Before he became a dad, musician or social artist, Fyütch was just a schoolboy with an open, impressionable mind. But while he learned plenty about the accomplishments of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, few other historical black women received more than a single, passing mention.
With his new song, ‘Black Women in History,’ Fyütch hopes to change that by educating a whole new generation of young learners about the accomplishments of everyone from Mississippi civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer to Shirley Chisholm. The song also features black female artists/singers Rissi Palmer and Snooknuk, and it’s clever as heck, dropping unexpected, fresh rhymes about dozens of inspiring ladies.
In fact, Fyütch and his co-artists drop so much history in ‘Black Women’ that anyone who listens to the song or engages with the video is bound to learn something.
See it for yourself on #MLKDay2021 — or better, share it with your family, as you honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
For many musicians, the loss of performance opportunities in the pandemic has been unbearable – professionally and emotionally. Mark Erelli is one of them.
His twelfth record, Blindsided, came out just a few weeks after everything shut down. Tours were rescheduled, then rescheduled again, then canceled. Shows with a full band turned into solo live streams from his basement. This week, we catch up with the Massachusetts singer-songwriter and dad of two to discuss the challenges of creating music in 2020 and staying positive for the new year.
Rockmommy: What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the last 12 months?
Mark Erelli: I am a parent of two boys, 10 and 13, so there have been many educational, logistical, and emotional challenges of guiding them through this year. But challenges of that nature always exist, though I’m not usually around so consistently to help address them because of my work. So the parenting has been tough but, in a way, it’s been a bit easier because I’m here for my kids and to support my wife.
The biggest challenge was the impact of the pandemic on the release of my twelfth record, Blindsided, which came out just a few weeks after everything shut down. Tours would be rescheduled, then rescheduled again, then canceled. Shows I was really looking forward to playing with a full band turned into solo live streams in my basement. For once in my career, the groundswell of publicity and my musical profile were kind of synced up and it was all teed up to be a big, career-defining year for me. Of course it wasn’t, or at least not in the way I’d hoped for. And it’s not really something you can recreate, the moment passes and then it’s gone. So I’ve just had to try and wrap my head and heart around that, something I’m still trying to do.
Rockmommy: How did 2020 influence your music and creative process?
Mark Erelli: For a while, I wasn’t really feeling like picking up a guitar and singing or writing. When a new song finally came to me here and there, I found I was far less critical in the early stages of the process. I didn’t worry about if it was good or deep or how it dovetailed with anything else I’d done, I just wrote it and took it as far as I could, then if I liked it I would go back and be a little more ruthless as far as editing and honing the finished work.
I also used alternative media, like video making and animation, to help develop musical projects in a way that I’d never quite done before. At a time when it felt difficult to write songs, figuring out how to make an animated video allowed me to stay creative, but not be burdened by any of the expectations my normal musical approach might have.
Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021?
Mark Erelli: Honestly, I just want to begin the process of moving back toward a life in music. I’ve been working however I could this year, but it’s nothing like it used to be. Live performance — my own gigs and working as a sideman for others — is a big part of what I do, and I’d like for that to be a big part of my life again on the other side of this. But there’s no “going back” to how it used to be. It needs to be safe for myself and my audience, and we’re going to have to evolve some new work/life balance strategies for both me and my family, and those take time. I can envision some stuff happening outside in spring/summer, and maybe even some proper shows toward the end of 2021, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to recreate the musical life I want until 2022.
Rockmommy: If you could plan the perfect summer for 2021, what would that look like?
Mark Erelli: Summer of 2020 I did a few outdoor shows, but they were all very reactive to changing restrictions and guidelines. I would like to see conditions be a bit more stable and for promoters be very proactive in providing safe performance opportunities for artists and audiences to come together. We know better how to work under these constraints and so I’d like to take advantage of what we’ve learned and use it to provide more chances for community around music.
Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Mark Erelli: I released a Christmas song, written on Thanksgiving 2020, that came out over the holiday. It’s called “Not Quite Christmas.” And come Valentine’s Day, I’ll have another 3-song EP coming out, with each song exploring a different take on love.
Rockmommy: What advice do you have on balancing parenthood with creative life?
Mark Erelli: It’s not a one-strategy-fits-all sort of thing, every artist and every family is different. What works for me is saying no a lot. My family needs a lot right now, and they are the most important thing to me. So that means I say no to a lot of music opportunities and say yes to the ones that are especially meaningful. I try to choose music opportunities that aren’t too disruptive with us all cooped up in one house and have sometimes been able to livestream from locations outside of the home safely, so I’m not keeping everyone quiet while I work. I want my kids to know that I love my job and making music very, very much. But I also want them to see me balance it with being there for them, physically and emotionally. In my book, if I were to have an amazing musical career that came at the expense of my marriage or family, it wouldn’t even be worth it.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.
The first time I met Alan Merrill was on my show ‘Rewbee’s World.’ My friend Jo Brat said she’d recently met him at a random party and I needed to get him on the show since he was the actual songwriter who wrote ‘I Love Rock N’ Roll.’ It’s incredible how everyone reacts in surprise when they hear that.
That first meeting was more than a decade ago, but it was LOVE at first sight, in a way. Alan immediately adopted me as his sister… he always told me my ‘Rew’ sticker was the only sticker he ever had on his guitar case… I miss him and think about him every day. He passed away in early Spring 2020 due to complications stemming from the coronavirus.
I recently caught up with his daughter, Laura Merrill, a creative soul in her own right, to talk about Alan and his legacy.
Rew Starr: I want to say how sorry I am for your loss. Alan your dad was very special to me and zillions of others. How are you doing?
Laura Merrill: Thank you Rew. I’ve been OK and slowly adjusting to the new normal. Life without my father is very strange.
He was and has always been someone I could turn to for advice and guidance… especially during a worldwide pandemic. Everyone knew him as a rockstar and to me he was always Daddy.
Rew Starr: How old were you when you realized your Dad was a Rockstar?
Laura Merrill: Well it must’ve been when I started school because he was always the one to drop us off and pick us up. I didn’t realize how different he was from the other parents until he was in the crowd of them at the end of the day waiting to pick us up. He stayed true to himself and wore his leopard spandex, bullet belt, ripped T-shirt and pink headband in the school yard to greet us.
We grew up with music being played and recorded around us since we were born so that wasn’t abnormal. It was the reaction of the other students and especially the moms drooling over him that I started to realize he was… special and a Rockstar.
Rew Starr: When did you understand the impact of his work?
Laura Merrill: It was when I’d hear ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ everywhere. In the grocery store, gym, doctor’s waiting room, everywhere and of course on TV.
Rew Starr: Your Dad was a groundbreaker in so many ways — TV, music, being a Dad spreading love. Did you inherit some of this passion? Is there any favorite thing about him you have?
Laura Merrill: Yes he definitely was a groundbreaker and marched to his own beat. I inherited a lot from him. My love for music, art and fashion. Our humor is exactly the same. Our love and understanding of social media. But mostly his heart, we are very much alike in matters of love and our view on life. That was my favorite thing about my father, his loving nature and the way he made everyone feel like they were family. I’d admire his kindness from afar and I hope to carry that on and share it in my life.
Rew Starr: What do you think he wants to see you accomplish?
Laura Merrill: I think he just wants to see me be happy and successful. Make a mark with my artistry. He was always my biggest cheerleader. I’m sure he’d like me to keep his legacy going. I work hard every day to stay true to my artistry as did he.
Rew Starr: ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ is an anthem for the entire world. How did that make him feel? How did that make you feel?
Laura Merrill: It made him feel amazing. He knew what he had accomplished and wanted the world to know he was the man behind the music. Unfortunately, he accomplished that more in his death than his life but *sigh*…isn’t that the life of a true artist? For me, it makes me so eternally proud of him.
Rew Starr: Are you making any new music?
Laura Merrill: I do write here and there but have turned my creativity towards photography and art. It’s helped me cope with the loss of my father. Songwriting is so personal and perhaps when things settle down I’ll return to it. He would’ve wanted that as he was my biggest supporter.
My father really instilled such a love for music in my soul. I can’t breathe without it. It has the ability to shape my mood.
Rew Starr: Tell me about your photography? Your ART….
Laura Merrill: My photography and art at the moment celebrate femininity and the female body. I’ve always thought the shapes — dark and light of female nudity — to be so beautiful. I photograph it along with many self portraits, and paint it as well. I think a lot of my art is my mother’s influence. She was a model in a time where people were free to express themselves. I want to embrace that freedom.
Rew Starr: Tell us something we don’t know about you?
Laura Merrill: I am ambidextrous. I hate anything to do with math and still count on my fingers.
Rew Starr: What’s the greatest part about being a rockdaughter?
Laura Merrill: The best thing — and I didn’t realize this until after my father passed — is that with his success and now that he’s gone…he is still all around. People and fans posting videos, songs and photos I’ve never seen online. It’s like he’s visiting and still here. I’m lucky in that way I guess.
Every time I hear “I Love Rock and Roll” in a bar or on the radio it’s like him saying “I love you” from heaven.
Here’s a photo I took of him for his album just a few weeks before he died. It still feels like yesterday that he came over for the session. He brought several guitars and a ton of clothes. My brother was there as well and we just had such a great time. We were busting on my dad for some of his poses as kids usually do. He had a gig downtown just after the session and I went not knowing it would be the last time I’d see him play. He sounded amazing as always.
Days after the shoot he was rushing me to get the photos finished because he was so excited to get his album out. This is the photo he put on the inside of the CD and I really tried pushing him to make it the cover. The photo he chose pointing at the camera was a goof and I almost deleted it. It just goes to show what a silly character he is… always marching to his own beat.
Rew Starr is an actor, musician and mother who lives in New York City.
November is all about gratitude, with Thanksgiving, and #WorldKindnessDay and all of the other little days in between. It’s also the birth month of some of my favorite Scorpios, like my childhood bestie Karina, my Dad, my niece Luciana, my mother in law Lynne, and my dear friends Emily, Steph and Linda.
But this year I’m feeling especially grateful, not just for my health and my children’s health, and for medical doctors and the recent election. I’m also grateful that my parent band — in spite of all of the parenting/life/moving/health/family struggles, and the loss of our beloved rehearsal space — has stuck together.
Not just stuck together, but managed to home-record our first single (“Eggs”), learn a new cover (Concrete Blonde, “The Vampire Song”), and play an awesome, intimate show in my drummer’s cul-de-sac during the Halloween season. We’re also practicing EVERY WEEK in his bucolic backyard, underneath a canopy of trees and stars, fog or no fog. It’s so inspiring to look up into the sky and feel like I’m being held by the universe.
Yes, it’s getting colder. I don’t know how much longer we can continue to play music outdoors, in the dark, especially when it gets super chilly. With the coronavirus spreading faster than it’s ever spread, we may soon have to shutter indoors again, in a depressing flashback to the days of March and quarantine.
The fact that it’s holiday season makes this potential reality pretty sad (I get teary just thinking about staying home in December, because I have spent every Christmas since my birth in Maryland, my home state).
So it’s essential to take a moment, today, to say THANK YOU to my higher power for the ability to practice and play, sing and strum, even in the world’s darkest hours.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.
My name is Earl Henrichon and I play in a Hartford, CT-based band called The Professors of Sweet, Sweet Music (POSSM). Yes, you heard right, that is the actual name of our band. We thought it would be hilarious if people actually had to say that out loud in the off-chance we were able to play shows in public.
Earl Henrichon & The POSSM
A few years later and we’ve won several Best of Hartford awards, a New England Music Award nomination for Best Band in Connecticut and we’ve co-created the Hartbeat Music Festival (a day-long event showcasing local musicians of all genres). I guess now we are stuck with the ridiculous (but hopefully charming?) name.
And now the world has gone to shit in a period of three months, and we are all in quarantine. Suddenly my band is not getting together and playing music, and there are no shows to practice for. This time has given me an opportunity to reflect on a lot of things when it comes to music, its impact on my life, my teaching and my family. I figured what the Internet needed most was the perspective of dad who was getting older and plays in rock band…so here we go!
Earl & family
I am a high school Health and Physical Education teacher, husband of 14 years and father to an awesome (and sometimes totally insane) 7-year-old daughter. I also love to surf and have an unhealthy relationship with fantasy sports. My wife Jane is clearly an amazingly supportive, patient and understanding human being (talk about a rock mommy!), and as a result my life is immeasurably better for having had so many fun and exciting experiences. Jane has been staying at home since the birth of our daughter, and what we lack in income we have gained in family time. Everyone has their own situations, but for us this has been a tremendous positive…at least so far.
I came to music late in life. I listened to The Beatles, Guns and Roses and a lot of other rock bands growing up, but I didn’t understand what was involved in creating the sounds I was hearing. It wasn’t until I had been listening to Jack Johnson for years, and couldn’t get those sounds out of my head that I finally picked up a guitar. That was about 8 years ago.
Almost immediately after learning a couple of simple chords, I started writing music by ear. At the time I thought was creative and insightful but I look back now and realize how truly terrible most of it was. But not having the requisite shame one should have about publicly embarrassing themselves, I quickly assembled a group of (luckily more talented than I) guys and convinced some fellow teachers it would be a good idea to come out and see our band in action after school once in a while. The beauty of music, probably for all of us, but especially for me, has been the connections that it helps create with other people. From the start we always had other teachers sing songs with us, and later people from other bands would jump in on songs or for join us for entire shows. This helped created a community because of which my life will always be better off and for which I’ll always be grateful.
There are many things about performing music live that actually don’t fit my personality at all. As an early-rising teacher I am not at all at late-night guy. In a perfect world, my favorite place to be is at home with my family, watching some Netflix and getting to bed at a decent time. We don’t play tons of late gigs as a result, we are always glad to open up for other bands, and I usually leave before the rest of my bandmates when a show is over. But I enjoy the hell out of being on stage, sharing the fun moments with others, and being a part of something that brings some joy and laughter into others’ lives.
Having my daughter grow up around music, the guys in the band and all of the positive experiences that have come from that is something I will look back fondly on forever.
Over the last few months as I’ve been teaching from home, my day is very different. I did 30 days of yoga with my wife, hiking constantly to try and wear out the dog, the 7 year old (and if we are being honest, the 43 year old — me!), and now protesting has become something we participate in as well. This new rhythm is giving me the opportunity to go back and spend time with music in a way I haven’t before. Not having the pressure of getting ready for the next show, booking future shows, having people rely on me to set a lineup or finishing up something for a recording has been freeing in a way I did not expect.
When I first learned guitar I didn’t take proper lessons or even take time to learn anything properly before finding reasons to start playing it in front of others. Since then I’ve mostly been practicing for the next show. Now I am finding the time to learn the scales on the guitar better, how to play a solo that doesn’t sound forced, and how to create voicings of chords I hadn’t considered before. I’ve even starting to learn a bit of the piano — which has helped all of the theory make sense.
I am aware that everyone’s quarantine is different, and that many of the rock moms and dads are feeling run ragged by working, homeschooling, feeling financial stress etc…but there is also a reset button that this time is allowing us to have. I suspect that many of us will find when things go back to whatever normal is going to look like when it happens, that we will miss some of things about this time as well, and to enjoy some of that while we are there.
If anyone of you are interested in checking out our music, we are releasing a new single on all streaming platforms on May 29th, and we can be found on all social media platforms as The POSSM, and at thepossm.com. I hope the rest of the quarantine treats you all well, until we are all rocking out in front of audiences again!
Earl Henrichon is a father, teacher and guitarist for the Connecticut band The POSSM.
On a warm, overcast Friday in early June 2020, Steve Rodgers might have been strumming his guitar and thinking about set lists for a string of summer concerts. But instead, the indie rocker dad was hard at work building a new chicken coop out of the wood he salvaged from his daughter’s old toy chest.
“It’s for five chickens, which is the legal limit in Hamden,” says Steve, who has already built an impressive array of wood- and recycled-materials projects over the last few years, in the home he shares with wife Jesse, daughter Fable, 16, and son River, 10.
The act of repurposing good materials into something new and needed is actually a fitting metaphor these days: In the summer of COVID-19, as Steve and other musicians have been blocked from playing indoor concerts, it’s become necessary to figure out new ways to get live music to the masses.
And he’s doing a pretty good job, so far. In May, Steve — who is still best known for his role as the singer from Mighty Purple, the band he co-founded as a teen — was one of the first artists tapped by the International Festival of Arts & Ideas to start playing live, acoustic outdoor “backyard” sets. It’s one of the few options at the moment for safe, live music right now as most nightclubs are closed and concerts have been postponed or cancelled.
“I played two gigs in one day — one in a two-acre backyard and another on Court Street in New Haven,” says Steve. “There were, literally, on every porch, a family or friends and their roommates. Every time I finished a song people were clapping … they hadn’t seen any live music for two months. It was a good day for me and my fiddle player.”
And while it isn’t the summer he imagined, it’s an absolutely fitting experience for a guy who’s had to adapt and think outside of the box to survive.
When I first met Steve Rodgers, he wasn’t a 40-something dad of two, a music director in a church, or a nightclub owner. He was just 20-year-old dude from Hamden who started a rock band with his younger brother Jonny.
Mighty Purple officially formed in 1992, with Steve on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jonny on vocals and lead guitar, Adrian VandeGraff on bass and Will Mix on drums, and quickly grew into one of New England’s more popular regional acts,opening for the likes of Dave Matthews Band and Bare Naked Ladies. Their music spans multiple genres — folk rock, psychedelic rock, funk or even hard rock. The common through line is the Rodgers brothers’ earnest, powerful harmonies and the band’s high-energy performances. Even today, the band’s influence on the New Haven-area arts scene is still evident — nearly every musician I’ve met in Southeastern Connecticut has a Mighty Purple story.
My first Mighty Purple experience, in Fall 1994, happened by accident, as some of the best experiences do: I was to be a freshman at University of Maryland in College Park, where I met Jason DaPonte, who was from Stratford, Connecticut, and lived in my co-ed dorm (Elkton Hall). He knew Mighty Purple from his high school days, and helped them secure a gig at Javaheads, an intimate little coffeehouse-bar hybrid in downtown College Park, which served bottomless coffee and $2 well drinks. It was one of the last places where patrons could smoke cigarettes while listening to alt-rock acts play in a makeshift space by the windows.
Deciding to go to the show was a no brainer. Forgive me, but at the time I was 18 and full of hormones. I took one look at the flier and saw two guys with long hair, holding instruments. It was like the grunge version of Nelson. I was in.
But it was the music — arpeggiated guitars, bass, and percussion infused with some of the warmest vocal harmonies I’d ever heard — that kept me there. The show was a stripped-down, acoustic set, and the moment Mighty Purple launched into “When Kingdoms Fall,” an epic anthem characterized by its atmospheric effects, addictive hooks, and a singalong chorus, I became a fan.
After the set, I bought their CD, Bohica, and we somehow ended up having an afterparty in my dorm room, where Jason and Steve swapped stories of their youthful antics. I have a vague recollection of drinking and bong hits, but neither Steve nor I can remember that night completely. I did remember that Steve was the chattier, more extroverted of the brothers, while Jonny was the quieter one. I also recall the hours I spent listening to that CD on my walkman for the next 12 months, enjoying the heavier, funkier tunes like “Wail” and “Circle,” and my favorite — “Rose for Caroline” — throughout my entire freshman year.
“My brother and I wrote some songs collectively, and many more individually,” says Steve. “Once a song had a basic framework we would bring it to each other and then to the band. Throughout the various seasons of the Mighty Purple journey, we had many different ways of writing songs. Sometimes we wrote as a full band. Adrian, our longtime bass player, wrote many parts and transitions alongside my brother.”
Interestingly, it was during that year, within months after seeing and hanging out with Mighty Purple, that I would pick up a guitar for the first time, and learn how to play.
Building a Scene
Steve and I crossed paths again in 16 years later — in October 2010 — because I’d transplanted to Connecticut from Brooklyn by way of marriage, and managed to score a freelance-writing gig for NBC Universal. My assignment: to write mini profiles of the coolest bars, nightclubs, and hangouts in Connecticut — including the best venues for live, original music.
Unfortunately, I lived in Stamford, a city which felt artistically void, oozing with pop-rock cover bands and dance nights with pre-recored boom-boom pop. Nothing against these diversions, but I pined for cute little coffeehouses, poetry slams, dive bars and the artist-enclave culture that reminded me of college.
“Remember that band Mighty Purple, you met during our freshman year?” said my old pal Jason, who’d since moved to London after we graduated from University of Maryland. “The singer, my friend Steve Rodgers, opened a nightclub called The Space. I think you should check it out.”
Oh yeah, I realized. I did remember Steve Rodgers!
The next day I hopped on the Merritt Parkway and headed toward Hamden, Connecticut, a college town I’d never set foot in, to check out Steve’s new commercial digs. As I greeted Steve for the first time since the nineties, I almost didn’t recognize him. The person who stood in front of me was no longer the wide-eyed guy the on the cusp of 21, but a man halfway into his 30s, with much shorter hair — and a wife and two young children.
The Space itself was unlike any music establishment I’d seen. On the outside, it was gray-block building that looked like it was plopped down in the middle of an old parking lot, in the middle of nowhere. But inside, it was gloriously cool, with a ‘90s record-store vibe, teeming with knick-knacks and hanging lights, and band posters plastered to brightly painted walls. There was a spacious main floor with a stage, and a cozy little basement-bar area, intended for open-mic nights.
Over the course of two hours, Steve shared his plans to lease a second venue, to be called the Outer Space, which would be tailored to 21+ patrons who wanted to enjoy good beer with their music. He would go on to do this, and then in 2013, add a third, all-ages venue — The Spaceland Ballroom — with an ample, checkered floor space that was perfect for watching all kinds of performances, from bands to burlesque.
But by mid-2017, after years and years of growth, things started getting complicated. Keeping up with the Spaces’ overhead costs and renovations was tough, and Steve occasionally needed to hold fundraisers to keep business afloat. Some health issues had developed, and he began to meet with a couple of parties who were interested in potentially purchasing the venue. Yet he was still working feverishly every day to keep the club vital.
The Space in Hamden, Connecticut
The signs that something had to give kept coming. Steve’s doctor told him that his vocal cords were fried, and he’d need surgery for his nodules. He’d also need to quit smoking. In January 2018, Steve underwent throat surgery, which left him unable to speak much for months.
There was one “final straw” incident in particular that shook him. About six months before the Spaces would close, Steve was getting ready to lock up one night and was approached by a man in the parking lot who pulled a gun on him. This incident was traumatizing and was one of the signs that told Steve it was time to sell.
What happened next, which led to Steve ultimately exiting the Spaces, is a long story involving landlords and lawyers — and you can read the New Haven Register’s detailed account here — but from Steve’s perspective, the timing, although bittersweet, all worked out as it was supposed to.The Space and The Outer Space/Ballroom closed in late December 2018.
Re-Building a Life, Part 1
It would be remiss to write a profile of Steve Rodgers without acknowledging the role that his faith in God and the church have played in his life.
The son of an Anglican minister, Steve’s earliest memories are of him sitting in the Cathedral at King’s College and listening to sacred hymns. This tied into his musical upbringing, as his parents — “church hippies” — were songwriters and guitarists who frequently played at services. But in his teens, his parents divorced, and Steve found himself struggling with his feelings about religion.
“The church establishment has driven so many from the faith because of intolerance, judgmental rhetoric and divisive narrow thinking,” says Steve. “My heart breaks to see the divide the church has created. I embrace all humans no matter who they are and no matter what they believe in.”
In his 20s, after a decade of constant touring with Mighty Purple, Steve rediscovered his faith and enrolled in a Christian missions training program. His re-involvement grew slowly from there, and soon, he began playing drums in a church band. For the last 15 years, he’s served as the church’s music director (even when he was working overtime at his nightclubs).
“My faith now is about my relationship with God and about the spiritual mindset, which helps me to seek and spread hope, love, joy and peace in my everyday life,” he says.
Faith also proved crucial when it came to the tumultuous reentry into normal, post-nightclub-owner life in early 2019. In the aftermath of his departure from the Spaces, Steve grappled with lingering feelings of sadness.
“Even though I’ve always been a family guy, I was at work 60, 70 hours a week,” says Steve. “I had no idea what I was going to do after all that stuff went down. Financially, that was a very difficult time. In the six months following the Spaces, my true friends made themselves known.”
What Steve did appreciate was having significantly more time with his family and friends — and himself. He spent the first three months after the Spaces closed building miniatures, including miniature train sets and fairy homes. And as his voice continued to heal, and he acclimated to a more balanced home life, inspiration struck again, and he started writing new songs.
In April 2019, Steve Rodgers released “Count it All Joy,” a full-length album that leans closer to country — and further from rock — than a Mighty Purple record, with mellow melodies and multiple stringed instruments. It’s clear the songs are the work of someone who’s faced incredible challenges and emerged a better person. My favorite, so far, is “Why Are You Here?”, a song about the way humans seek spiritual comfort in the wake of hardships. Even after the imprint of 27 years of smoking, Steve’s voice soars brightly in songs like “Love Will Conquer You.”
The album features Ben Dean on fiddle, Jonny Rodgers on acoustic guitar and Seth Adam on bass, and Fred Delione playing keys for a couple of song.
“‘Count it All Joy’ means ‘no matter what trials and tribulations … there’s always something you can find joy in,” Steve tells me. “Get excited about the things you do have and throw yourself into something.”
Re-building a Life, Part 2
Steve and Jesse chose to homeschool their own children years ago, because they wanted their kids to have a more personalized and nurturing learning environment. So the past three months of mandated “distance learning” are nothing new, except that his kids can’t gather with their friends.
However, their approach to homeschool may seem a little unorthodox by some parents’ standards. For example: While some parents try to educate their kids with a structured schedule, the Rodgers let the inspiration of the day guide learning. So if 10-year-old River would rather paint a mural at 9 a.m. before doing math, he paints a mural. There’s always time to do math later on.
“I know a lot of people are really struggling right now, but we’ve been really family closening,” says Steve. “This experience has helped us get a lot closer and understanding each other more.”
After our conversation about homeschooling, I found myself questioning this approach.
I’m a creative person, but I’m also a mom. When the urge comes on to write a song, I can’t just drop my income-generating work or childrearing to write it down. Without structure, how will my kids accomplish anything that isn’t fun?
But over the course of several hours, I came around a bit in my thinking. I realized that it’s important to take inspiration when it comes. If my 6-year-old son feels like stapling papers together and “writing” a book, he’s still learning. Maybe that’s more important than forcing him to add numbers at a pre-designated time.
Also, inspiration frequently comes at inopportune times — when we’re focused on other things, or when we’re experiencing pain or loss.
“My last show before coronavirus lockdown was March 6,” Steve recalls. “It was in this little coffeehouse in Vernon, Connecticut, and I sold 30 CDS, which is huge by today’s [streaming] music standards, and I had a lot of momentum building. But I can’t let this time discourage me. I had 20 gigs cancelled, and some really good ones, like a festival in Massachusetts. But instead of getting bummed out, I started spending 10 or 12 hours a week in my basement, learning recording software. Musically, I’ve just let any idea come out. If it feels right, I write something — I don’t let any genre or ideas about genre limit me. I’m not sitting down writing songs called ‘Coronavirus Shut In,’ but I’ve been writing stuff about coming together and healing.”
In March, he channeled his despair and hope into the song, “Invisible Forces,” which is universally relatable to everyone suffering in the pandemic. The song is mixed by local producer Vic Steffens, and video is not for the faint of heart, with images of spiked COVID balls spinning aimlessly through space, masked pedestrians strolling briskly past one another, and a haunting scene filled with empty children’s chairs. But it’s a cathartic visual experience, and proof that music can bring us together, even when we’re apart.
“Really, this summer, what I’m looking forward to is doing some more shows, outdoors and stuff,” says Steve. “I’ve also taken up home recording, and am learning how to use software. Some of my music friends are busy with their own stuff, so you know what? I’m playing bass now. I’m playing lead guitar — which I’ve never really known. I’ve taken this time to learn.”
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Singer-songwriter Ben Rudnick has had to cope with the same annoyances — from cancelled performances to the closure of live-entertainment venues — as the rest of us. But instead of moping, the rockdaddy is staying busy, and recently penned a clever little tune that encapsulates this strange moment in history and parenthood. His latest single, “Monster NO!” — a folksy tune that’s perfect for kids who are experiencing serious coronavirus anxiety.
In the song, Ben sings of washing your hands with soap, doing a silly dance, jumping up and down, or even talking like a frog — “Ribbet ribbet croak and keep the monster away!” (Download “Monster NO!” on his Soundcloud page here).
We recently caught up with Ben to talk about parenting, music and staying safe this summer.
Rockmommy: What’s been going on lately, music and otherwise?
Ben Rudnick: Well… The band had a busy summer planned. Lots of shows; big, small and in between. That’s clearly compromised but we have been asked to do some virtual shows. The loose plan is to set up on my front porch and play for the neighborhood while a neighbor pal handles the streaming end. I hope it works! We can be safe and still get to play a bit. How fun will that be!? At this point, LOTS!
Otherwise, musically, a few years back I visited Jorma Kaukonen’s (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio and have been taking workshops with Jorma ever since. Besides learning how to fingerpick Jorma tunes, there’s a whole community around the place that has been wonderfully supportive. I got proficient enough at it to a) start a band called Don’t Tell Jack which plays those tunes I’ve learned and b) know that I’ve got a long way to go to really be good at it. All that said…. I’ve been fingerpicking like crazy these days and will be taking an online workshop with Jorma in a week or so. Fingerpicking is something of a meditation for me and it certainly keeps me busy.
Otherwise, not musically, lots and lots of gardening and cooking. I also hike with my beautiful golden retriever Lucy around five miles in the early morning. Every morning. Sun, rain, snow… you name it. There’s a wonderful wooded park close to where I live which at this point in history, might be one of my favorite places of all time.
I’m close to home and busy. That’s the deal.
Rockmommy: How did you come up with the song, “Monster NO!?
Ben Rudnick: Monster NO! came about from an acquaintance who was looking to connect with me on Facebook and found someone else who happened to be a doctor with the same name. The doctor, a fan of ours, asked if when she found me, would she ask me if I could write a song about the current situation for kids. At first I thought, “nahhhhh…” but then it seemed like a pretty good idea. It’s surely not as epic as some other songs I’ve written but hey, it doesn’t have to be! Plus, I wrote it so that I could use my new mad, fingerpicking skills!
Rockmommy: Are you generally finding new creative inspiration during this challenging time?
Ben Rudnick: You know, I’d love to say “yes” but I’m gravitating more toward sharpening up some skills and filling in some blanks. For me, that has always paid off with new music further on up the road. It’s part of my process so we’ll see what comes out of it.
I did take a few ZOOM lessons with an amazingly talented guy named Joe Craven. I’m familiar with Joe as he played in David Grisman’s band for 15 years, which encompassed the Grisman/Garcia work. Joe got me to write a tune that is way more jazzy than I would have written otherwise. I can’t wait to set the band loose on it when we can finally reconvene on a regular basis.
Rockmommy: What are your best coping tips for pandemic parenting?
Ben Rudnick: I’m not sure I’m the best guy to ask about this but I’d say to parents, ‘remember to take care of yourselves.’ A calm — okay, a mostly calm — parent who can get some alone time and come back even slightly fresher to the kids and family really is good for all.
The other tip is, of course, listen to a band’s music. There is a lot of it! Each album is a world unto itself that you can get happily lost in. Speaking for my own music, me and my band put a lot of time into all of our songs and it can pay off for you and the family. Our discs have always been a happy glue that can make your family life better and now is a good time to let them work for you. Really! Let Ben Rudnick and Friends help you get through the pandemic.
Rockmommy: What’s your advice for making time for yourself?
Ben Rudnick: I only know what’s worked for me and that is, it always felt important for me to model ‘do stuff I’m passionate about’ behavior for my daughter. I thought if she saw me making time for things that were important to me, she may end up having the same ability. I hoped it might make her more independent. It worked out. She’s a self-starter and I’m proud of her. So, I would say, give yourself permission to make some time for something you want to do that’s important to you. That’s easy to say of course, but if it can be done, it’s worthwhile for the parent and in my experience beneficial for the kids in the long run.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.