Kindness, and Kids, and Blogs

   Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh, My!  Not as scary as that.  Certainly not kindness, just the opposite in fact.  Kids can be kinda scary, but if you treat ’em with plenty of, you guessed it, kindness, it usually turns out fine.  Now blogs…..well, I think they would hopefully respond like the kids usually do.  That’s what I’m countin’ on.  And already experienced.   A very uplifting and kind blogging experience here lately.

Blogsters can also be tricky, tryin’ to make you follow them.  Some will take all the followers they can get, but though they get you to visit them by following you, they really have no intention of continuing.  A real clue is to see if they respond to you thanking them for their “follow”.  Not a Follow Fisher.  But this aint about them, it’s about them that aint….Follow Fishers.  It’s about a real warm hearted honest human being who happened to chance upon my blog, and we now follow one another.  Like friends, like neighbors, though she is in Canada.  I know her as Jocelyn, and she writes about the lovely Pacific Northwest, and her home and young family, and recipes that she loves.  But we all get busy, and sometimes forget to check on one another, and she was just so sweet and complimentary and real in her comment on catching up with me on my post just prior.  Feb. 28 comment from “lytlejoc” on “Wait In The Darkness”.  Sure made my day….week even….maybe month.

Well, this post is dedicated to her, and her kindness.  I wanted to give her something, but what?  We both love our kids (no, I am not sending her my kid….she is too big now to ship anyway!)  A song.  A song from when my daughter was leaving home for college, with all her Southern Angel dreams.  And lots of clothes.

Oh, yeah, the song is a free download on Bandcamp, a new site I just put some of my tunes on.  A rather simple site, but kind of elegant and effective I think.  Please at least check it out and let me know.  Thanks!  This song continues the Original Song a Week for a Year thing I am doing.  Song on!

John Paul

Hear it is (hope it warms you, Joc)

ps- I have made some other true blog friends as well, like Kerry, Cyranette, Cookie, and Pigeonheart.  I appreciate each of them as well.  Just that Joc’s comment came at just the right time, in just the right way.

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Wait In The Darkness

1-P1000185What??  A luminescent egg, a lightbulb in a shoulda-been-taken-down Christmas tree?  Close.

It’s the full moon, as it was high overhead on Sunday evening, photographed almost straight up through the pine trees.  I was basically playing with the new cam I gave myself for Christmas.  Tough shot, even for someone who knows what they’re doing (which isnt me).  But it got me to thinking (imagine that).  It was late at night, dark but for the full moon.  I am going through a tough time taking care of my aging father, a time of darkness in many ways.  So a walk at midnight through the moonlit pines.  As I stood with the camera aimed at the moon shining through the pine boughs, waiting in the darkness, I thought, “The full moon.  Sunlight reflected off a dead world.”  And yet, it was beautiful.  It made me think of a song I wrote and recorded years ago, and had mostly forgotten.  I just re-mixed it, and put it up here, for you to hear.  And download for free.  Light, life, hope, even as we wait in the darkness.

Chorus:  “Now it enfolds you, cradles and holds you

Deep is this place, as strong as the rays of the sun.

Heart of the moon song, Mother of Insight

Rest in the dark, a bed for the stars in the night.”          jpm


ps- Another thought came to me as I was out in the cold February woods.  My New Years Res.  To put up an original song of mine a week.  Ooops.  I’m a little behind.  But not too badly for a moderately ADD musician, waiting in the darkness.


The song waits here:

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I Love You Ray

Ray CD Backcover It is Valentines Day (hope you didn’t forget).  Most of us send notes, flowers, sweets and such to friends, family, and lovers.  I do that, too.  And think about Ray.  Cause it’s her birthday.  She was born on Valentines Day in 1977.  She was shot by a drunk hunter at age 21 in 1998.  Ray was my favorite horse.  She still is.

Most of us have, or have had, a pet we’re very attached to.  Usually a dog or cat.  You know, easy to get close to and cuddle and pet and feed, cause they live in the house.  A horse does not.  Usually.  But I used to let Ray in the house when she was a foal (that’s a baby horse).  Not very often, but often enough, so that when she got older, and would at times get out of the pasture, she would try to come back in the house.  The old house my wife and I lived in at the time had an open front porch.  We would hear this loud clomping, look at each other and say, “Ray’s out again.”  We’d go to the door, and there would be Ray, nose up against the screen or storm door (depending on the season), waiting to come inside.  She still lives inside my heart.

She was the first horse I raised and trained from a foal.  I always say, “Who trained who”, cause she was so smart.  Ray was mostly Arabian, with a little Thoroughbred mixed in (no offense, but thank God just a little).  Arabs are notoriously smart, and Ray was the smartest one I ever knew.  She was friendly and funny, too.  She would get the big zipper on my winter jacket in her teeth, and run the thing up and down, up and down.  It was hilarious.  I would be in the barn with my toolbox fixing something, and turn around, and there would be Ray, with my hammer or clippers or whatever she had found in the toolbox in her mouth standing there looking at me.  She was my friend.  I could ride her like the wind.  And I still miss her.

I was looking for a picture of her to put in this post.  But through the many moves I have made, I couldn’ find them.  But I remembered she, and her first foal Rayna, were on the back of my first CD from 2000.  There they are, a few years before she was shot.  I had the consolation of having her daughter for about ten years.  Then in about 2007, Rayna got out of the pasture and onto the road and was hit by a car.  I had to put her down.  Guns and cars.  Quite a culture we got, aint it.  Kinda destructive.  And that’s about all I’m gonna say about it.  Except that I feel it is more about the fool who pulls the trigger, than the gun itself.  And the moron behind the wheel, more so than the car.  And the culture that created them both.  Put guns and cars in the hands of fools and morons, and you get foolish moronic destruction.  Of what we love.  Now I have to love the fools and morons enough, and forgive them enough, to begin to change the destruction.

I become more and more convinced that stepping back somewhat, slowing down a good deal, and looking a lot before we leap (especially technologically) would be wise.  As you will hear, the opening lines of the song are about my young wife and I trying many years ago to step back on that sweet old abandoned farm where we raised Ray, and our first child.

“Oh, we had a new life there.  Seems the green was everywhere,

from the front porch of that old house, down the creek to the river’s mouth.”

It is late, and there are too many other words, too many tears, and too much loss.  Yet love remains, and insists on renewing, even in the midst of death.  The image of Ray and her foal, and the song that sprang out of my love for them, lives on.

You can find, and hear it, here.  It is a free download.  I love you Ray.

ps- You will find another song there, “I Love You”, that I wrote for my daughter, Erin.  Appropriate for Valentines Day.  But today is Ray’s birthday.  More about Erin and her song later.

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Southern Moon

I walked outside tonight
cold full moon in a clear cold sky
Thought about a warmer moon    a warmer night
Time tumbled back ten years …
when I wrote this song midst a bonfire (and beers)
Recorded it with “One String Over”
Joel righteous on mandolin
Then I layered Anam Cara (“Soul Friend”)
my Asheville music Crew, into the mix
Find your Crew
sail and sing your moonlit tune
warm your heart
in the Southern Moon
(YouTube link to music video)
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Blog Gone

Or rather shift.  More focused.  I am surprised I can spell the word.  Focus.  Focus on this story if you will.

I taught 5th grade at a small rural elementary school in the hills of southern Virginia my first year out of college (a few years ago, har!).  I was not trained as a teacher.  But with a BA in Psych (which without a masters degree was fairly useless), and being unwilling and unable to go to two more years of school at the time, well, it was the hills of Virginia.

This turned out to be a mostly fun and definately rewarding experience.  The class was divided into two groups, my homeroom and Ms. Scott’s homeroom.  I taught the math/ science block, and she the language/arts, and we switched at midday.  Ms. Scott was also teaching officially for her first year, but she had graduated with a teaching degree.  She saved my inexperienced life, basically. Though 5th graders are a pretty agreeable crew.  Lucky for me.

We had a good year.  With the help of Ms. Scott, and my young man’s open and adventurous outlook, I basically winged it pretty well.  All survived, most graduated, and I moved into town (such as it was) to teach 8th grade science the following year.  Shoulda stuck witht the 5th gaders.  8th graders are, well, starting to become hormonally impaired.  But most of the young married school teachers were in town,  And, well, I was in my early 20’s.  Hormonally impaired as well.

After two years, even that ended fairly well.  I then went to play music in the exciting music rich city of Washington DC.  Emily Lou Harris and Roberta Flack were among those getting their start there in the mid 70’s, but that is another story. (see my blog here from May 30, 2012 about Doc Watson and those times).  I did that music scene, then got married, had a horse farm and a daughter, then went back to school and had a career as a health care professional.  I retired a few years ago.  I had been all over the southeast US, but never back to those Viginia hills.

Then one day early last year, I got this message on FB.  “Are you the Mr. McNeil that taught 5th grade at Sanville elementary?”  It was one of my former students.  The rest is a pleasant history.  Some of us met a few months later, a mini-reunion.  We planned a larger one for this past fall, but my 92 year old dad came to live with me and my daughter, and I could not make it.  But I did make a video of the mini-reunion, with a song I wrote  to go along with it.  I just re-tweaked it, put it up on YouTube, my second one up there.  I did put one up a month or so ago, just to see if it worked.  It did.  And this whole thing got me thinking.  Remember, I am retired, and I can think about whatever I want.

I have tried my hand at blogging for about a year now.  Kinda fun, pretty time consuming.  I have some followers, but in the single digits.  It aint about numbers, but I can do other stuff better.  Like music, and videos.  It really fed something important in me to write the song about the teaching experience, and make a music video to fit it.  So I am going to spend more time making music videos.  Cause writing original music is what I am good at, and it juices me.  And if you can stay juicey at my age, better go for it.  I am going to make one new music video a month for the next year.  And one new original song a week for a year.  That oughta keep me busy.  I will simply blog once a week about the new song, and once monthly about the new video.  Stay tuned.

ps- I plan to get the new music video about me and the kids (some of whom are now grandparents themselves) up before the holidays.  Wish me luck.  Wish me double digits.  Triple?  Who cares.  It’s about heartful creativity.

pps- Well, I put it up a little late, on New Years Day, but not bad.  The music video is called “Together”.  It is dedicated to “my” elementary school class from years ago, and to all at Sandy Hook.

ppps- See, it’s about working on my ADD.  Just focus, John Paul, focus on the Music.  The Music.  The Music.

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Creative Music and Goofiness


Photo by Karine Thoresen, end of the evening.

On Friday Sept 21, in the awesome Showcase Gallery, the Greensboro Creative Center held its first Best Of Original Open Mic.  Great performers, great attendance, great fun.  The House Band was set to perform at the end of the evening, but we were running late (imagine that).  SOMEBODY (I won’t say who, but her name starts with Melody and ends with Watson) insisted we play anyway, even though the band members were worn out from hosting/running the loooong evening, with music going for over 3 hours, and the audience now trickled down.  Soooo, that might have had something to do with the somewhat goofy picture.  Or maybe those guys are just naturally that way.  Regardless, a grand evening, goofiness and all. 

To catch you up, the House Band is made up of (L to R) Mike Garrigan, a superb singer – songwriter, talented audio/recording engineer, who handles recording and musical back-up for performers at the Original Music Open Mic.  Next is Kris Ferris, also a talented singer-songwriter, and audio engineer, running the sound at the event.  John Paul (you guessed it), another singer-songwriter, audio/recording engineer, handles the MC duties.  You probably figured out what happened.  The 3 guys went, “Hay, you sing, play, and write songs too?  Why don’t we do it together!!”.  They are quite brilliant (at times).  You can tell by the picture, right?  You see, my daughter affectionately (most of the time), calls me The Big Goober, alluding to my bent towards goofiness.  I have even earned the title of “Pleasantly Goofy MC” at this event.  I was actually looking halfway serious in this shot.  It is heartening  that my talented friends took over and covered the goofy aspect.

  It is also heartening to see this event continue to grow.  And continue to fulfill its intent to provide a fun, quality, and supportive listening environment for original creative music in Central North Carolina.  And of course, occasional goofiness.  Y’all come see us, ya heah.  And heah us, you see.  JP 

More about this Original Music Open Mic:

Photo by Melody Watson (the House Band’s first “groupie”) of JP during rehearsal

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Anam Cara House Concert

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   “Possibility of Grace”  
It has been awhile since we have performed.  We are Anam Cara, meaning “Soul Friend” in Gaelic.  We are Mary Davis, soprano Diva extraordinaire (also guitar and bass), her husband Ed Entmacher, superb pianist, Linda Kendall-Fields, playing lovely violin and viola, and John Paul McNeil, on bass, guitar, and mandolin.  All of us sing, so four part harmonies add to our eclectic choice of cover tunes, with our original music filling up most of the night.  The night will be entertaining and rich, in sound and setting, at Mary and Ed’s beautiful mountain home, Sat. September 15.  Among several new songs by each of us, we will showcase one which the four of us recently wrote together, “Possibility of Grace”.  The evening will be a probability of excellence.  Y’all come on down (or rather up, the mountain).  A graceful evening awaits, with snacks/refreshments (including a bit of wine), community, and soulful song.  Begin gathering and wining (no whining!) at 7, concert begins at 7:30, and goes until.  It would be very fine to see you there. 
  The possibility is a graceful hope. 
Blessings, John Paul McNeil
480 Elk Mtn. Scenic Hwy. Asheville NC 28804 USA
828-777-6268 (Mary-for reservations) [map]
Price: $15
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Down On My Knees

I am in Florida, down on my knees.  My father, Paul, 92, is in a care facitlity.  His many years on the Earth have finally begun to obviously, and relentlessly, take their toll.  I searched within for a song for him, but I did not bring my guitar.  Guitars are my “lightening rod” to bring in the songs I write, and that conduit is not with me here.  So I was thinking of a song I wrote for a friend and her husband a few years ago, as he was watching her slowly, and like my father, relentlessly, begining to cross over that river we shall all cross one day.  Bless you Dad.  And bless you Learline, for whom this song was written.  I will write Dad’s song someday.

Down On My Knees
©John Paul McNeil

If life is a river, where does it go
It’s sure moving fast, where once it moved slow
Down through the valley, among the tall trees

I’m here by the river, and down, Down On My Knees

There were pastures of plenty, and hay in the barn
Walks in the moonlight with you on my arm
Down to the river among the tall trees
I’m back in that moment and down, Down On My Knees

Chorus:  Oh, can we go there again , even as hard as it seems
I know, we’ll be there again
Cause I’m prayin’ here Down On My Knees

Now you are the river and I’m watchin’ you go
You’re sure movin’ fast, Darlin’, won’t you move slow
We’ll go down through the valley among the tall trees
And hold close to each other, down, Down On Our Knees

Chorus:  Oh, can we go there again, even as hard as it seems
I know, we’ll be there again
Cause you are the girl of my dreams
So dream me a good one, dream me of home
Dream me the river, but don’t dream me alone
You look like an Angel as I’m watching you sleep
And I’m callin’ to Heaven, down, Down On My Knees
Down On My Knees……(repeat)

*you can hear this song, here:

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Making Music Videos

I am new to making music videos.  Like this still from “Come Home” I made recently.  It is a difficult, but satisfying and rewarding creative process.  It starts with a song.  Like “Come Home” that I wrote ten years ago (I’m still coming home…are you? Good question, huh?).  If the song has not been recorded yet, you have to do so.  A time consuming, but equally rewarding process.  You have to re-edit and re-mix the song as needed (they always seem to need that).  It should be mastered (hopefully), and put in the right format for transfer to (tah, dah) Video.  This assumes that you have a video.  If you don’t, you have to make one.  Of the same song I was just talking about.

So there’s the song, with no visuals to it.  One has lots of choices to make.  Do you show the song being played/performed, or visuals of what the song is about?  Yes.  I like to do both.    For instance, the picture above shows me playing/performing the song.  One assumes whatever position, sitting like I am, and playing whatever appropriate instrument is in the song, as the already recorded song is being played, over your computer speakers for instance.  Meanwhile, the videocam is running, as one plays/sings to the music.  You should have it setup so the pre-recorded song is the strongest audio (sound) info the videocam hears and records.  It is not important what sounds you make on your instrument at this point, you just need to synch your movement/playing/singing with the actual recorded song coming from the computer speakers (or whatever).  See, or hear, what I mean?  If not, go back and read it again.  Or just go to, and enjoy the song.

If you’re still into this, now you have the video AND AUDIO of you playing and/or singing (same idea, but you move your mouth instead of the strings).  See?  And hear?   Your videocam has recorded the actual song at the same time it recorded you singing and/or performing it.  If you look on your software (is it really soft?  I would call it cyberware…but they wouldnt listen to me), there is your video (visual track) and your audio (sound) track, of….come on, the music you were playing over your computer/whatever speakers, right?  Right!!!

Well, where is the actual song?  In some file, in the correct format, somewhere on you computer.  So you find it (hopefully), and you place it on a THIRD track of your video editing software.  You with me?  So there is the video of you “doing” the song (Video, track One) to it being played over your whatever that was recorded at the same time to your videocam(Audio, track Two), and the actual, real, and truly wonderful AUDIO version of it (which you want the world to hear) from your primo audio editing software/cyberware (Audio, track Three).  Whew!! I’m wore out, as they say (who is They?  another blog post).  More tomorrow.  >In Sych<  Or, “How To Make Your Mouth and Other Body Parts Move In Time to the Music”.  Y’all come back now, ya heah.  (another blog post >US SouthernSpeak<).

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Opening for Doc Watson, A Tribute.

                    “Doc and Merle Watson

                      Live, at The Cellar Door

                            with  “Lazy River

I was in the group Lazy River.  It was the mid 70’s, in Washington, DC.  I played bass and sang harmony, joining Denny Robey, guitar player-singer songwriter  (who I met in college in NC, he at Guilford, me at Wake Forest) and John Redgate (a recently graduated music major at Georgetown, another fine guitar player).  We had gotten together a couple of years before, doing “the music” of the time, you know, CSN&Y, Jackson Browne, the Eagles.  Good stuff.  About a third of our songs were original, mostly written by Denny.  Also good stuff.  We were doing really well, in a town pumped with lots of great music and fueled by the political fires of the time.  When we added talented pianist Fair Merriman (later Fair Robey) our 2nd, and her rich female vocal (we then had great 4-part harmonies) , we kinda went over the top.  We were picked to open for a full week for Doc and Merle at one of the hottest music clubs in DC, the Cellar Door.  We were thrilled.  But as I recollect, more for performing at the Cellar Door, than opening for these two “Old Timey” musicians.  Oh, we basically respected them, don’t get me wrong.  We were picked to open for them largely because (except for my electric bass) we were “acoustic” like Doc and Merle, and mainly guitar based, but also different enough to add some variety to the evening.  But we didn’t really know a whole lot about them.  And I for one, thought their music was kind of “simple”.  Well, it was time for guitar class.

We opened for ’em.  We done good, as they say.  And we got to hear them after our spot.  Why not, great club, we were well received, I’ll just bask in it, I thought.  So up come the two North Carolina mountain men, with their guitars.  And they started playing together, father and son.  I am glad there were no flies in the Cellar, cause my mouth was surely wide open.  Whoa.  And I thought I played guitar (I fancied I was coming along pretty good on it for a bass player).  I was maybe in junior high on the guitar.  These guys had Masters.  Or better.  Remember that line by Lovin’ Spoonful in “Nashville Cats”, “play clean as country water”?  Well, that was Doc and Merle.  Clean, clear, righteous, and right on.  I had never heard the likes.  I was impressed to say the least.  I stayed every night the rest of the week.  It was Tuesday through Saturday, I think.  Sunday was the Hoot (Hootenaney) at the Door, which we won and how we got there, Monday closed.  So along comes Saturday, and we wrapped it up.  A very fine week, the Cellar Door was happy.  But we had never talked to Doc and Merle.  Then the manager says, “They would like you to come up to their room.  And bring your instruments.”

I was glad at that point I was the bass player.   “John Paul, you play guitar?”  “Oh, no, not me, y’all go ahead.”  I knew now why they called him Doc.  PhD in guitar.  I looked over at Denny and John, our guitar players.  They were just smiling like two idiots (blessedly semi-sloshed).  Fair was safe, she was a piano player, and we couldn’t haul it up the stairs anyway.  So up we went to the hang-out the club had for the main acts.  There were Doc and Merle, sittin’ on a couple chairs, pickin’ their geet-ars and drinking beer.  Well, good.  We started to feel at home.  Then they made us really feel at home.  First they offered us beer (they had a fairly big cooler on the floor), which I know all us guys took em’ up on.  They shook our hands and thanked us for opening for them, said they liked our music and performance and felt it worked well with what they did.  We all traded some personal stuff,  and then we started playing.  There was no bass amp, so me and Fair just sang.  Denny played some of his originals, which me and Fair sang harmonies on, and she shone on some vocals (I remember they really liked her voice).  Doc and Merle would add embelishments to Denny’s songs, really fine, and tasteful.  Then father and son would take off with their special blend of old-time, traditonal, country, bluegrass and whatever else they mixed in, and John (the best guitarist in our bunch) would try to keep up.  He did well, and Doc and Merle were never short on complimenting him.  Or any of us.  Me and Fair, Denny and his original songs.  And it felt real, just real.  By the end of the evening, I knew the meaning of “Down Home”.  And God-given talent that is humbly given and shared.  Doc and Merle were not only exceptional musicians, but people as well.  They shook our hands again all around, and we helped them carry their stuff out to their car.  It was an old Buick or Pontiac big boat-looking thing, you know the ones from that era.  We helped them pile their bags, guitars, and beer cooler in the back seat.  Waving to us out the window, off they went, across the Potomac river.  It was well after midnight.  I remember thinking, why would they leave here so late, why not just stay the night?  I know now why.  Doc and Merle were not city guys.  Across the Potomac was Virginia.  Closer to the mountains of North Carolina.  And home.

Have a blessed journey Home, Doc.

My friends and I opened for Doc and Merle many years ago.  And what happened was this.  Doc was blind, and my eyes were opened.  Even more so, my ears, and heart, by one of the finest musicians and gentle-man this nation has produced.  Sam Bush described his music as what personifies the genre Americana the best.  Doc and Merle described their music themselves as Traditional Plus.  To me, Doc is Americana Plus.  He is America Plus.

I have had no greater honor in my musical experience, and likely never will, than to have opened for and jammed with Doc Watson and his late son Merle.  Rest in ever music lovin’ Peace, Doc.  And Merle.  God bless you both, and all you gave us.

Humbly and Sincerely,  John Paul McNeil

ps- My favorite song of his is “Tennessee Stud”.  Doc was not only a great guitar player, he had a rich baritone voice as deep as the Deep River he sang about, and as real as he was.

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