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For the love of Cowboys and Horses

As a boy, and all through adult hood, (Some, like my mother feel I still haven’t grown up), I have been fascinated by two very different dreams: sailing, which I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, and all things having to do with cowboys. As a boy, I read everything I could find about cowboys. I watched all those campy westerns of the sixty’s and seventy’s and relished in John Fords big screen extravaganzas. Of course John Wayne was my favorite. The Duke. I remember his movie, The Cowboys, were the Duke hires a bunch of kids to drive a herd of cattle for him, and probably the closest to the real west of his films.

To this day I am in love with anything to do with the cowboy. Robert Duval, Tom Selleck, and Sam Elliott are my favorite movie Cowboys today. I love the cowboy’s distinctive hat-to-toe uniform. Their pointed-toe boots with their inch-and-a-half heels angled forward, a little lip at the rear of the heel for spurs. And the hat, nothing say’s cowboy like the tall, stiff wide-brimmed cowboy hat with its front brim turned up in a big smile. And of course a cowboy isn’t a cowboy without his trusty partner, his horse. A cowboy rode everywhere on his horse, and you would too if you ever had to walk a long distance through a hot dusty prairie in a pair of high-heeled pointy-toed cowboy boots, (All credit to you masochistic women in your fancy, high-heeled, pointy-toed, dress-shoes.)

But, what I think what fascinates me the most is the near silent communication between horse and rider. Using the subtlest of cues, the rider asks his four-legged partner to move forward, turn left or right, speed up or stop. When done well, the two become as one, like dancers. Don’t believe me? Just watch a cowboy and his mount working a cow along a fence, or a reining competition at a horse show. Or better yet, go for a ride. Feel the power, see the intelligence, and experience the bond for yourself. I have and it’s left a lasting impression on me, as you will see in this story.

This magic between horse and rider is not limited to cowboys, and girls, or to western riding. Not by a long shot. In fact the cowboy is really the new kid in the saddle. The connection between horse and rider can be found throughout history. The English, and before that the Spanish excelled in equine relations. If you’ve ever watched the beautiful art of dressage, or show jumping, I’m sure you would agree.

It’s this almost magical connection between horse and human that led me to write, Bobby Tucker. At the age of ten, Bobby’s life was turned upside-down when he watched his father, a poor but respected horse trainer, die. Bobby, now eighteen and a high school graduate is drawn between his desire to follow in his fathers boots and hat as a horse trainer and the financial reality’s of life at the small stable he helps his mother run.

Working Hard At The Family Business

    With a recording and touring schedule that rivals even the most hardcore touring acts, The Mallett Brothers Band is arguably one of the hardest working bands in New England. In fact it was nearly impossible to get them all to stop working long enough to pose for a picture, let alone do an interview. But then growing up in a working musicians family, brothers Luke and Will Mallett come by this work ethic naturally. Their father, folk legend and one half of the original Mallett Brothers band, David Mallett continues to write and perform throughout New England. Both boys and their sister play on some of their dad’s more recent recordings. In fact, when we finally corralled the second generation in their studio in Portland, Dad was there for support, and a little input.

   Formed in 2009, The Mallett Brothers Band is now lead by brothers Luke and Will Mallett on guitar and lead vocals, with Nick Lean and his famous boot-stomp on Bass, the multi-talented Wally Wenzel on dobro & electric guitar, rocker Brian Higgins on Drums, and Matt Mills on Electric and slide guitar, and Banjo. While most of the song writing is done by brothers Will and Luke, all six band members are an integral part of their sound. I was fascinated by the broad range of experience each brings with them, from Brian’s Hard Rock past to Luke’s foray into Hip Hop.

   In person I found the guys, to be super laid back and their performances as fun to watch, as they are to listen to. Their music is song-driven, probably best described as Southern Rock or Country Rock with a twist of Folk stirred in. Their six years of near non-stop touring has made the Mallett Brothers Band seasoned professionals, which shows in their flawless stage presence. Whether they are playing an acoustical set in a small club or on the big stage plugged-in, the songs of The Mallett Brothers bring an energy that immediately gets your hands clapping and your boots stomping. Still, if you listen closely, you can hear the gift of folk flavored lyrics weaved throughout each song. The blend of traditional instruments, like Wally’s Dobro, and electric guitar only adds to the magical marriage of musical worlds. This also makes it hard to give their sound a label. I simply call it great music. And yes, I am a fan.

   Whatever you call it, it’s pretty obvious to anybody listening to them that the unique style The Mallett Brothers Band is creating is working for them big time. All you have to do is attend any of their sold-out elbow bumping shows as I did a few weeks back. They’re fans are as different as they are loyal. And when I say loyal I mean die-hard know if they changed the order of play list, missed a word in a song, or had a haircut loyal.

   Even with their busy show schedule the Mallett Brothers Band found time to record and released three albums. The first, the self titled, “The Mallett Brothers Band,” in 2010, “Low Down,” in 2011, and, “Land,” in 2013. Along with a killer tour schedule, the success of their third album, “Land,” brought them awards for “Best Band Of The year,” and “Best Album Of The Year,” at the 2013 New England Music Awards.

   New England isn’t alone in their appreciation of this talented band. They have opened for acts ranging from The Josh Abbot Band, Blackberry Smoke, Charlie Robison, and the Turnpike Troubadours, to legends like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, and .38 Special.

   In 2014, The Mallett Brothers Band went back into the studio, so to speak. What they really did is packed up all their gear and headed to a small, secluded cabin in the Maine woods, to record their fourth album. The new CD, “Lights Along The River,” will be released April 25th at a show Port City Music Hall in Portland Maine.

   Since their beginning The Mallett Brothers Band has continued to gain fans, and there is no doubt this is due in a large part to their tireless work ethic. But I believe that ultimately, the reason their popularity is exploding is because they are really, really good, both live and in the studio. So if you haven’t heard of The Mallett Brothers Band until now, I encourage you buy a CD or go see one of their fantastic live shows. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

The Shana Stack Band: The New England Music Awards ‘Country Act of the Year’

Class, professionalism, and talent are just a few words that come to mind when I think of The Shana Stack Band. They have only been together since 2010, but have quickly proved to be one of the top bands in the region. The work that they are doing are forcing people to take notice and getting them some serious recognition. They are incredibly gracious and appreciate their fans and any and all attention they receive (that includes their manager). They even created a way for their fans to be involved with one of their albums. Fans were able to contribute as sponsors and get their name in the liner notes as well as an autographed copy when it was released. This is just one example of how they are keeping themselves accessible and grounded.

Forming the Band

All of the band members have played in bands prior to getting together. Shana and Ed knew of each other while playing in other bands, and when those bands parted ways they decided to play together. They started hunting for band members and put together an extremely talented group including Shana Stack on vocals, Ed Leavitt on vocals and rhythm guitar, John Sanchez on lead guitar and vocals, Billy Moedebeck on bass, and Kurt Ekstrom on drums.

A Music Machine

This talented and hard working band has released three albums in three years. Ed is the song writer in the band and is constantly writing. He is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, and had one of his songs featured in the movie “Compliance” which was released by Magnolia Pictures in 2012. Ed finds inspiration everywhere for his songs, whether it is a personal experience or a funny observation at the grocery store, he is always brainstorming. He writes the song with his acoustic guitar and then the rest of the band members infuse themselves into it. While he does the writing he says the entire band is responsible for building the songs, and that Shana is great at interpreting the lyrics he writes. With the way Ed writes don’t be surprised to hear even more new music from them sooner rather than later.

Holding their own with Music Heavyweights

The Shana Stack Band is not only busy writing music, but they are busy out playing music for their fans. Last year they played about 85 dates and this year they will be playing around 100 shows…

Barefoot Sailing

I love going barefoot on a boat. Even as a kid I loved it. I remember learning to sail with Dad, the minute our boat left the dock my feet were bare. This drove my conservative Father nuts. “Put some shoes on before you hurt yourself,” he’d demand, once he noticed my naked toes. Of course I obeyed -until the next time. Dad was a firm believer that, “There’s only one captain aboard a boat, and as long as I’m your father I’m the captain.” It wasn’t until I was grown up, had kids of my own, and taught sailing professionally that he released his hold as the captain. I knew giving up control was a challenge and I usually offered him the helm when he visited.

This little power shift did not stop his complaint about my bare feet. “Where’s your shoes?” he’d invariably ask, as I hopped around the boat adjusting sails.

“Under the bench,” I’d reply.

“That’s not very smart.”

“I wear them on my lessons.”

“You’re going to lose a toe one of these days.”

Feeling guilty, I would have one of my daughters toss me my shoes. He may not be the captain but he was still Dad. Of course, I’d never admit to him the number of times I had maimed my feet or stubbed a toe on a cleat when running to grab a line or a loose sail. Nothing serious mind you, but I do tend to dance around and cuss like a sailor when it happens. And for some morbid reason this primal reaction to pain always made my daughters laugh.

Of course there was the one time I really did hurt my bare feet when sailing. I was in my early twenties and staying with my parents at our family camp in Maine. One of my friends from a neighboring camp wanted to skipper a boat during a race organized by our local yacht club. Like me, my friend who I will call Kris (Names have been changed to avoid embarrassment and protect me from a painful death) because she had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, had sailed most of her life. But she had never skippered during a race. So Blue eyes borrowed a boat to skipper, a Dark Harbor 17, but she needed a crew of two to help during the race. I volunteered – mostly to get away from racing with Dad, Kris’s spunky younger sister, whom I’ll call Sal, was volunteered by her mother.

When race day arrived, Kris was really nervous. Her sister and I did everything we could to calm her down and have fun. To appease her anxiety, we got to the boat early so we could do some practice tacks and jibes. This helped, and by the time the warning gun went off, Kris was comfortably in control.

Unfortunately, this sense of calm didn’t last long. Before we reached the first mark, all hell broke loose when someone dropped the jib to soon, neither Sal nor I are claiming any responsibility for that incident — It must have been the wind. In the confusion that followed, we dragged the sail back aboard and raised the spinnaker, only to have a sheet catch on a cleat. As I raced forward to clear the line, Kris yelled, “Jibe Ho!” and turned the helm. The boom caught me on the shoulder, tossing me overboard. Somehow, I managed to hang on to a side stay. As Kris sailed us around the mark, Sal helped me climb back aboard. Soaking wet and gasping for breath I glanced down at my bleeding bare feet. I quickly looked around, hoping no one had witnessed our comedy act. Not twenty feet away was the fully staffed committee boat watching and pointing as we passed. I thought Kris was going to shrivel up and die from embarrassment.

Thankfully we finished the race without further tribulations, and had a great time doing it. Not that we could have topped our earlier performance. Don’t ask me what place we came in, I truly don’t know, and we truly didn’t care. When we arrived at the yacht club after the race, everyone asked if I was all right. Apparently the committee boat couldn’t wait to get back to the clubhouse and share our tale with the waiting masses.

Dad, hand on his hips, met us at the dock. “How’s your foot?”

The sting from the salt water was gone but my shoes were killing me. “There fine.”

“That’ll teach you to go sailing without shoes.” I swear I saw a smile when he turned to walk away.

Warm Sunny Days

Warm Sunny Days

Yes, it’s mid March and Spring has sprung, not that we had much of a winter here in the great white Northeast. I think I only got the snowshoes out once all winter. As the snow melts away and the ground begins to thaw, my thoughts turn to warm sunny days on the water. It also reminds me of the many projects waiting for me to start, and finish, before the fun can begin.

Part of this process is my annual pilgrimages to the many and varied local boat shows. Last Saturday was one of my favorites, the Maine Boat Builders Show, in Portland, ME. As I meander through the long rows of boats, tools, and accessories, I mentally rub my hands together in anticipation. Soon I will remove the protective cocoon from my sleek hibernating sloop. After a thorough spring-cleaning, we begin this year’s big project: repairing and painting the tired old topside (This is the space between the water and the railing for you non-boaters) and giving it a shinny new finish, and color. We’re thinking teal maybe. Nothing changes the look of a boat more than the color and condition of her haul.

IMG_0233Last year we scrapped and sanded, and sanded, and sanded, and varnished, and varnished, and varnished all the old, paint chipped teak in the cockpit. Yes it was a lot of work, but well worth the effort. It looks great and no more splinters in the butt. Owning an old boat can be challenging, but the time spent on her, both working and sailing is well worth the sweat, and blood, spilled to make her beautiful.

Salty Tails at mooring

The sailing season is short here in Maine. For this reason we truly appreciate any time we get to spend on the water. And as far as I’m concerned, life is to short to sail an ugly boat.

So here’s to warm sunny days. May they warm your skin and our soul.

See you on the water.