The Ship that sailed into my life

Girl Scouting taught me that I was smart and capable, whether I was putting up a heavy canvas tent in a rainstorm or hanging my ass so far over the edge of a speeding sailboat that my hair got wet. The latter was something I learned to do in The Ship forty years ago, a wonderful mariner-oriented Senior troop based in Mesa, Arizona. Even more important than teaching me to sail, it’s one of the reasons why music is such an important part of my life. I was in The Ship when I first picked up one of Dad’s guitars and taught myself a G chord. The simple folk songs I’d sung in Girl Scouts were perfect for this fledgling musician and in The Ship we did a lot of singing. On March 15, 2014, The Ship had a reunion. We may not have recalled everyone’s names, but we remembered those songs. Here we are, singing “Rose.”

The words are from a woman who assures a man, “I will marry at thy will, sire, at thy will.” Strange words for a group of intelligent women, right? We laughed at that and at other songs like “Suitors,” where a father tries to get a daughter to marry and she tells him in no uncertain terms that she’ll honor his wishes only if rivers ran uphill and it was the day before she dies. In the end, though, she acquiesces because “tomorrow I must die.” None of us lived our lives by those words. Instead, we were remembering the times we’d sat around a beach campfire under a starry sky, adding harmony upon harmony, feeling the warmth of each other and not just that fire. Suddenly, forty years didn’t seem like such a long time ago.

ship big trip

1973. Getting ready to leave on the big trip up the west coast. That’s me in the second row, on the end in the white t-shirt.

The day also included a slide show of photos, many of them of the “big” trips we took. Every other year the troop planned a huge event. One year, they crewed on a sailboat and sailed to Catalina Island off the coast of California. In 1973, during my first year in the troop, we journeyed up the west coast all the way to Vancouver, BC in a school bus. We raised all of the money ourselves, with a spaghetti dinner, cookies (of course) and more. We researched places to visit and set up housing in churches, camps and even a naval base. When it was discovered that we couldn’t rent a bus for a trip that long, two of our advisers bought a bus, using their home as collateral. (We sold the bus back at the end of the trip.) I can’t convey to you how exciting a trip like this was to a 15 year old like me. Here we are, looking at a slide from that trip and remembering who everyone was. Thank God we figured out who the cute brunette was.

We had name tags. Since The Ship spanned several years and Senior scouting only lasts for three, we weren’t all in the troop at the same time. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.) There were several faces I didn’t recognize at first (even if we shared the same years) but as soon as they opened their mouths, I knew who they were. We may have gotten grayer and rounder, however, our voices hadn’t changed.

One of the people I would’ve known in a crowd of thousands was Lois. Not only did she have that same joyous laugh, but there was that thousand-kilowatt smile. Here she is, standing next to a slide of her younger self. Doncha just want to pinch those cheeks?

ship Lois

We laughed over the stories, like the time The Ship trounced the Sea Scouts (Boy Scouts) at a regatta. The adults decided to give first place to the boys anyway because the poor dears would be mortified to be beat by a bunch of girls. No one in The Ship agreed with that, including our adviser, a former Navy guy who made sure every girl knew all the knots, nautical terms and more.

The Satellite, one of the borrowed boats, and a council canoe at a reunion we had in the eighties.

The Satellite, one of the borrowed boats, and a council canoe at a reunion we had in the eighties.

The Ship didn’t just do regattas and those big trips. We camped, helped out non-profits, and learned to sail, canoe and row. I know, a mariner troop in the middle of the desert doesn’t make sense. No one told us we couldn’t do it. We borrowed the Girl Scout council’s canoes and sailboats from parents. Two of our advisers saved their Kool cigarette packages so we could get our own sailboat. The body was Styrofoam, it had a little striped triangular sail and two girls could squeeze into it if they liked each other a lot. That thing could sail on the mere mention of a breeze. Later on, we were able to buy our own boat, a real one big enough for four girls. On one camping trip, we sailed and canoed our gear across a lake to camp on a remote shore for the weekend. (I remember this as Saguaro Lake, not far from Phoenix. I could be wrong. Have I mentioned the name tags?) On the day we were to return, the sky had darkened and whitecap waves tossed the boats. That didn’t deter Karen, though. She cinched up the mainsail tight and put it in her teeth, gripped the tiller in both hands, and made us skim along, the sail at an angle so close to the water I was sure we’d dump over. The only way to prevent that was to get on the opposite side, hook our feet in the heeling straps along the bottom of the hull and hike our bodies over the edge in a counter-balance. We raced another one of our boats. It felt like flying.

We lost Karen to cancer a couple of years ago. Donna died in an accident in 2009. Some others we simply lost track of. But we never lost the songs. Singing together with my Girl Scout sisters was the highlight of my life and even when I’m 90, I’ll remember the ridiculous words to “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” I’d post a video of us singing it but some of us changed it to “Do Your Boobs Hang Low” and I promised not to share it. Girl Scouts never go back on a promise.

Beautiful smiling faces in March 2014.

Beautiful smiling faces in March 2014.


drive all night book

You can read more about The Ship in my book Drive All Night, on Bella Books, due for release on May 13, 2014. There’s also a chapter about my Ship experiences in On My Honor. (It’s out of print but you can find used copies on line.)

on my honor

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Making my first professional video. Is there ever enough cat hair?

setting up one of my scenes

When I decided to record my first album I thought I’d go into a studio and crank out enough songs in an afternoon. Years later, after ten albums, I know that it takes much more than that. So, when I thought I’d do my first-ever professional music video, you’d think I would know better. There I was, on a long boring interstate drive while on tour and I thought, hey, my song “Run” would make a funny video. (Hear it here.) I’d invite some friends over to my house, ask them to act out some scenes and have someone follow us around with a camera. I mapped out the script in my head. Continue reading

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The “w” part of musician/writer/teacher/parking lot attendant

On this blog I blab a lot about being a musician and a teacher. Now it’s time to talk about my writing, especially since I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT! Besides, I’m blind in one eye so you really don’t want to hand over the keys to your Volvo.

drive all night book

Drive All Night

Have I mentioned the thing about publishing a book? It’s a collection of tour stories, from meeting Melissa Etheridge to sharing housing with a pig. A real one. When you’ve dragged your arse all over doing gigs for twenty-plus years, you’ve got a few stories.  Continue reading

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Skype music lessons are easier than you think

Has your favorite teacher moved away? Do you live in a remote area? Maybe you just want the convenience of taking music lessons in your home, and the only teacher you can find looks like he’s casing the joint to break in later? (Okay, I’m kidding, but still, inviting a stranger into your home can be daunting, depending on where you live.)

Skype lesson

The answer? Lessons via Skype! Unlike the plethora of video lessons floating around on YouTube, you’ll get a live teacher to watch, play for and answer your questions. And, you don’t have to spend hours on YouTube, finding that one teacher who can effectively show you that bluegrass run or how to fingerpick “House of the Rising Sun.” Continue reading

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Why music teachers don’t drive BMWs

How do you get a musician off your porch?

Pay for the pizza.

It’s not that bad for some of us, especially those of us who teach. But if you’re paying $25 for a half hour lesson, and it seems like your teacher has a lot of students, shouldn’t she be driving a BMW and living in a 10,000 square foot house in <insert expensive neighborhood>?

Well, no.

Yeah, you could find someone through Craig’s List or Kijiji who charges $15 for an hour lesson. Is price the only way to choose a music teacher? It’s like doing all of your grocery shopping at the dollar store. I hate it when someone responds to my ads with only one question, “How much do you charge?” (On the flip side, it doesn’t mean that if you pay a lot more, you’re going to get Eric Clapton.)

dollar store

I’m a writer and performing musician, but teaching is my bread and butter. On the surface, it may appear that I make a load of dough, and while I once heard about a guy who had 80 private students per week, I wonder if each student got high quality instruction. Maybe he had a BMW. I drive a four year old Toyota that I share with my partner, and I make certain that I don’t have any more students than I can handle. I charge more than $15 an hour, however, you’re getting someone who’s played the guitar for 40 years and taught for 10.

Much of my time isn’t spent with students. Today, for example, I spent an hour making a video for a Skype student. (Contact me if you want lessons via Skype.) I uploaded it to Dropbox and that took an hour and a half. While that was happening, I filed music and cleaned my studio. I found a piece of sheet music for a ukulele student and played it through. I listened to a YouTube link that another student sent. I answered emails, mostly about scheduling. At the start of most days, I look over my list of students and prepare for each one. Sometimes I need to run through a piece they’re learning. Everyone has overhead and music teachers are no exception. I’m not complaining, it’s just part of the job.

I can’t speak for teachers in regular schools – band teachers, choir directors, general music instructors, etc. – because that’s not what I do. However, my friends who do that kind of work talk about all the extra hours. Sometimes, in addition to their regular day, they have marching band practice, consultations with parents, and more.

Next time you’re tempted to respond to a music teacher’s ad with only one question, “How much do you charge?” don’t, okay? Unless your query comes with a pizza. Extra cheese.



Want to find out more about finding a music teacher? Check out this post.

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Include music in your New Year resolutions


I asked my Facebook friends about their music-related resolutions and here’s what they told me. I’m thinking some of these will be good for me, too. Music can be calming, energizing, distracting, fun, and if you play it, forges new neural pathways.  Continue reading

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Puzzled about gifts for music fans?

Jamie puzzle 3

I’ve felt a little disjointed lately.

I love puzzles, especially if they have something to do with music. (Yeah, I’m coming out of the geek closet. Quick, find a role for me on Big Bang Theory.)  I found a cool site that’ll make a puzzle out of any photo. I haven’t figured out how to make it a gift, except for myself. Here’s what the photo looked like before:


photo by Woodland Willow

Continue reading

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