Ed Wemmerus, better known as sloparts to MacJams fans, is a prolific author of classic Country & Western songs, a true tunesmith. His skill, sense of humor and life experiences shine through his entertaining tracks. His story is one of lifelong musical growth, perseverance, and a respect for the craft – which he is steadily honing. And, like most Macjammer stories, it’s also about overcoming life’s personal hurdles.
Ed is 63 years old and recently retired. (He was a store manager of a prominent auto parts chain store where he still works part-time). Now that he has more time to create music, he’s making the most of it. As of this writing, he has 44 songs posted (he’s submitted more than that, but several early drafts have been deleted) and almost every one will make you feel better after listening to them.
“This whole situation with retirement and getting back to my music is all so new,” Ed told me. “I don’t want to do anything else for now. I feel I’ve wasted, musically speaking, 30 of the last 40 years not doing the thing that brings me the greatest joy I’ve ever known, save my family, so why would I want to do anything other than music?”
That said, Ed has had a ton of performance experience. Its just that, now, he’s dedicating himself to song writing.
“I got into playing music when I in the U.S. Air Force. I was 18 years old at the time. One of the guys in the barrack I was in had a Kay guitar and a little amp in his room, and I overheard him playing one day. I was always sort of musical, but had never had any lessons of any kind. I asked him if he could teach me how to play guitar and he was kind enough to take me under his wing and show me a few things. That’s where it all started and I’ve been hooked on music and playing ever since.
“When I was younger, we used to listen to the radio and play records of that new kind of music called ‘Rock-n-Roll’. You know, Bill Halley and the Comets, Gene Pitney, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holley, when they first hit the big time.”
He’d been practicing the moves for years…
“When I was about 13 I got a cheap old guitar for a present and used it as a prop just like many of the singers of the day. I didn’t know how to play back then, but when I did finally learn later on, I was all primed to take it to the extremes.
“When the band I finally joined got good enough, the audience reaction was what really sunk the hook into me. At parties and dances and then finally in clubs. The thought that something I could do would make people happy and get them up dancing, having a good time, that was like manna from heaven.”
He also found a mentor, in those early years:
“I was in several garage bands between 1963 to about 1968, and sat in with an all girl Country band in Southern California made up of a mother and daughter team with a couple other women playing backup. The mother, ‘Dottie Lind‘ was her stage name, was one of the finest guitarists I’ve ever met, and for some reason she took a shine to me, took me under her wing. Dottie taught me a lot about playing guitar in the 2 or 3 years I worked with her. To say she inspired me to grow by leaps and bounds on the guitar is a gross understatement. Dottie Lind was the perfect mentor for a young man wanting to learn. She had infinite patience, but she insisted on learning it right before you ever tried to perform it in front of ‘fans.’
He started playing with a group in southern California. Then was transferred to Alaska:
“In 1969, during the oil drilling boom up on the North Slope, I went to Fairbanks. While I was there I lived in the Polaris Hotel in downtown Fairbanks, and there was a band fronted by a guy named Johnny Collingsworth playing in the bar/lounge at the hotel. One Sunday I was killing time down in the bar in the afternoon when Johnny and crew started doing an open mike session, as they did every Sunday. I thought I’d sit in with them for a set just for fun. Along the way, as well as playing guitar I had learned to play drums, so that’s what I did that day with Johnny’s band. I ended up playing a couple of sets with them and then repeated that scenario the next week as well. To make a long story short, they asked me to join the band as they’re new drummer and I ended up playing with them until I left Alaska later that year.
“I came back to the lower 48 states and played in a few blues/rock bands around southern California for the next few years until my new bride and I started having kids. Since I needed a steady income, from then on I just worked a regular job as a machinist and stopped doing music until almost 20 years later.”
Jump ahead to the 80s, when smaller studios began popping up everywhere…
“In 1987 I started doing music again on my own in the form of song writing and recording my songs in my little studio at home.” Here are some of my sloparts favorites from that period, copyrighted 1991:
“I didn’t work as a musician again until 1994 when I teamed up with a talented young man I had befriended to form a duo act for playing in local fairs, social clubs and bars. Then in 1995 my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I quit doing music of any kind after she died in 1996. It’s only in the last year that I’ve been able to go back to music and try again.”
That’s where MacJams came in, helping Ed to think about his music again, after enough time had passed:
“I started wanting to get back to my music for a few of years before I found MacJams, so the interest was there, but not the will to actually do something about it. When I found MacJams and started looking around the site and listening to some of the music here, I decided to try posting a few of my songs from my old analog studio. After a positive reaction, I finally started to get back to music in earnest.
“I think more than anything else, the acceptance and encouragement of all the people I’ve met here has been the main reason for the transformation. When I came here I had a lot of self doubt and mixed feelings about my music. Since joining MacJams those feelings have been replaced with a feeling of hope for the future, and a renewed confidence in my talents, if not my abilities. I’m going to have to work to get my playing skills back up to a level I feel good about, but with the continued support and help of my friends here, I now have the will to do that.”
Pretty cool, huh, Macjammers?
“One of the things I’ve just recently done was to participate in two different events: The LIOLI7 challenge and Feter’s WoodstockMJ Fest. These events taught me a lot about how to join in and have a lot of fun doing it. Most of my life I’ve been a loner and not a joiner. I think I’m getting over it now thanks to this place.”
To say the least, Ed is a very solid song writer in the C&W genre. I asked him if he had any tips:
“My performance skills are way too far gone for me to recover them in the foreseeable future. I do have a skill set to write and produce. As as you start building your song writing vocabulary and your musical knowledge, you start getting better at telling stories to music instead of ‘Trying to write a song.’ Some of the best songs I’ve ever written lyrically are songs that tell a real story that has meaning to me (and the audience) and doesn’t sound contrived. That to me is the secret to writing good songs. If it’s not real to you, how can it be real to your audience? You have to pour a lot of yourself into the words you write, and the music you create. ‘Season of Pain‘ is one example of the kind of song I’m talking about.”
What usually comes first, lyrics or music?
“For me, usually the lyrics come first. Lyrics can come from anywhere at all. A word, a phrase you hear or see can trigger a thought process that leads you somewhere in you mind. When you take those thoughts and write them down more thoughts connected to the first will come in time. Eventually you end up with a page of random yet connected thoughts. Then it’s a matter of organizing them into a cohesive story that makes sense and has some kind of personal meaning.
“A song is a living breathing thing that evolves. The music leads to the lyrics which leads to the music. As one element changes ever so slightly, the feel of the song changes with it. Don’t be afraid of doing it ‘wrong.’ In music that word does not exist, there is no wrong way to play and record music. There is only your way, and my way, that is all.”
What’s one of the differences between making music now and back when you started?
“I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming all the way into this digital recording age. Well, I was until I learned just how easy it is to tweak a guitar part or move a sax solo, and all the other wonderful tricks digital recording allows you to do. I just recently bought myself one of the brand new aluminum iMac as the recording device of choice. Along with that I use a Tascam FW1804 firewire interface to get signals into and out of the iMac. I use Apple’s GarageBand as well as Cubase SE3 depending on what I’m working on and how far I plan to take the mix. For a lot of things I find GarageBand quite adequate as a quick and dirty tool for building up a song. If it needs to go into more, I’ll move to Cubase SE3.”
Do you used plugins?
“In GB, I find myself always using the AUDynamicsProcessor and/or AUPeakLimiter, and AUGraphicEQ to control tracks where the sound has to much variation in the dynamics. For guitars I’ve made up several effects combinations that will alternately use Phaser or Flanger along with reverb, echo, compression, and limiter to get the sound I want out of my guitars.”
Any recommendations to follow Macjammers?
“First, listen to your peers with an open heart when they tell you something that they think might make your song better. Save a copy of your files as it is, make a duplicate and then go ahead and try it. You will learn something from the experience either way, whether it works or not. And that’s the secret to making great music, be willing to try anything you think of or hear about to see if it works for you and your music. Be adventurous, try anything and everything, taste the wine feel the pulse, breathe the air, live the music.
“Here’s what not to try. Don’t try to make your music better by making yourself different. Be true to yourself and for God sake stay off drugs. While in a drugged condition you may think what you’ve done is the perfect song with the perfect mix and all the individual instruments were played perfectly. BUT IT’S NOT! At least not to everyone who’s not on drugs. (Okay the Preacher has left the building now, we can go back to being musicians now.)
“As for recording/mixing: GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). I always go through the song one track at a time for the entire length of the song checking each track for hot spots and overall sound quality. Be sure there isn’t any noise in the track from, say, Air Conditioners or fans, or dogs barking or whatever. I set the fader to 0.0 db and listen to the sound while I watch the peak indicators. If I see a peak that goes into the red, I fix it. I do whatever it takes to fix it without turning the track volume down. That’s always the last thing to do after you’ve tried everything else (like compression/limiting, or sometimes EQing out the offensive signal through trial and error with the Graphic EQ). If you have automation on your faders you can sometimes just dip the fader down a little and then right back to where it was for hot spots that can’t be fixed any other way.
“Start the mastering with the most important track in the song. If that’s a vocal track it needs to be out front in the mix enough so the listener isn’t straining to understand the lyric. If the listener is straining to understand your lyrics, they will most likely listen to the music and ignore the singer in which case you might as well have made it an instrumental.
“After you have the dominant voice set, you can slowly go through the song and bring in each of the other voices. Bass and Drums are usually panned to center in the stereo field. Guitars and Rhythm Guitars are usually on opposite sides, however it’s not a good idea to pan them full left and full right, unless you are trying for that effect as part of the way you want the song to sound. Usually 1/4 to 1/3 of the way left and right will work fine, but that’s a matter of taste. I try to recreate visually what you’d hear if you were sitting in a club, with the players scattered accordingly. People have heard live bands and live music. When they hear recorded music their mind expects it to be spaced out in the stereo field like it is in the real world. If it doesn’t sound that way they’ll know something is wrong.
“Reverb can be used to expand the size of the stage you’re playing on. It can be used to place certain instruments and vocal parts back into the mix. The problem with reverb is that way too many people use it way too much. For reverb to be effective it needs to be used carefully and in amounts that are just enough to get the effect you want without washing out the mix.”
Ed’s favorite song he’s posted is “Half The Blues” because “it’s the newest song I’ve done, and the oldest at the same time. This song represents me going back to my roots in music. I’ve done the blues, I’ve lived the blues, and now I am the blues again.”
Here are more of my sloparts favorites not yet mentioned:
– Why Can’t You See What You’re Doin’ To Me
– Between The Whiskey And The Teardrops
– Raise My Rent (Lonesome Valley)
– Sentimental Me
– I Don’t Owe No Money
– An Old Saddle Tramp
– Back From the Past
“Good Lord willing I’ll be around here for a long time and I too will learn something from all of you. I hope there is some spark in my words and work that reaches out and touches all of you with kindness.”