My Weekend with the
Hot Screaming Death Torpedoes

You've heard of a "pit stop"?  I'm calling this one "Pit Start" - I grabbed it and Josef Newgarden went flying out of the pit during his qualifying runs on Saturday April 23

That’s what my friend Craig Havighurst calls those fragile, over-powered, insanely fast, open-wheeled vehicles (I hesitate to call them “cars” since a “car” is what we drive around town all day, and these are definitely not that…) in which daring young men hurtle themselves at ridiculous speeds  around oval-and-road courses all over America almost every Sunday afternoon through the spring and summer.

The “death torpedoes” line comes from “The Speed of Sound”  – a long-form essay Caig has written about the audio engineering at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which he’s offering as part of an experiment in crowd-funded independent ‘literary journalism’; follow this link to his Indiegogo campaign, or learn more about the campaign on this Facebook page. 

Thanks to Craig, I just spent an extraordinary, memorable four days covering an IndyCar Road Race – would you believe the “Grand Prix of Alabama”? (some how that combination of words seems almost oxymoronic: the elegant European traditions of a ‘Gran Prix” are not normally the sort of thing one associates with ‘Alabama’) – at the exquisite Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham.

Craig was on assignment to write a profile of Josef Newgarden – the Nashville (Hendersonville, actually) native who has risen through the ranks of motor racing to become one of the hot prospects on the IndyCar circuit, one of America’s two “major leagues” of auto racing (the other being NASCAR).  I got to tag along for the weekend to provide photo coverage for the story, which will appear in the Nashville Scene the Thursday before Memorial Day, aka the weekend of The Indianapolis 500.

Craig and I share some interest in what are generally called “motor sports” – that daring marriage of men and machines that has been around for as long as the horse was taken off the carriage in the late 19th century.  Admittedly, Craig is a far more avid proponent of the sport than I.  He closely follows the Formula 1 circuit, which some consider the zenith of all auto racing, though Craig actually prefers the somewhat more raw, more muscular world of the open-wheeled roadsters that have been racing around the big oval in Indianapolis almost every year since 1911.

My own interest in auto racing is relatively dormant compared to Craig’s.   I followed auto racing when I was in my early teens, following the exploits of Colin Chapman, Jim Clark and Team Lotus as they conquered Indianapolis in 1965.  Craig is very much up-to-date on the drivers, the equipment, the rules, the schedule, and the season-long championship standings;  I sorta lost interest when Jim Clark died on a track in Germany in 1968 – which, not coincidentally, was about the time my own interests were gravitating more toward girls and guitars…

Anyway, this past weekend was extraordinary.  Armed with a media pass, I had access to the entire facility, and spent much of race day in the infield, where these things were zooming around me in all directions and I could get right up to the edge of the track as they roared and screamed by.

Anybody who knows me knows that the word “awesome” is on my short list of the most over-used words in the English language, but the experience of being in the middle of al that was, how shall we say?  It was just was fuuuckinggggg aaaaaaaaaaawwwwesoooooome….

There was one the moment when I was standing behind a guard rail at the end of one of the fastest straight was, the cars going by me at their top speeds in the vicinity of 200mph…  And I had a moment where I realized where I was standing and just thought “this is inSAAAANE!”

I mean these “cars don’t just “crash,” they explode and throw parts and debris in all directions.  Granted,  there was little likelihood of a car going off the track on a straightaway, but it’s not impossible. For example, were one car to try to pass another and their open-wheels touch, the result can be two cars going in all but their intended directions; One could go off the track, strike a guard rail and explode, tossing wheels and other parts in multiple directions.  Yes, the actual likelihood of such an event was slim – but not quite nil.   And there I was, leaning out over the guard rail with a camera as these things screamed by…

I can’t post any of the photos from the weekend until The Scene has decided which ones they will use to accompany Craig’s profile of Josef, but I don’t think they’re going to use the “arty” shot at the top of this post.

I caught that one in a hot moment as Josef was blasting out of the pits for one of the qualifying heats on Saturday afternoon, the day before the big race.

You’ve heard of a “pit stop”?  I’m calling this one “Pit Start.”

*

Digest subscribers, I’m sorry that’s all I’ve got for you this week.  The past week has been pretty much “shoot / edit / sleep” – and tomorrow I’m off to Portland OR for the next 10 days to visit with family there.  Hopefully I’ll have some time to post from there.  Thanks, as always, for your interest and support.

Have You Ever Felt Like This?

Cartoon By R. Cobb

I was just text-messaging with a friend about the music business.

He said “What the hell do I know?”

I replied, “What the hell do any of us know?”

I wish I could remember where I first-ever saw this cartoon.  I know nothing more about than it was drawn by a cartoonist named Ron Cobb.

But I think of it often, like when ever I think of a foreign landscape (like the “new” digital music business) and how we often try to get “plugged in” with obsolete ideas and technologies.   The metaphor seems apt.

If that doesn’t make the point, then there is always this reliable chestnut that is often attributed to Hunter S. Thompson:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Of course, that could probably be said about a lot of businesses…

The Joy of Making Music:
Karen Waldrup At Douglas Corner

Karen Waldrup on stage at Douglas Corner - April 12, 2016

For those of you new subscribers who haven’t seen the expression before, “The Joy of Making Music” is the umbrella/brand for my studio and performance photography business.

This week I had the pleasure of shooting Karen Waldrup at a showcase she performed at Douglas Corner in Nashville.

I met Karen at a music industry gathering a few weeks ago. I was there with my camera (name tag: “My name is Paul; Ask me about my silent shutters”) and met Karen  hanging back at the bar at 3rd and Lindsley while waiting for the proceedings to commence.  We traded business cards. Then I saw a flyer on the bulletin board at “my office” promoting her showcase and figured, “may as well…”

These “industry showcases” are not your typical ‘singer/songwriter’ show; they’re kick-out-the-jams and belt-it to-the-rafters (well, depending on the act) affairs intended to get the attention of the industry types who can make a difference in a rising artist’s career (read that: label heads).

From what I can tell, Karen Waldrup has been banging on some of those doors for a while – and now she’s got the chops and her career is primed for a breakthrough.   She’s got an A-Team band behind her, and this was as ‘professional’ a showcase as I’ve seen in my twenty-plus years in Nashville.

As befits any truly original musician or performer, Karen Waldrup is not an easy woman to peg: she’s a little country, a little southern rock, a little pop. She’s a southern girl who likes her whiskey and wonders if her ex-lover’s fancy new wife serves it as well as she did.  She’s a polished performer with a powerful stage presence who can deliver the goods across the spectrum from hard rocking country to acoustic power ballads.

I caught her here in the rare moment on stage when she seems to be soaking it all in; I say “rare” because  most of the time she was full-throated rocking out. (The rest of the photos will have to wait until she and her management team have signed off on them.)

In the meantime, have a  listen to Karen’s 2015 EP “Getaway”

and check out this rhinestone-fringed guitar!
It's a bird... it's a plane... it's Karen Waldrop's rhinestone-fringed guitar!

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s Karen Waldrop’s rhinestone-fringed guitar!

The Single Best Line in All of “Star Wars”?

As seen at the Starbucks in Belle Meade

OK, that assertion may be overstating the case.  Maybe the best line was “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”  Or maybe it’s “Don’t get cocky, kid!”  At any rate, “Do or do not; there is no ‘try'” is definitely one of them.

But I just saw that a line that Yoda speaks in “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” on the back of a sweatshirt at my neighborhood Starbucks, and couldn’t resist the temptation to get a picture of it.  iPhone to the rescue!

Look closely and you’ll notice the quote is attributed to not just Yoda, but to “Yoda/Chukki.”  Chukki is the woman wearing the sweatshirt.  Turns out she’s a personal trainer and “Do or do not…” is a line that she has been using in her training since long before one of her clients told her that the line is in “Empire.”  When she told me that all I could say was “well, great minds do think alike…”

Here’s the original scene from Star Wars:

Today in #GameOfThrones #GoT
Middleham Castle – Yorkshire, England

Middleham-PA160036-2 Panorama-Edit

Before I went to the UK in the fall of 2014, I spent a little time learning how to make 360º panoramic photos (via Skype) from a guy in Australia, John Warkentin.  I haven’t done much with the files since, they’ve just been sitting on my hard drive and I’ve just about completely forgotten how the software that stitches these puppies together works (it’s kinda complex…).

Middleham-PA160269_A-HDR

Inside a ruined tower of Middleham Castle

But this morning as I was randomly, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I found a page dedicated to the English Wars of the Roses and Medieval Buildings. That got me to looking through some of the files I haven’t looked at for almost two years.  First I found an image from the interior of one of the ruined towers of Middleham Castle, a large fortress in Yorkshire, England that was one of the redoubts of the Yorkist faction during the Wars of the Roses, that 30-some-year civil war when the Yorks fought it out with the Lancasters for the Throne of England.

Then I went looking to see what else I have, and found all the files I shot for those panoramas (with a special tripod head that rotates the camera round the front element of the lens). Then I dug into the software that generates the panoramas to see if I could remember how to make it work.

The final result is the image at the top of this post, taken within the main courtyard of Middleham Castle.  The statue on the left side is of Richard III – he of “My kingdom for a horse” fame – who resided here for most of his life before usurping the crown from his nephew Edward V.

Edward V and his brother (also a Richard) were confined to the Tower of London, and once Richard ascended the throne, the boys – aged 12 and 9 – were never heard from or seen again, becoming instead the legend of “The Princes in the Tower.”

It was not too much longer before Richard III himself was dispatched in the Battle of Bosworth in August, 1485 – ending more than 350 years of the Plantagenet dynasty in England.  Bosworth is often cited as marking the end of the ‘medieval’ period of English history. Richard  and the Yorks were vanquished by Henry Tudor, who styled himself Henry VII and began the Tudor dynasty that ended a little over 100 years later with the demise of Elizabeth I.

Any resemblance between the stories of The Wars of the Roses and “Game of Thrones” is strictly intentional.  George R. R. Martin has even said as much

Y’All Are Gonna Wanna Get Hip
to Bonnie Bishop

"Music Industry Showcase" at The Rutledge in Nashville - December 8, 2009

About 5 years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the annual American Music Conference here in Nashville (little known fact: I was actually on the Founding Council that started the AMA back in like 2000).

After the conference, I sat down with the program guide from all the showcase and went on line (at the time it was LaLa.com) to stream/listen to some of the artists whose showcases I’d missed.  One track stopped me in… well, my tracks.  It was an artist I’d never heard of named Bonnie Bishop and the track was called “Lucky Ones.” Here, listen to it for yourself:

Bonnie has released a couple of records since then; visit her Spotify page to hear more.  What you’re going to hear is one of the gut-wrenching-est voices this side of… well, Janis Joplin comes to mind…

I tracked her down later that year, and she let me photograph a showcase that she performed at one of Nashville’s clubs.  She was still doing her level best to land a fucking record deal…

Over the past decade+, Bonnie Bishop’s career has seen all the vagaries  typical of today’s itinerant, independent singer/songwriters – they who that travel and toil under the radar of the mainstream commercial music industry.  They for whom the life of an “artist” is “mostly driving.”

Two years ago, she was on the threshold of throwing it all in.

That’s all going change with the release of  her new CD, “Ain’t Who I Was” next month.  The title track was released today:

And here’s what you need to know about the pedigree of this new record, which will be officially released on May 27:

  1. It was produced by Nashville’s hottest producer, the Chet Atkins/Owen Bradley of the twenty-teens, Dave Cobb.  Talk about being on a roll: Dave Cobb is responsible for the breakthrough solo releases by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and  2016 multi- CMA, Grammy and ACM winner Chris Stapleton (all Spotify links).  You just don’t get any hotter a hand than the one Dave Cobb has been playing over the past few years.  And the Atkins/Bradley reference is not an overstatement – he recently took over the keys to Nashville’s fabled Studio A (sometimes referred to as Nashville’s Abbey Road), which was built by Chet and Owen in the 1960s and narrowly escaped  a condo-developer’s wrecking ball in 2014.
  2. The release and distribution of “Ain’t Who I Was” is being handled by Thirty Tigers, a new-paradigm label services and distribution company that is one of the few companies  that has cracked the code on the new digital business – and not coincidentally the same firm that handled the break out releases for Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, among others.

RollingStone.com has got a great account of the kismet that went into the song selection and production of this new record:

The recording sessions were coming to an end when Cobb’s cousin, singer/songwriter Brent Cobb, walked into the studio with a track he’d co-written earlier that afternoon.

“Dave opens a brand new bottle of his favorite tequila,” Bishop remembers, “and we all take shots. Then Adam [Hood] and Brent play us the song they wrote. I have chills. I look over at Dave, who is nodding his head and grinning at me. Then I sing the words back to them while Brent plays the guitar and they sound so natural coming out of my mouth. It’s like I’ve been singing this song all my life.”

The song was “Ain’t Who I Was,” which became the title track to the new CD. When you hear it, you can’t help but think that the spiral has come back around, only at a much higher level, and that Bonnie Bishop is about to become, truly, one of “the lucky ones.”

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton