Lebanon Hills Regional Park – August 3, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 11.49.28 PMWell, to my mind, I’ve uncovered the reason for Eagan’s existence. It’s to house this lovely park with it’s many lakes, trails, trees, mushrooms and animals. Everything you want from a pile of nature just a twenty minute drive from the city –  it’s all easily accessible on the gentle, rolling trails of Lebanon Hills. We just scratched the surface, covering about three miles via the Jensen Lake Trailhead. The trails are well marked and you are presented with options to explore, all primarily lush, shady and easy to navigate. I can hardly wait to go back in the fall when the colors are changing.

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On the Mike with Susan Fellner

Screen Shot 2012-10-22 at 4.51.23 PMThe following transcript is of a never aired interview featuring public radio personality Susan Fellner interviewing obscure the obscure country western flash-in-the-pan singer songwriter Tammy Rae. Despite recording only one EP on the Spyco record label, Tammy Rae’s stormy relationship with the historically reclusive producer Ganderson made her an intriguing interview subject.

Susan Fellner: Today we’re going to pick the brain of a most unlikely country-western front-woman. Singer and songwriter Tammy Rae rose from complete to relative obscurity after her debut album “Peppermint and Cigarettes”. Along with her band The Aquanets, Tammy Rae sings songs with a melodic and lyric simplicity that is reminiscent of classic country, with a biting autobiographical edge. Welcome to On the Mic, Tammy Rae.
TR: Well thank you so much Susan, I’m just pleased as peach to be here.
SF: Tammy, the story goes that you were working in the lingerie department at Sears when you started writing and singing songs, and that you were 38 years old.
TR: Yeah, well, we call it Intimate Apparel but that’s about right. I’d fooled around with writing, and picked up a guitar before a few times, but I didn’t start writing music until I was pretty much over the hill. All my heroes, June Carter, Loretta, Dolly, Patsy… they were all discovered very young. Well, when I was their age, I was just honky tonkin and moving around. I loved music, and I hung around a lot of musicians. But I never fancied myself one. I kept a diary, and I wrote a lot of poems, but I didn’t even consider it. And then, you know, I had my two precious babies and I was just focused on raising them alone.
SF: Did you sing to your children?
TR: You know, I used to sing to my daughter to try to put her to sleep when she was just a wee thing, and that little firecracker covered up my mouth with her hand! But I sang all the time at home. And in the car. Music was an important part of our lives together, we always sang. And of course both of their father’s were musicians, thought they never met them. My son’s daddy was a trumpet player, and my little girl’s pa played bass.
SF: Are they well-known musicians?
TR: Hmm, I’ve signed a waiver that prevents me from saying.
SF: Oh, well. How did you get started then? When you met your songwriting partner Travis Ritter? How did you meet?
TR: We were sitting in neighboring bar stools, and we started talking drinking gin and talking about music. I found out he was a session guitarist for this little record label I’d always liked, Spyco records. And the more gin we drank, I just felt like singing, and we stepped outside and I let loose on some old song and he joined in. We were fast friends.
SF: Did he suggest that you start writing lyrics?
TR: Well yes, he did. I was always talking, I like to talk a lot. And he just started saying “T-Rae (he calls me T-Rae) you oughta write that down.” So I started to, and I’d bring in my little ideas and some melody I half plucked from the air and half stole from Emmylou Harris, and he thought they weren’t half bad. Finally we drank enough beer to put down a demo.
SF: And did he introduce you to the head of Spyco?
TR: He did, we played him our demo. And Ganderson was not impressed. His opinion was like “This chick is beat. She’s too old and she’s kind of a mess”, I’m no beauty queen you know. And so he said, maybe we can have someone else record this, but he was not interested in signing me.
SF: We’ll hear how Tammy Rae eventually got signed, and more about her band the Aquanets, after this break, on Beyond the Mic. 
STATION BREAK
SF: Welcome back. So Tammy, how did you eventually get signed to Spyco Records then?
TR: Well, I harassed Ganderson relentlessly, and called him up and sang over the phone for weeks. But he always hung up.  So then I broke into his house in the middle of the night.
SF: Really? How?
TR: Oh simple. With the heel of my shoe. And as soon as I was in, I started talking real loud,- I was a little drunk – but I didn’t want him to think I was a robber, and I’m fumbling through the dark and yelling “Come on out here Ganderson you son of a bitch and I’m gonna sing you a song!” Well, he comes out in his just his little briefs waving a damned 45 around saying “Who the hell?!” And then he saw it was me but he didn’t put the gun down or nothing. So I just started singing with him standing there. I wasn’t scared. He wasn’t gonna shoot me, I’m a damned single mother for god’s sake. Anyway, I finished and he said “Tammy if I let you cut an album, will you leave me the hell alone?” And I said would.
SF: What song was it?
TR: I have no damn idea.
SF: And how is your relationship with Ganderson now?
TR: Well, I never really have left him alone. But he aint shot me. Yet.
SF: I’ve heard you have an unorthodox writing method.
TR: Well Travis Ritter is my main man. I call him up and sing into his answering machine. Then he writes and arranges all the music. I mean, I come up with the basic melody, but he’s the one that makes it come to life. He lays down some tracks, and the next time I come over, we work it out together.
SF: We have one of those recordings. Do you mind if we listen to it?
TR: Did Travis give you that? Why that little… oh Lord, fine sure. It’ll be a hoot.
SF: OK, lets roll that, and then we’ll hear the finished recording.
[Travis, answering machine] Hi, this is Travis. If this is that crazy bitch Tanya Tucker, unless you got my two hundred dollars, I don’t wanna hear it. Everyone else, wait for the beep:
[15 seconds of shitty demo.]
[30 seconds of real song.]
TR: Whooee, I sure am lucky for the miracles of modern recording.
SF: Tell me about the Aquanets.
TR: Well they’re just a great bunch of guys. Travis plays guitar, and he produces the music. And he sings harmony with me, got a voice sweet as syrup that one. Then we got Earl on bass. Earl Potter. He’s quiet like, but real sweet. And of course there’s Cyrus, the drummer. Cyrus Jawbone. I don’t think that’s his real name. He’s just a big old bear but he sings like a damn angel. They’re just a bunch of old softies is what they are. And a real tight band.
SF: Any plans for a follow up album?
TR: Working on it all the time. After the Drunk Cities Tour. And all this promotion for Peppermint and Cigarettes is tripping me up. It’s like laundry, you just never finish.
SF: Well thank you for your time Tammy Rae. It’s been a pleasure.
TR: Oh the pleasure is mine Susan, I assure you.
SF: And that’s it for On the Mic.

15 minutes at Taylor’s Falls – July 27, 2014

The kids bobbed along the trail with their umbrellas up, snagging on low branches and careening into each other, blocking the steady stream of hikers headed down the trail. We were headed INTO the forest, along the river, while everyone was clearly headed out. As we reached a clearing at the top of a hill, where the trail runs next to the road for a bit, the rain began to pour in earnest – large drops with impressive velocity. Adam called my name, and as I turned to see him gripping both sides of his hat with his hands and squinting through sheets of rain, he shouted, “I think it’s time to pack it in!” I felt sort of inclined to keep going, sort of compelled to go crazy, but you have to know when you’re beat. So we turned heel and marched back down the trail to the car.

Since we were in the area, we hopped over to Wisconsin to visit Saint Croix Falls, and one of my favorite places, Red Bird Music, a musty basement cave of a place with a modest supply of overpriced (but often great) vinyl, and a fine variety of string instruments. The place is crowded with potted plants, art, flyers of long past shows, and 1970’s audio equipment. Ivan and Adam played every instrument in the store, while Veronica and I idly flipped through records. A gray cat with some kind of thinning hair affliction rested on top of the records. The owner of the store is catlike in that he is quiet, nearly invisible, and while he does not mind your presence, it is definitely not required, maybe not even preferred.

Still soggy, we headed to the car, and back to the Minnesota side of the river. As we turned south onto highway 95, Ivan spotted the sign to Franconia and shouted “FRANCONIA!!”, and Adam turned to me shrugging his shoulders, and I shrugged mine, and we turned into the gravel parking lot. Franconia is a 25-acre sculpture park with an ever-evolving collection of large-scale sculpture in a wide variety of mediums. It is also one of my favorite places. It’s audacious in it’s scope and vision. The art itself is at turns beautiful, funny, absurd, haunting, monstrous and confounding. The kids ran straight to the jungle gym, and I took a picture of a young couple. We didn’t stay long, didn’t even walk all the way around the park, with Ivan riding piggy-back on Veronica, we headed back home.

On the way back to Saint Paul as I was nodding off to sleep, I felt Adam’s warm hand on my knee, and opened my eyes to look at him. He wore the look of tired, true love. I smiled at him and closed my eyes. One of the reasons we decided to hike each week was to prepare for a week-long vacation in the Southwest at the end of summer. And this day with its idle time-killing, ambling observation and dashed expectations – to be smiling at the end of this day is, as the Chinese say, auspicious.