised more than $3.9 million, but only $459,000 of that figure has been given to local charities so far”.
.. ..

And for those officials who are writing editorials about how important it is to apply for an SBA loan, personal or business, let us inform you of why people are turning away from the process. After spending hours in the hot sun moving heavy moldy belongings to the curb, one has to spend hours figuring out the paperwork necessary to apply for aid. Then after your application sits somewhere for weeks, one day an SBA agent decides they have to close out your loan application immediately (are they paid by the piece like garment workers?). They called us about twenty times in two days and when we could not produce one more paper they needed, they declined to hold our application for even 24 hours because “they needed to get it off their desk”. Two days later you fax them the paper they need to re-open the application and they tell you they will send it over to be re-opened right away. A week goes by and you call around and find out that they “forgot” to do anything with your paperwork but will get on it “right away”.

.. ..

Now the Nashville city government has announced that they too are offering assistance via the We Are Home initiative which will focus on a loan process once they have figured out how to proceed. While I completely understand the need for serious screening for any assistance lest it be misused and abused by people trying to cheat the system there must be a better way to handle this for so many who have legitimately suffered so hard. It just shouldn’t take so long. As I watch the HBO series “Treme” and see the scenes from the aftermath of Katrina it breaks my heart a second time and hits too close to home. While the government may have been “on the ground” faster this time around, the fact that our legislators let the National Flood Insurance program lapse three times this year is inexcusable. The great irony of the Nashville flood is that even if you wanted to obtain flood insurance this year it was extremely difficult if not impossible. Unfortunately, I can’t laugh about it since my wife had pointed out two weeks prior to the flood that we really should have flood insurance because if the aging dams in Tennessee failed, all of the major cities in Tennessee would be underwater.
.. ..

What can be done is to come up with a comprehensive plan should something like this ever occur again. They say it was a 500-year or 1000-year flood. I don’t believe that. We had three days of rain and 18 inches yet the waters rose twenty-five feet to surround our house. Most curiously on Sunday the rain stopped and all twenty five feet of that water completely drained away and we were high and dry for 8 hours. Then on Sunday night when we thought we were safe the waters started to rise again all twenty-five feet to within inches of our doorstep and so we were more or less submerged for three days. Someone, somewhere must have controlled that but as we called the emergency response center no one could tell us anything other than to tell us “there were no reports from our area” whereupon we replied “please take a report!” Both the Army Corps of Engineers and the city need to hold the hearings that have finally been called for. The city of Nashville also needs a plan in case this ever happens again. We are a city on a river. However, until those of us who were directly affected by the flood have settled with FEMA, the SBA and any other organizations and are rebuilt or bought out and back on our feet it is too soon and somewhat unfair to hold hearings. I’m sure there are many folks like myself who would like to be there to describe what actually happened in our neighborhoods and waterways. Help us rebuild in a timely, professional and caring manner. Help us heal then hear our story.

My Top 12 of 2010

I don't usually dig year end lists, don't really care for lists of any
sort really, but since a publication asked for mine I thought I'd re-post here as well:

Most listened to:
Freedy Johnston-Rain on the City (#1),
Richard Thompson-Dream Attic (#3 just for Big Sun Falling On the River
alone), Isobell Campbell/Mark Lanegan-Hawk (#5), Leon Russell and Elton John (this is my #2 album of 2010), Gil Scott Heron-I'm New Here (#4), Black Dub (#6 but the live stuff is better). The next few-
(these could just as easily be in the top 5): Neil Young-Le Noise
(#10), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross-Soundtrack to the Social Network (#7), Mose Allison's new record (whatever it's called, can't
remember #8), Henning Kvitnes-For Sanne Som Oss (#9), Jamey Johnson's new disc (#11) and William Parker-I Plan to Stay a Believer (#12 but only because I got it late. Could end up #2 or 3).  ****Late addition:I almost forgot how much I dug the Black keys record.  Let's make that #13.

Reissues- The Promise, Live at Leeds Super Deluxe and Richard and Linda Thompson-all the reissues (4 I think? I've been on a crazy Richard and Linda kick lately). That's it! Enjoy your holiday!!