Spotlight on…The Singer-Songwriter: Why I Record

The following column will appear in the October 2007 edition of Gaston Alive:

Songwriters are an interesting lot of
people. They are no different than us.  They feel joy and pain,
except with one major difference – they express themselves through music.

King’s Mountain native
Scoot Pittman says that writing music is more than just a hobby or a

"The reason I wake up each morning is to write a better song than I did
yesterday," Pittman says. "It’s something I need to do."

However, what good is to write a song, and not have anyone hear it? Charlotte musician Mike Strauss feels that if you take your
music serious at all, you need to do record it.

"Since the advent of the home recording studio, the costs have come down
dramatically," says Strauss. "It is a way for people to hear and
remember you, long after your performance is over."

And even though the costs have come down dramatically, it’s not something that
you’ll make a ton of money off of. Sure, you can eventually make your
money back, but not nearly as fast as you spent it initially.

Strauss adds, "There is no money in making records. Simply put, they
are fun to make"

Career coaches always preach the importance of loving what you do in your
profession.  The more passionate you are about work, the more successful
you will be.

Mount Holly’s own David Childers echo’s Strauss’ sentiments.

"There are many reasons to make an album", says Childers. "It
allows you to leave a record behind that you were here on this great
planet.  But most of all, they are fun to make.  There’s nothing
better that taking the music you have written and putting it into a lasting

Once a songwriter accepts the fact that they were put on this Earth to express
themselves in song, then many of these reasons to record become obvious and

"I am a writer; not a performer", declares Childers.  "I
figured out a long time ago that if I wanted my songs to be heard, I was going
to have to record them".

by Ben Dungan (


Spotlight on…Carolina Gator Gumbo

The following column will appear in the September 2007 edition of Gaston Alive:

difference between hot and boiling hot can be one degree.  The difference
between good music and great music isn’t so easy to define.  It’s hard to
know great music, but one thing is certain – you know it when you hear
it.  It has a way of grabbing you by the collar and forcing you to stop
and listen.  Carolina Gator Gumbo has pulled off this difficult feat in
their new release Leona Threw a Party.

Born out of the impoverished areas of Southern Louisiana, Cajun/Creole music has
evolved over time melding together a myriad of musical traditions including
European and African influences.  It’s the rhythmic sounds of this musical
art highlighted by the button accordion and the fiddle that helps form the strong
connection made with the listener.

With the release of Leona Had a Party, Carolina Gator Gumbo finds a way
to pay homage to the sounds and the traditions of this rich musical heritage,
all the while adding a little Carolina flavor into the
mix.  All the songs on the album were recorded live, successfully
capturing the spirit and energy that this music invokes. 

The new album predominantly leans towards many of the old Cajun/Creole
standards.  However, they also delve into other areas taking a Cajun/Creole
stab at Hank William’s "Hey Good Lookin" and Fats Domino’s
"Hello, Josephine". 

With bands like Carolina Gator Gumbo, it’s nice to know there is a slice of Southern Louisiana right here available in
the Carolinas.

So, Leona had a party.  The best part is – she has invited everyone within
an earshot of her Cajun/Creole celebration to come along for the ride. 

And don’t forget to bring your dancing shoes!

For more information and to hear samples of Carolina Gator Gumbo’s music, visit them on
their website at


Spotlight on…The Carpenter Ants

The following column will appear in the August 2007 edition of Gaston Alive:

The Carpenter Ants call West Virginia home. However, one
listen to their music and you may not be so sure. They don’t have a strong
twangy sound like you’d think. Instead, they find ways to weave shades of other
southern sounds together including gospel, rock n’ roll, and the blues.  I
guess that’s why they call their sound "chicken fried gospel soul".

On their most recent
release, Ants In Your Pants, The Carpenter Ants can’t decide if it’s
Saturday night or Sunday morning. To me, I think that’s part of their
charm.  Their music doesn’t conform to any one certain style – making
their music that much more exciting and unpredictable.

Lyrically, they take the
same approach.  Their messages and themes
range from the secular to the spiritual.
Some songs are serious in nature, while others are just plain fun.  The one consistent thread that holds it all
together is the passion they bring to the table. 

The infectious groove of
The Carpenter Ants will sure to have you clapping and stomping right along.
Their music will either move your body or move your soul.

And if you truly let go,
it may move both.

For more information and to hear samples of The Carpenter Ant’s music, visit them on
their website at


Spotlight On…Carey Sims

The following column will appear in the July 2007 edition of Gaston Alive:

I think it’s safe to say that Carey Sims knows himself pretty good.  He knew the first step in the making of ‘Wheels’, involved knowing his musical strengths, weaknesses, and limitations.   

The first step Carey took was to assemble a good core group of friends and mentors (Andy Seets, Clifton Castelloe, Jimmy Dulin) to assist him along the way.

In addition, he was able recruit long-time recording veterans Don Dixon and Jim Brock to his project.  With those two involved, he knew he was in good hands.

But what makes this record unique is Carey himself.  Jim Brock was impressed with the way Carey came in each day with a "clear focus and an open mind". 

Just reading those words from Jim Brock just goes to show you exactly the approach Carey applied to his record.  One listen to "Wheels" and you’ll hear that it was clearly inspired by the open road – where the destination is somewhere between Jackson Browne and John Mellancamp.

Road trips aren’t meant to be about the destination.  And this record is no different.  And while Browne and Mellancamp are clear influences, this ride is all Carey’s.  It’s a record where the possibilities are endless and where the journey is ultimately celebrated. 

But best of all – it’s the listener that is invited to come along for the ride.  Only requirement – roll down the windows and give it some air.

For more information and to hear samples of Carey Sims’ music, visit his website at


Spotlight On…Mike Strauss

The following column will appear in the June 2007 edition of Gaston Alive:

an independent musician, releasing three albums in four years is nothing short
of amazing.  Even though the recording
process requires a huge time and financial investment, Mike Strauss hasn’t let
it slow him down in his quest to let his music be heard. 

out of relative obscurity in 2004, Mike has won over music lovers and critics
alike.  His talent, coupled with his
easy-going nature has helped him spring out as one the area’s top artists.  As a result, Mike was named Best Male
by Creative Loafing’s readers in 2006.

year, Mike decided to build on his growing musical resume by booking some
studio time to work on a new record.
This time was going to be different though.  Mike decided to leave a lot of the detailed
musical decisions to his friend Randolph Lewis.

new album, After All, is comprised of 13 new songs – all written by Mike
Strauss.  Randolph helped co-write two of
the songs – but all in all, this is a Mike Strauss record. 

arrangements are what drew me in initially – a part of the recording process
that Mike says is all Randolph’s doing.  After All offers a nice mix of slow
and upbeat songs with each song offering something special.  The instrumentation, lyrics, and backing
vocals all make this record work sonically.
The sum of all the parts fit nicely together.

let’s not get confused.  This is still a
Mike Strauss record all the way.  He just
happens to be the thread that hold’s it all together.  And he does a remarkable job at that.

For more information and to hear samples of Mike Strauss’ music, visit his website at


Spotlight On…Scoot Pittman

The following column will appear in the May 2007 edition of Gaston Alive:

There’s no denying that Scoot Pittman may be the one of the
hardest working musicians in our area. And
while he may play over 300 shows each year, that doesn’t keep this trooper out of
the recording studio.

One full listen to Lake Montonia Road , Scoot’s latest release, and you
realize pretty quickly that Scoot can do it all. He can write a mean folk song (“Grandpa’s
Shoes”), and can even play the blues (“Word on the Street”). He knows when to funk it up (“Fatback”), and
you better believe this blue-eyed soulster knows when to serve up some of that
Southern soul ("Lake Montonia Road”)
and gospel (“Laughin’ at the Devil”) from deep within.

Being the youngest of six, Scoot was raised on a steady diet
of old 45’s and vinyl records, in addition to the church music his “Mama” would
play around the house. No matter what
the music was he heard growing up, it seems to have soaked in.

There is no question that Scoot Pittman is a very talented
guy. He has the ability to create the
kind of music that forces you to either exercise your body or exercise your
mind – or in some cases, both. But more
importantly, Scoot has the work ethic and drive to make it all happen.

The music he makes is timeless. You’d be hard-pressed to pin it down to any
one time period. And yet while Scoot is
able to create this timeless music, he is very capable of taking you on a
journey in his lyrical time machine.

And if you love music, this is one journey that I highly
recommend you take.

For more information and to hear samples of Scoot Pittman’s music, visit his website at

Charlotte Events Calendar

Podcast_logo_color_small Laurie Koster was sweating this week big time.  Her cable internet access was temporarily interrupted and she still hadn’t sent out her weekly Charlotte Events Calendar

My advice to her was simple – let it go this week.  My thought was that people would miss it and demand it next week.  After all, sometimes people don’t appreciate the value of a product or service until it goes away.

Laurie didn’t like my theory.  She was bound and determined to send it out first chance she got.  So after all the balleywhoo (sp?), she finished it and emailed it to all of her subscribers. 

She also posted it to her new Typepad blog

If you haven’t seen it yet – go see it now.  She does a better job than all the local media in town when it comes to distributing local music news.

And that ain’t no jive…

Spotlight On…Michelle Malone

SugarfootThe following column will appear in the March 2007 edition of Gaston Alive:

Michelle Malone was born and raised in the city.  However, one listen to her music and you might think otherwise.  Malone’s music is steeped in the rural south, ranging from southern rock, gospel and blues.  With the gritty style of a Bonnie Raitt, and the playfulness of a Sheryl Crow, Malone puts it all out there on her ninth studio recording Sugarfoot.

The first track, "Tighten up the Springs," shows Malone at her best.  Armed with her acoustic guitar and her trusty bottleneck, this fiery tune has all the right combustible parts to make you want to get up and go.  This is the kind of tune that could get that right foot a little pedal-happy, resulting in a speeding ticket if not careful.

The tempo and style of the album varies from track to track.  One minute she is playing a tender ballad, while the next she is bringing down the house.  However, no matter what road Malone chooses to travel down, there is no doubt she makes the biggest impact when she is crankin’ out those rockin’ slide guitar numbers.  Her southern sass stands out front and center on those particular tracks.

Malone’s bravado is not just limited to her music.  After a stint with a major record label early in her career, she decided that she worked best when she had creative control over her musical direction.  Thus, she became a business woman in 1992, founding her very own record label, SBS Records.

Malone’s confidence even makes it to the liner notes on her new album.  She guarantees that by listening to it that it will ‘cure what ails ya’, and it’ll also make you ‘shake you Sugarfoot’!  Just think what she can do by seeing her play live in person.

For more information and to hear samples of Michelle Malone’s music, visit her website at

Charlotte music at SXSW

Charlotte seems to be well-represented down in Austin, TX for the upcoming South By Southwest Music (SXSW) festival taking place March 14 – 18.

And it seems many of the Charlotte acts are appearing as a part of the MoRisen Records SXSW Showcase at the Light Bar on Wednesday, March 14.

MoRisen Records is just one of many record labels taking up residence in and around the Charlotte area.  Writer Michael Evans takes a look into why these record labels are calling Charlotte home in the February 2007 issue of Uptown Magazine.

Why Charlotte?  I think Dolph Ramseur (founder of Ramseur Records) nails it:

"I’ve always felt that North Carolina is the center of the universe musically. There’s just so much history in the music here in North Carolina, with the Piedmont blues, jazz, bluegrass, old-time music and folk music. It’s a melting pot of blacks interacting with whites, and the English interacting with the Scots, and that all comes through."