Sunshine Songs: Playing with the Real Deal

Sunshine Songs cover art by Dale Hartman

Tim Van Schmidt

 

At the ripe old age of 40 years old, I fulfilled a longtime dream.

That was to write some songs, then go into a recording studio and produce an album. My fortieth birthday present to myself was a finished CD — “Sunshine Songs.”

This all stemmed from a project I had completed a few years earlier. I recorded and released a limited edition cassette tape of solo recordings, “Hopes and Fears,” as a kind of challenge to myself. I figured if I was going to write about music, then I should make some too.

“Hopes and Fears” was well enough received for a cassette — I mean a few people said they liked it — so naturally, I started thinking of a follow-up.

This time, though, I was going to hit the big time and make a CD. Rather than solo recordings, this was going to be fully produced, which means melding multiple tracks of vocals and instruments together to create a finished audio product that hopefully grabs the listener.

Every song you hear on the radio, or over streaming, or from Alexa is “produced,” and it is a whole process in itself. I chose to be my own producer — the person in charge of organizing all of those multiple tracks — because I guessed I’d be doing this perhaps only once in my life, so I thought I may as well experience all of it.

Still, I didn’t do it all alone. I had plenty of both practical and creative guidance from recording engineer and Kiva studio operator Russ Hopkins – also an accomplished musician.

The songs I wrote came pretty much all at the same time and I quite consciously tried to switch up the musical styles represented by the collection — folk, reggae, rock, country, metal, ballads, art songs and improvisational sound art.

But I wanted to do more than challenge myself as a songwriter. I also wanted to challenge myself as a producer and test my knowledge of other musicians to achieve sounds I just couldn’t make by myself. This takes imagination – inspiration that comes from knowing what certain players are capable of and how they can fit into the music.

That’s why I chose to call in as many NOCO musicians as possible — more than 25 players in all. I had unique knowledge of these players — I had written about them, interviewed them, and reviewed their records in the Fort Collins press for years.

Hopes and Fears cassette cover; Image by Tim Van Schmidt

I thought about each musician, what I had heard them do before and what they could do for one or more of my songs. All of them were invited to contribute to specific tracks, then were turned loose to add their own ideas.

In the “Sunshine Songs” credits I made it very clear: “The musicians all arranged their own parts.” It was a rich and wonderful experience to watch each of them step up and contribute creative and tuneful tracks to my project.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of that opus work — I debuted “Sunshine Songs” with a performance at the Spring Canyon Inn on July 4, 1996 — I thought I would check up on the players that helped me.

The good news is that so many of the talents I tapped for my record are still making music — proving that, indeed, they are all the real deal.

All of these great NOCO artists who contributed to my CD currently have sites or pages on the web:

Mark Sloniker, Colleen Crosson, Liz Barnez, Cary Morin, Rob Solomon, Dave Beegle, Jerry Palmer, Russ Hopkins, Gayan Gregory Long, John Magnie and Steve Amedee of the subdudes, and Jesse Solomon, who also has a Wikipedia page.

Liz Barnez performs with Dave Beegle, Steve Amedee and Marty Rein.

There’s still recording going on. The subdudes’ latest record is “Lickskillet,” released in 2019. Russ Hopkins and Jerry Palmer just recently collaborated on Hopkins’ 2020 CD release, “Buffalo.”

And check out these upcoming live dates: Cary Morin and Ghost Dog will be performing at The Lyric in Fort Collins on June 18. Dave Beegle and the Jurrasicasters will rock the Windsor Summer Concert Series in Boardwalk Park on July 1. The Liz Barnez Trio will be playing the Thursday Night Live Series in Fort Collins on July 22, which is moving from its usual location in Old Town Square to New Belgium Brewery in 2021.

Mark Sloniker; Photo by Tim Van Schmidt

Here’s the sad news. Two musicians I worked with on “Sunshine Songs” have passed on: Spencer Bohren. Tim Wahler. R.I.P.

There’s a musical R.I.P. on “Sunshine Songs” — the last track to be recorded in the initial sessions was an improvised guitar piece titled “Garcia’s Gone,” laid down just hours after the news was released that the iconic Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia had died.

Here’s a list of other friends who lent their talents to “Sunshine Songs”: Pamela Robinson, James Woodward, Don Cordes, Joe Sparks, Doug Shald, Billy Jones, Kathleen Jones, Bob Hollister, Marguerite Wagner, Scott Allen, Marty Rein, Jeff Hoffman, and Kevin Jones.

The cover artwork was custom designed by award-winning NOCO artist Dale Hartman.

As for multi-instrumentalist Dave Zekman, well, we jammed together in a private studio just the other night.

Now, I’m biased about the “Sunshine Songs” project, but I thought it came out great — a personal triumph. But a lot of that is due to the talents of local musicians.

What’s truly inspirational about this story is that many of my old friends are still out there now. I can imagine that there are many more talented local musicians out there now besides them. I’m just thinking — maybe it’s time to make another album.

 

Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. Hear selections from his “Hopes and Fears” cassette and “Sunshine Songs” CD on his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”

 

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