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Michael Gaither - Local Musician
by Bay Alexander
Corralitos Valley Reports
Spring 2011
The hills are alive...with the sound of music!
We've written about the beauty, art, and wine in Corralitos. It’s high time we covered the abundant musical talent in our community. How many of you know that a great concert series has been happening right under our noses?
Led by Michael Gaither, these singer/songwriter gatherings take place every other month at the Cultural Center. Mark your calendar for the next one on Sunday, February 20 at 6:00 pm. This will be an "in the round" featuring Michael and fellow songwriters Michelle Chappel and Mokai. Expect an intimate (and fun) evening with each of them sharing the stories behind their songs. Michael will be doing a similar show on April 17 featuring himself, Sharon Allen, and Corralitos resident Craig Rayburn.
Michael grew up in Watsonville. He and his wife, Cyndy and their three dogs live in Watsonville. Michael has been a reporter for the Sentinel, a standup comic, a joke writer for Jay Leno, and a teacher. He started writing songs about 10 years ago. He loves what he does, not only the music itself but also the connections he makes with his audience and other musicians. His songs are "story songs, humorous pokes at everyday stuff".
For those who love "Click and Clack" on NPR, Michael's song "Good God Man How Big a Car Do You Need?" has been featured on their program. Michael has two CDs, "Spotted Mule and Other Tales" and "Dogspeed". I was delighted to receive "Dogspeed". It is wonderful. Lucky us to have him in our area.
You can visit Michael's web site at www.michaelgaither.com for complete info about all the upcoming shows, as well as clips of previous shows.
Watsonville songwriter moves along at "Dogspeed" - 6/11/09
Wallace Baine, Santa Cruz Sentinel

It's there on his album cover. It's there in the title of the album. It's there in a hidden track at the end of his 12-song set - Michael Gaither loves dogs.

"I can't write a love song to save my life", joked Gaither, the Watsonville singer/songwriter who leads his band into Don Quixote's in Felton on June 18. "So I write about animals. I wrote one love song for my wife. She heard it, and it was like, 'stick to the animal songs' ".

Gaither is one of the homegrown products of the KPIG era, a local boy who has been steeped in the distinctive Americana vibe of Sant Cruz County alt-country for years. His latest CD, "Dogspeed", features photos of Gaither and his two canine companions Arlo and Roma, one of whom adds a plaintive lead vocal to the last track on the album.

"Dogspeed" is not an animal-themed album per se; it's just that Gaither's songs about dogs are distinctive of his simple, front-porch, unpretentious approach.

Gaither stands at the center of Watsonville's music community. He's not only released two albums. He's the emcee of a monthly open mic for singer/songwriters at the Wooden Nickel Bar & Grill in Watsonville, and he hosts "Songs and Stories", a podcast interview series with fellow musicians.

Still, perhaps Gaither's strongest contribution to the local scene is his insistence on using his life in the county as the themes of his songs. "I Miss My Town" is a nostalgic evocation of Watsonville as it used to be before widespread development. "Dad Built Roads" is a heartfelt tribute to Gaither's father who for years worked building local roads and highways. And "Where'd the Time Go?" namechecks memorable concerts at the Santa Cruz Civic and other places during Gaither's youth.

Songwriting represents to Gaither, 46, the end of a long road of finding his muse. Worked as a technical writer in San Jose - one of Gaither's signature songs is "Highway 17" on his first album "Spotted Mule and Other Tales" - Gaither has followed several artistic paths, from stand-up comic to journalist.

He did not, in fact, get serious about music until his mid-30s.

"I was tired of not trying it for real, he said. "I grew up in the Warren Zevon era. Country music was what my parents listened to." Then came his discovery of KPIG and the rootsy, blues-based music that the popular station has made its name on.

"To me, it's all about the writing", he said. "I listened to KPIG, and figured out that a lot of that music was three chords, and it became for me, 'tell me a story'. And of lot of that music was so good at telling stories in music. I want to hear that story. 'Tell me about the five-pound bass'. That's what it's all about to me."

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(This review of "Dogspeed" appeared in the July 2009 issue of Maverick Country.)
Excellent second album from California country-folk storyteller

Michael Gaither has had an interesting life having written jokes for Jay Leno and working as a journalist, amongst other things, all of which have proved a great inspiration for his songwriting. Since his 2006 debut, "Spotted Mule and Other Tales", Michael has continued to craft his songwriting. This has now led to his second release, "Dogspeed", which has a very honest sound about it throughout, complimented by excellent folk song storytelling about the hardships and loves in his life.

He is a very natural gifted songwriter and has created an album full to the brim with the stories of the past and hopes for the future. You can hear many influences within his songwriting including Tim Hardin, Bob Dylan, and John Prine, but Michael has definitely made his own mark with this record.

The album kicks off with "I Miss My Town", a lovely country-folk song that takes you on a journey back to how things used to be. It has a southern country sound complemented by great female harmonies that give it an edge. Michael's husky honest vocals combined with guitars and drums make "Getting to My Glory Days" a much heavier sounding song, which show more of a country-rock influence. "Job For the Money" is a song about working just because you have to and wanting more. It's an upbeat sing-a-long country tale with great guitars, drums, and harmonies. Excellent guitar solos and percussion on "Pack My Mule" gives it a feeling of travelling on the road. Superb harmonica and vocals with spot-on lyrics about relationships make "Dad Built Roads" one of the best songs here. It really does show songwriting at its best.

Michael demonstrates his talent for storytelling with this feel good, thoughtful, and descriptive album that makes you feel as if you have gone on this journey with him. He is a very talented songwriter that has produced an excellent record. - Cat Norris

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"Mule Music" - May 15th, 2009
Deb Kidwell, Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm, Martin TN

I had the good fortune to grow up in a family that enjoyed all sorts of different music. When we were in the mountains of Georgia we would listen to gospel choirs at local churches and bluegrass groups on the town square. When we were in the Caribbean, we would listen to the different bands on any given island. When we were at home Mom and Dad would listen to Andy Williams, Elvis, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Vivaldi and even Bill Haley and the Comets.

I have noticed that when we meet up with mule friends for a ride, or to just hang out on the porch, music is always playing somewhere. This brings me to a musician that I have recently had the pleasure to listen to – Michael Gaither. The whole reason I found Michael’s music was because he had written a song about a mule!!! Seriously. He doesn’t have just one mule song on his CD’s, he has three! How fortunate is that for a mule and music lover? Michael’s first CD is titled “Spotted Mule and Other Tales”. The title song “Spotted Mule” is a bluegrass song and has some great lyrics; “Dad was a donkey and mom was a roan”, so he has that part right!

I was really interested in how Michael got the idea to write a mule song. In a Podcast, he explained that he and his wife Cindy live in a relatively rural area. They were driving home one day, and in a field that had goats and horses in it Cindy saw a spotted mule standing up on the hill by itself. Cindy asked Michael, “Is that a mule?” and Michael replied, “Yes, that’s a mule” and Cindy countered with “You need to write a song about that spotted mule”, and that was that! (Leave it to the wife to have the good ideas!).

The mule on the hill turned out to be a mule named “Icing”, and was owned by Krista Koenig. Krista has been a natural horse trainer for years and a few years ago trained her first mule. She told Michael that training the mule made her a better horse trainer. See, another convert! Icing has been to Bishop and maybe some of you have seen him there. Icing is also the star in Michael’s YouTube video about filming a video for the CD.

Michael and Cindy have trained guide dogs and foster animals for an animal shelter in California. Michael’s music combines gospel, bluegrass and folk. “Spotted Mule” has two mule songs on it and Michael’s latest CD “Dogspeed” has a mule song on it called “Pack my Mule”. Seems to me, that like the rest of us, Michael has been bitten by the mule bug. So, if you are looking to add some toe tappin’ music to your mule ride or porch sittin’, check out Michael’s CD’s. Shoot, play his songs for your mule. Your mule will thank you!

To learn more about Michael and his mule songs, visit his website at michaelgaither.com.

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Michael Gaither - "Dogspeed" (1/09)
Written by Phil Peretz (Indie4Life)
"Indie4Life" (Music blog)
Michael Gaither is clearly one of my favorite artists. You'd never know that he was a local (Santa Cruz) Indie musician when you listen to his latest CD, his CD is professionally produced by Jimmy Jackson, sound levels are spot on, harmonies are perfect and he is a stellar guitarist, singer-songwriter. He calls his CD, another collection of mostly true Americana tales, ranging from concert memories, to the perils of modern technology, to a 4-legged hero of 9-11 (Roselle).

It's a great CD talking about everyday life, memories, musings and a poke at those jerks who talk on their cell phones while driving (Hang it Up). There is something that everyone can relate to on this CD. His cover of Van Morrisons' Tupelo Honey is my favorite on the album. I wish it went a little longer as my memory of this song wants to keep singing along after the song ends. It may be because it's better than the original, it may be because of Breanna Eddy who does harmonies on this song. Breanna Eddy also does harmonies on the first track of the album, I Miss My Town. A great song to start off this CD getting you in the mood for what follows.

It would be easy to compare Michael to the likes of Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, John Prine, but he really is one-of-a-kind.

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Metro Santa Cruz
Calendar Preview - 12/4/08
Paul Davis, Metro Santa Cruz

During any given work week, it seems you can't throw a ham hock in the county of Santa Cruz without hitting a whimsical, wry, country-influenced singer/songwriter. And with most of these artists, you know the drill: funny story songs, usually playing against type, that engage in some counterintuitive blue-state-redneck populism.

On all these counts, Michael Gaither doesn't stand out from the crowd, but if you drill down and take a look at his songs, you'll find much more depth than many of his peers, and better jokes.

It's a testament to Gaither's songwriting skills that songs about mules and bad drivers come across as effective and engaging, as opposed to gimmickry, and there's a lto to be excited about in an artist who, relatively early in his career, shows this much promise.

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Daily Audio Stash Music:
"Michael Gaither - 'High and Lonesome' " (July 2008)
NORMAL Daily Audio Stash
I hope that you get to go to a festival or two this summer. Today's musical break comes from an artist that knows a thing or two about festivals. Michael Gaither brings us his take on the festival experience with his song, "High and Lonesome". A bit of bluegrass, some Americana and a good dose of comedy put this track as a ëmust-addí on your road trip CD. Folk music is perfected in the story telling, and Michael Gaither spins his tale with heart and soul. a guitar and a mic.

Visit his website for more great American music, more of the fun and cute pictures of his dog, Roma. Find him at www.michaelgaither.com. Or even better, if you are in Watsonville, California you can stop at the Wooden Nickel Bar and Grill where Michael encourages other songwriters to try their hand at the mic. May you have fun and be safe, be high and loved at any festivals you visit this summer.

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"Haulin' Song"

Good God, Michael Gaither Gets It Right!
Written by Bill Moore

Let's face it, the only thing more exciting than a good car is a great woman! And that fact has inspired songwriters ever since an internal combustion engine was affixed to a hay wagon you could steer.  

A couple of songs come to mind, but my favorite is Neil Young’s “Trans Am”, which runs something like this: “The wagons in the valley had pulled up for the night. Seth said, ‘Go get the plow out Merle, this place looks just right.’ By then they were surrounded, by dawn they all were dead. I heard this from the old Trans Am, up the road ahead.”

But darn it, that’s about a car. What if you love the big-boy poise and power of a truck? Well, let's get to the answer by taking the long way: Once upon a time we would park our blue VW Bug alongside a mountainous highway and pull on the backpacks. Then, after a day of hiking, it would be time to either camp out in the rough, or we would have made it to a rustic shelter somewhere along our week-long trek.

But, let me tell you something: Those days are gone! These days we need a SUV to get all of our things to a campground. So, there we were a few months back, our Coleman tent all set up, a few burgers cooking on the small Weber grill, and in rolls this big Ford F-150 carrying a Palomino camper in the back. A woman and a man hopped out, along with a white Labrador retriever. Five minutes after getting there, Mike and Cyndy, along with Roma (the Lab...see photo above), were neighbors.

On the second night we were sitting around a fire, like billions of other homanids have done for a million years, hypnotized by the yellow and orange flames. Naturally, we got to talking about trucks and cars. I mentioned I had recently driven the Hummer H3. Mike mentioned he had written a song about SUVs, and then ran off to fetch his guitar. Because it was after 10 p.m.—and after 10, camp rules say you have to use your “whisper” voice—he sang the song, but didn’t add the harmonica parts because harmonicas can’t whisper.

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So, with some low-velocity strumming, and a quiet voice, Michael Gaither (who lives in Watsonville, Calif.) sang the following song titled, “Good God Man, How Big A Car Do You Need?” (Click here for a music clip.) We’re giving you these lines by permission, and they are copyrighted:

Heading home / Late at night / Blinded by two white lights / Rear view mirror / All I could see / Big and bright and it was coming at me

Thought I saw a UFO / Tried to run me off the road / A blue Suburban / Seats 15

Good God man, how big a car do you need?

There's a Hummer ahead / I just don't understand / Why not just get a Jeep? / And just torch 80 grand? / They're crowding the freeways / Lined up 'round the block / I wouldn't mind it so much if they'd just learn how to park

Roads are such a mess / Everyone's compensating for something I guess? / Maybe it's ego / Self-esteem

But Good God man, how big a car do you need?

You get the idea. And, now, with gasoline prices skyrocketing and the sales of some SUVs stagnant, you at least have to smile at the words. However, we've included several small SUVs or crossover vehicles in this article that even Mike will like!  And, because we're convinced you will too, we have full test drives on each in our Reviews Section.

Click here if you’d like more information about getting Michael Gaither's CD "Spotted Mule and Other Tales", which includes the SUV song and also a tune about driving the treacherous Highway 17

Mike sounds a bit like a young Gearhead Dylan, and we’ve suggested several songs he should start working on. First of all, there’s that old chicken farmer and racecar driver, Carroll Shelby. Sure, there was a song about his little Cobra, but, hey, how about something about the old man?

Next, maybe something about Bonneville where the cars and trucks hit blistering speeds. Maybe something about the Freightliner that we wrote about one time that hit 223.991 mph. But instead of a softly rolling folk song, it would have to be hard-charging rock and roll! 

Zoom-Zoom, Boom-Boom!      

Note: For the complete text of this article, including links to reviews and photos of hybrid and smaller SUVs, see "Haulin' Song" at SpeedStyle Magazine.

"Love Your Local Band"
written by Amanda Martinez
Good Times Weekly
Local musician Michael Gaither came to songwriting by way of a form of performance much more traditionally disparaging—stand-up comedy. For roughly four years in the late ‘80s, Gaither did every open mic he could find in town. “It really got me over being shy and into writing,” he says of his brief stand-up career, which peaked in ’89 when he sold four of his jokes to Jay Leno.

Ultimately, Gaither would find a less trial-by-fire outlet for his comedy in what he calls story songs. “Creatively, it’s been the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done,” he says, praising songs for their portability and longevity in comparison to jokes’ short shelf-life. “I think songwriting is a lot more nurturing.” Gaither’s sense of humor and keen observation of the human experience preside over his clever Americana originals. Take the first song he ever wrote, “Highway 17,” in which Gaither relays the microcosm of human idiosyncrasy, neurosis and stupidity that characterizes the over-the-hill commute. “Motorcycle splitting lanes even in the pouring rain,” he sings in his conversational twang, “people ain’t too bright on Highway 17.”

In another song, Gaither sings “I don’t mind being a jack of all trades, wish I could master one,” tracing the all-too-familiar quandary of those who can boast diverse vocational exploits but never specialize. “You meet a lot of people and you learn from anybody you meet,” he says in defense of his Whitman’s Sampler-style résumé that includes stints as a corporate trainer and stringer for The Sentinel. “But you can feel like you never really get good at any one thing, especially if you happen to be an insecure songwriter type.”

When asked if he would trade it all for the chance to be born with a single virtuosic talent, he thinks for a minute; “Part of me would say sure, but then I wouldn’t know the people I know now. So I would have to say no.”

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We've played downtown Campbell's monthly "First Friday" a couple of times. This nice little blurb appeared in their in the local paper.
Main Street USA
On the first Friday of July, downtown Campbell became Main Street USA
By Cathy Weselby

On the first Friday of July, downtown Campbell became Main Street USA, with all ages and races blending together into the melting pot of America. People dined on Ethiopian food al fresco while they listened to bluegrass music. Children tried their hand at tossing beanbags, and adults reminisced about the first time they saw Grease, which was shown for free on a parking lot wall. It was an evening that catered to families.

The event was part of the "First Friday" series, sponsored by the Downtown Campbell Business Association as a way to bring the community together and contribute to the social environment of historic downtown Campbell. Campbell residents Jan and Bill Hammerlund, Walter and Patty Hammerlund and Presley Prieto had dinner at Aqui's Cal-Mex and were sitting outside Starbucks enjoying the live music and parade of people. The family had their portable chairs and was headed over to the Sundown Cinema for the showing of Grease.

"We love the small town atmosphere of Campbell," Jan Hammerlund says. "Here you have all the big city conveniences with a small town attitude." There was entertainment for all ages. The Home Church presented a puppet show on the Darling Fisher front lawn, to the delight of the children. Puppeteer Ashley Reeves, 20, created the puppets and props. Melanie Reeves, 14, Rebecca Conevit, 14, Ann Liu, 15, and Chelsea Reeves, 19, all assisted her. Ashley Reeves said the secret to a successful show is having fun while performing. She's a student at Santa Clara University, where she is majoring in accounting.

The Michael Gaither Band played Americana and roots music and featured Michael Gaither on rhythm guitar and mandolin, Aaron Bagchee on lead guitar and banjo, Russ Van Scoy on harmonica, and Greg Scott on bass. The band played the First Friday in November and was asked to return.

The Michael Gaither Band wasn't the only sound on the street. Plan B performed in front of Blendz. The group has been strumming blues, folk, country and rock tunes together for five years. The group includes Campbell resident Ron Heimbuecher, who sang and played guitar, T-Bone Walker on guitar and Jackie Loken on bass.

The July evening also marked opening night for Sundown Cinema. Campbell resident Manuel Viveros of Casa de la Cultura Mexica started the outdoor movie series three years ago as a way to bring communities together. This year's movie line-up focuses on the classics, and all of the titles are family-friendly. Movies start as soon as it's dark enough to start the show, usually between 8:45 and 9 p.m. Approximately 300 people turned out for the July 6 showing of Grease.

Embellishes owner Priscilla Flynn says First Friday events bring people together in addition to being good for business. "The summer months are slower in my business, but First Fridays put me in the black every time," Flynn says. Marji Gilmore of Radio Daze was offering 20 percent off merchandise for the night. She says her store is already busy on Friday nights, but that First Friday events bring in more "artsy people." Radio Daze offers memorabilia from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Twice Nice Doll Shop owner Bonnie Peterson doesn't usually stay open at night, but was curious to see if the event might bring in traffic. Peterson sells collectible dolls from all over the world. "First Fridays don't necessarily increase my business, but I'm for anything that brings more people to downtown Campbell," Peterson says.

The next First Friday event takes place Aug. 3 from 6 to 9 p.m., with classic cars and music from the 1950s and 1960s.

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(This review of "Spotted Mule and Other Tales" appeared in the April 2007 issue of Maverick Country.)

"A storyteller with an eye for detail"

As he tells us in one of his songs, “Jack of All Trades”, California-based singer-songwriter Michael Gaither has turned his hand to a variety of occupations in his time. This is his debut album, and apart from “Running Down a Dream” which was written by Tom Petty, Gaither takes responsibility for the remaining eleven songs.

An observant writer partial to a little homespun philosophy, his songs are well constructed and cover a wide range of subjects. The album opens with “Still Walkin’ “, a reflective song in which he outlines his life from first unsteady steps to the walk of a grown man. He returns to this subject on “Takin’ Baby Steps”, a precise observation of his little cousin Emily’s first steps. Gaither concludes that every youngster displays courage in letting go of the support which brought them to their feet – a courage which often fails us as we grow older.

Gaither seems to have a tendency to pair his songs, as he does with “Spotted Mule” and “Not Stubborn, Not My Mule”. Both are something of a misfit, concluding with the line in “Spotted Mule” “If you’re a misfit, friend, you’re a friend of mine”.

Another loose pairing of songs comes with “Highway 17”, in which he wryly describes the lunacy of many drivers during rush hour traffic, risking life and limb in their mad scramble to get to their place of work and “Good God Man How Big a Car Do You Need?”

“Entertaining an Angel” is completely different, portraying the belief that it is not for us to know that angels are among us, for they may appear in numerous disguises. While “Broke” is something of a songwriting exercise to see how many different ways that word can be applied, Gaither draws our attention to the fact that some things can only work when they are broken. Clever and quite amusing.

Gaither is no distinctive vocal stylist, but his style suits his material, and he puts his tales together well. He plays acoustic guitar and harmonica and is helped out on tracks by the inclusion of electric lead guitar, mandolin, Dobro, banjo, bass, keyboard and harmony vocals, courtesy of Karin Phoenix. An interesting debut from a writer with a keen eye for detail and a gentle sense of humor. -Larry Kelly

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This review of "Spotted Mule and Other Tales" appeared in the November 2006 issue of Rootstime, a Belgian magazine. This is a translation from the original Flemish:

Michael Gaither lives in Watsonville, California, and from the look of the sleeve this is the place to be. To get down to business at once, “Spotted Mule and Other Tales” has got it all, it’s became an album that gives you the feeling that Americana has just been invented.

This razor-sharp acoustic guitar playing troubadour rushes through no fewer than a dozen songs in less than forty minutes. Even though, because of that fact, they are well-thought out. The offered varies from sweet vocals, beautiful melodies, strong lyrics and everything of such a breakable intensity that it seems that Warren Zevon has come back to life.

He also looked for inspiration at Ray Davies, John Hiatt, Buddy Miller, Julie Miller, Tom Petty and John Prine. Most of the songs are fantastic samples of Americana, a mix of modern folk, bluegrass and country.

The careful whispering voice of Gaither is not a voice that will make you fall off your chair, but he makes excellent use of the limited possibilities. Instrumentally, Gaither takes account for the guitar and harmonica, even though he gets modest support on some tracks on “Spotted Mule and Other Tales” from the mandolin, dobro and banjo, which gives the album a pleasant character. He wrote most of the songs but did not hesitate to record, for example, a song from Tom Petty (“Running Down A Dream”).

If you see Americana-artists as people who describe their surroundings and chroniclers of the daily life in the United States, then no-one will satisfy that description better than Michael Gaither.

He writes about himself in connection to the people around him and writes songs about the landscapes surrounding him, even uses some sarcasm in “Good God Man How Big a Car Do You Need?” or some gospel in “Entertaining An Angel”.

Other high-fliers are primarily “Highway 17”, “Jack of All Trades” and “Takin’ Baby Steps”, all songs covered in beautiful lyrics and a bit of Americana-sauce.

Together with his accompanying band this has become a very glorious cd, a cd that results in an intimate atmosphere, still ballads that cannot be touched by many singer-songwriter, whereas he also doesn’t have a problem with a bit of unadulterated bluegrass.

Everyone who just likes tranquil Americana, will probably feast on this as well

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© 2005-2009 Michael Gaither