JP Baldwin

Low on melodrama, high on melody.

Very true...

There’s an old saying in show business: The show must go wrong. Everything always goes wrong, and you just have to deal with it.
— Andy Dwyer, Parks and Recreation

“You say guitarist, I say guitar-iste,” or The Chameleon Conundrum

I owe it to Seagal. Steven Seagal, that is. Yes, that Seagal…actor, martial arts master, guitarist, and reserve deputy sheriff (really! …check out A&E’s “Lawman”).

You see, many years ago my brother and I were first introduced to music. First in school band, and then to my father’s Guild acoustic guitar sometime in middle school. My brother decided on taking up the bass guitar as a hobby, and I thought it sounded like fun. The only question was which way to go … bass or guitar? It’s a tough question to answer, was I more of a Jack Bruce or an Eric Clapton type of guy?

It’s a big question, and one that at 11 years old I wasn’t prepared to answer … on my own, that is. Clarity arrived in the most unlikely place, from the most unlikely person.

Buried somewhere deep within the soundtrack of a Steven Seagal movie on television, I heard some pretty serious guitar riffing. Upon hearing this, I decided … “That’s sounds cool, I’d like to be able to make sounds like that.”

And so the story goes….

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m sitting here now. I still play everyday, and I’m still enjoying the sound of the instrument. It’s something I feel a great connection to, in terms of what music has meant to me, and on a more basic level the guitar has really become an added appendage.

Indeed, in many cases I’m more comfortable with a guitar in my hands than without. It’s funny the amount of time I spend just watching television while holding my guitar. Not playing really, just noodling a little here and there. It just feels right. Although for my wife’s sake, I usually try to stay basically silent until the commercials. Also, I’ve had to rewind programs more times than I’m able to count due to the credits rolling and coming to the realization I have no idea what just happened. The guitar has it’s way of gently pulling my attention away into another zone, and before I know it the seed of a new idea is born…

I’ve always been drawn to artists who I think have a similar relationship with the instrument. People like Clapton, Van Halen, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Keith Richards; you almost always see them with a guitar, and usually the “same” guitar.

Yes, they pick up other makes/models from time-to-time, or for specific purposes, but usually you picture them with The One. Clapton had the black Strat, Richard had the vintage Tele, Buckingham has the Turner. It’s as if these signature instruments had become not only part of their image, but part of their being. Almost as if picking up another guitar was akin to attempting to type with gloves on … yes, it seems simple enough, but it just feels weird.

I’ve always had the same approach. While I’ve tried several types of guitars over the years, I’ve usually been a one-guitar man. It’s just too hard for me to go back and forth, I get used to one conduit and I really don’t need another.  Especially when you find the guitar that really “fits” you. I’m a big believer that the sound is in the hands, and the guitar just serves to amplify those natural inherent qualities.

I consider myself a guitarist. I suppose I’m more textural in nature, I like to serve the song whether that means a little guitar solo, a Wes-style thumbed rhythm, or not playing at all. It’s all in how I use that second voice.

In our current age, however, we’re seeing rise of the “guitar-iste.” We’ve seen them, we’ve heard them. Products of natural talent and too much music education can sometimes lead to the neglect of developing a personal style, in favor of a “virtuoso-do-it-all” approach. Where some may use their fingers and inherent qualities of their chosen tool to emulate different sounds and effects (check out Roy Buchanan), others simply change guitars every song to slightly change sonic colors or fit the image of the song. The choice of their tool becomes the pigment, rather then the brush.

Now, I’m certainly not knocking this. It’s just not my thing. Perhaps I’m just aware of my personal limitations and, hopefully, have found ways to use those limitations to my advantage. I consider my approach a big part of who I am as a musician, and as a person.

I think sometimes that we live in an age of so many choices, so many types of guitars, of pickups, of amps, of boutique pedals, of strings, of YouTube lessons, of music degree programs, etc. that it’s become easy (well, it’s never easy, but possible anyway) to become a chameleon. It becomes easy to blend into the background, without really standing out.

Personally, I’d rather stick to one voice. After all, it’s worked pretty well. And besides who’s better at me, then me.

Irrational Fears: Entry 1 - Airplane Mode

Airplane mode.

Simple enough. A nifty idea. Use your phone at 30,000 feet without having to worry about scrambling communication lines and being the sole person responsible for bringing the plane plummeting down to a mysterious island.  The survivors left only with supplies salvaged from luggage, some crazy lotto numbers, and a host of life stories to tell that never seem to have an ending that makes an ounce of sense. And it’s all your fault. You forgot to swipe that damn button.

Ok, yes, I realize that using a phone in the air would have to circumvent several decades of engineering and probably bend a few laws of physics to have an effect on your flight experience. 

But still, I turn off my phone … and then not 100% sure it’s off, turn it on … only to shut it down again to make sure I can verify it’s “actually” shutting down.  

This cycle can sometimes repeat itself several times. All the while, time is running out and sweat is beading on my forehead while I’m dreading the “stow all electronics” announcement. If I only had time to check once more!

Granted, the fact I once had a faulty Android phone that would turn on by merely touching any button, or the touchscreen, complicated the situation.

Switching to the iPhone has mostly taken care of this fear, but I still do check at least twice to make sure it’s off….

Take that Dharma Initiative! You’re not getting any more subjects to experiment on during my watch!  In your face Smoke Monster!

Some people...

Silence On The Sidelines: An MLB Insider's 'Manifesto' On Youth Sports

Very interesting conversation with Mike Matheny, manager for the St. Louis Cardinals. The conversation revolves around parent behavior in youth sports, but the philosophy could just as easily be applied to music and art. So often, the focus in today’s world seems to be on success and stardom, which serves to undermine the whole point of picking up a baseball, or a guitar, in the first place … the joy of playing.

It’s a daily struggle. I confess, there are times when critical or commercial success (or lack there of) can be very frustrating. However, I can honestly say that my fondest memories with the guitar are of late nights playing through headphones, just trying not to disturb the neighbors and enjoying the sounds coming through the union of flesh, wood, and steel.

The first time I played a guitar I was amazed by the sounds my fingers could make. And honestly, I’m still kind of amazed each time something comes out that I find pleasant. It’s fascinating how much of a player’s personality can be conveyed just by how they touch the strings. I still spend hours watching old YouTube clips of my influences … Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Lindsey Buckingham, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Danny Gatton, and on and on …

Sometimes, those simple things, the little things you enjoy the most can be the easiest to lose. And I’ve been there, trust me. It’s funny though, it’s wasn’t the struggle, or the late nights, or the empty clubs that bothered me most. It was that picking up a guitar became a labor, I’d lost that friend who’s relationship I’d worked so hard to develop. That friend, who even in roughest times, was always there and gave me so much enjoyment as a kid, just playing through headphones, late at night, enjoying the sounds.

It was work to find that again. But I’m so thankful I did. And I’m so thankful for the wonderful family and friends around me that continue to support the dream, and continue to remind me that the music is part of me, and always will be.

And now, everytime I play, I try to remember why I first started strumming my father’s mahogany Guild drednought guitar all those years ago …

I liked it, and I still do.

The butterfly effect...

“With every soul you touch, you’re bound to cast your shadow on the ground.” -Casting Shadows

I wrote this to convey the idea that even without direct action, the way we choose to live our lives and treat those around us can have a profound affect on the lives of those we come in contact with, even if only for a fleeting moment. A simple act of kindness, or a smile to a passerby on the street can make a world of difference. It’s the small things that add up to create real change.

EVH @ The Smithsonian

The first time I heard the name Eddie Van Halen was when, as an aspiring young guitar player, I first experienced THAT solo from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. In an era of imitators, Eddie was truly something special.

Here’s a recent talk he gave at the Smithsonian as part of their “What It Means To Be An American” series. EVH talks about how as a young child born to parents from Holland and Indonesia, he migrated to the U.S. With relentless creativity, experimentation, and unparalleled curiosity, he would later become one of the most influential guitarists of all time, in addition to an icon of American rock and roll.

Eddie Van Halen’s Smithsonian Talk

Irrational Fears: Introduction

Let me start this by laying some groundwork. I worry. A lot.

And don’t get me wrong, I realize how incredibly lucky I am … I’m able to do what I love, I have nice guitars, I have a stable job, a loving family, and an amazingly supportive wife that doesn’t seem to mind having me around all the time.  

If it wasn’t for her, I think many nights I’d be lying awake with eyes wide open staring at the ceiling until day breaks. There is no real rhyme or reason to my worries, and it’s hard for me to point at any certain patterns. What I can tell you is that most of the things I worry about are ridiculous, and pointless.

I imagine David Attenboroug would explain my worry as a relic of the early evolution fight-or-flight response. After all, there was a lot to worry about at the dawn of mankind. It’s hard to enjoy a meal when a pack of lions are always around the corner waiting. And sleeping, don’t get me started - I had enough trouble sleeping when I found a cockroach in one of my old apartments. I think I slept with the lights on for a week, and when I did fall asleep it was fully clothed with a frying pan in hand. But I digress…

In an effort to change my thinking on this matter, I thought it may be a good idea to commit some of my most irrational fears to written form. Worry can be all-consuming, and addictive in a way. I’m hoping the act of thinking through these rather foolish fears and expressing them will help to peel back the layers of my anxiety and figure out what’s really behind it all. Other than the obvious. (It’s a freaking crazy world out there!)

First up: Airplane Mode.

Getting the "Led" out @ BNA

Recently, I was asked to a do a cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’ for a show doing a segment celebrating Jimmy Page’s birthday.  While the show didn’t happen, I think my cover turned out pretty well.  Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to try it live someday soon.

This has been a really cool catalyst for a renewed interest in the Zeppelin catalog.  
I’ll be posting a little more on this in the future, but sitting here watching 'The Song Remains The Same’ at BNA waiting for a flight is a study in how times have changed.

I’ve got real, raw, honest rock & roll in my iPhone headphones, and current pop music being distributed to the masses through the airport speakers.

It’s definitely a clear picture (to my taste anyway) of 'what is’ and what I hoped 'would never be.’

Thank goodness for technology…

Although, it also makes me wonder what would have happened if Robert, Jimmy, JPJ, and John had gotten hold of a MacBook and iPhone in 1968.

I imagine it would’ve been extremely cool.

Transit of Venus

Many years ago, astronomers would use the Transit of Venus to triangulate the distance from the Earth to the sun, otherwise known as the astronomical unit. In our increasingly connected high-speed world, it’s rare that we have the chance to observe a phenomenon that places our experiences in this universe not in terms of minutes, days, or years, but in the context of generations. This celestial event won’t occur again for 115 years, and except in the most exceptional of circumstances, will next be observed by a generation of children not yet born. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to be part of something that is truly once-in-a-lifetime.

See the link above for more info…


Ready For Transmission...

Ready For Transmission…

With the posting of Live Wire the “Wake Up With J On Memorial Day” pre-release winds to a close. Thank you to everyone who has listened, re-tweeted, posted comments, forwarded to friends, or done anything else that has made this weekend a success.

Working on Kingdom On A Thread has been a real labor of love, and there have been several times over the course of the past two years when I’ve questioned if the end of the process would ever be in sight. Writing, recording, and producing a full-length album on my own has been an amazing experience - sometimes exhausting, often overwhelming, but always rewarding.

And I can’t praise those involved along the way with enough kind words to properly do them justice. I’ll be introducing them to you in the near future, but for now know that without them I’d probably still be laying underneith my desk wondering if I would ever get that line to come out the way I wanted it to!

I’ve waited a long time to begin presenting these songs to you, and it’s quite exciting to finally be able to do so.

In the near future I’ll be officially releasing Kingdom On A Thread, and as I get more details on arrival dates for iTunes, CDBaby, etc., I’ll be sharing that information. A full internet release is planned as well, and there will be giveaways and some surprises along the way as shows are coordinated and that date comes closer.

But as the song says, at this point “I’m ready for transmission,” and it’s a pretty cool feeling knowing so many of you are on the other end of the wire.

Till next time,


Live Wire

“I’m ready for transmission, the sky’s all quiet here.  Won’t someone throw me a lifeline, I’ve drifted out too far I fear.”

On the inspiration behind Mercury Man:

This song seemed like an appropriate one to write for the times we live in. Where political and social discourse is increasingly moderated by the most non-moderate members of the population. So many seem content to ruffle the feathers and raise the “mercury” of others in order to create headlines and draw attention. After all, it’s easier to preach doom through a bullhorn than it is to praise love. This one is for all the “Mercury Men” out there…

Mercury Man

“Some like the heat, some tell lies.  Some want their voice to make your mercury rise.  Some use matches, some kerosene.  Some use words but that don’t matter to me.”