The Moment I Knew…
I’m often asked at what point in my life did I know that I wanted to be a musician. This question naturally causes me to look back and sift through the memories in search of the answer.
My musical journey began on the piano in the northwoods of Minnesota way back in 1973 but I’ll jump ahead to the summer of 1998. I had just finished recording my debut solo piano album, “First Love” for Page Music out of Tennessee and I remember sitting down at the piano with no obligation or deadline in front of me. I began playing a new melody, and as I played, I closed my eyes. In my mind, I could see a young boy riding his bike alongside the ocean and out over the blue green water, gulls were gliding back and forth above the waves with outstretched wings. While I was playing, I sensed that my son, Noah, who was almost 2 years old at that time, was standing next to me and as I opened my eyes and looked down, I was blown away to see him swaying back and forth with his arms extended like wings!
I still get goosebumps when I remember that moment …for that was the moment that I knew and truly realized the power of music and how feelings, emotions and imagery can be imbued in the melodies that I create. While I’ve always known at the core of my being that I wanted to write and perform music, it was that moment in my musical journey that I knew that was what I was meant to do!
Fast forward two decades, 12 albums, too many live performances to remember and many other musical experiences along the way and it’s still that feeling that I crave when I think about my life and career as a musician.
I don’t mean to sell the creative process short. Needless to say, it’s essential. For the listener it’s everything. But to some extent almost anyone can make music.
But when it comes to BEING a musician, it’s that muscle memory. It’s showing up at a gig to find that 4 keys are missing from the piano and you still have to perform. It’s playing for 5 hours straight at a visitation and the piano hasn’t been tuned in about 100 years and you try to remember which notes are the bad ones so you can avoid them. It’s trying to get your gear hauled to the car as quickly as you can during a thunderstorm at an art fair you’re performing at but the water and hail is ankle deep and the wheels on your cart won’t roll and you’re getting hit in the head with hail so hard that you actually hear ringing inside your head. It’s about your kids running around your booth at an art fair and tripping on a cable that causes your PA speaker to fall on your keyboard and break 3 keys on your piano. It’s having your piano bench collapse on you while your performing. It’s about wrapping your keyboard in a plastic drop cloth and strapping it the the roof of your car so the whole family can be part of the performance 6.5 hours away. It’s about playing outside at a wedding for 2.5 hours in full sun and no shade…(avoid the black keys in this instance as they get VERY hot.) It’s about playing a show in Chicago and having the back window of your car smashed in and the promoters moving you and your family to a luxury suite as they feel bad for you. It’s a thousand other little subtle experiences that define what it means to be a musician. At least that’s the way it’s been for me. It’s not about remembering all the notes, or the number of albums sold, but rather it’s knowing those things first hand that makes me a musician, a veteran. It’s knowing that I’m one of a small percentage of the population to not only have seen, but to have lived behind the curtain that makes this whole crazy thing worth while.
But perhaps even more importantly than that, It’s the emails, affirmations and positive comments that I receive from YOU, the listener, that makes all of it matter and keeps me moving forward through the sometimes-hard, sometimes-ugly, always-worthwhile experiences along this musical journey. Here’s to hoping that you are part of that journey.
Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter.
Sink Or Swim…Am I Being Clear?
While attending a sales seminar several years ago, I remember the speaker saying that often times what is said, what is heard and what is meant is very different to the people having a conversation. I have a real life example of this that I would like to share with you.
As many of you know, I take my sons, Noah and Will with me to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every year and we go with my friend Dave and his son Stephen. On one of our trips, we encountered a very large beaver dam and we had to get out of our canoes and pull them over the dam. It’s important to note that with the Kevlar canoes that we use, it is critical that you do not get in the canoe unless it is in the water otherwise you risk the possibility of damaging the bottom. The area below the dam prevented an ideal boarding situation as there was mud and sharp sticks everywhere so as is often the case, you must wade out into the water to step into the canoe. The water I was looking at was very dark so I couldn’t see the bottom to determine the actual depth and it also smelled like an outhouse as the water wasn’t moving in that area.
I looked across the pool where Dave and Stephen were waiting for us to get into our canoe. I shouted over to Dave, “How deep is it?” He indicated with his hands that it was about a foot deep. I stepped off into the water and promptly sank up to my ears!
We all started laughing very hard and I could hear Dave between the laughter, saying, “I thought you meant over here!” I said, “Why would I ask you how deep it is over there?”
Be clear in what you are saying or asking and as much as possible, make sure the other person who you are communicating with is on the same page as you as it could impact whether you sink or swim!
You might also consider checking out UP NORTH – MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE NORTHWOODS.It’s my best selling album and it’s full of Instrumental piano tunes that I like to think would help you to communicate more clearly :>)
A few years ago I dropped Beth’s car off at the repair shop early in the morning and decided to walk home along a bike path. As I started to walk, I took out my phone and began listening to some of my song ideas for my upcoming project, “The Path” and the irony of listening to songs for “The Path” while walking on the path made me laugh.
As I walked under the highway, the path wound its way down a hill into the woods and very soon, I found myself walking along side a creek. I shut off my phone and began to take in my surroundings… the water bubbling over rocks and birds chirping and singing all around me as the sun peeks its way through the branches overhead. I notice that the leaves are just starting to come in. I see a snake on the path and am curious about what kind it is… oh, it’s a garter snake… or is it gartner snake? or gardener snake? It’s a garter snake… but my mind wrestles with that for a bit as I continue to walk along.
I wonder if there are trout in this part of the stream and decide I’ll have to ask my neighbor, who is an avid trout fisherman and he would know.
I’ll have to bring Beth back here on her next day off so we can share this beauty together.
I suddenly feel guilty that I’m not using the time on my walk to think up some new marketing ideas for my business and almost as soon as I have the thought, a voice in my head says “you don’t always have to be thinking big thoughts!” OK…. message received :>)
Enjoy the day and let your mind wander and wonder…. it’s OK!!!! Remember, you don’t always have to be thinking big thoughts!
Life’s Too short…
I love this quote because it resonates with me as an original artist. As a person who creates music, I want to spend my time writing all of the music that is inside of me. I don’t want to take the little bit of time I have, playing other people’s music. I also find that this is a good metaphor for life, to challenge yourself to find the “music” that is inside of you. I believe that God has given each of us a special talent or gift that we are obligated to discover and share with others during our short time here on Earth. Give this some thought. How are you an original? What is your “music” that you have to share? The world is waiting to enjoy your gifts. We can’t wait to see what you have to offer!
How Much Time?
A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother-in-law, Jeff, as he was in the process of mapping out an exit strategy from corporate America so he could start his own business. He shared a quote with me that motivated him and as best as I can remember it, it read, “Death is certain. Tomorrow isn’t. What will you do?”
This quote motivates me too as I am very aware of the fact that none of us know how much time we have left in our lives to accomplish all of the things that we want to so it’s important that we are clear about what we want to be spending our time doing and as Nike would say, “Just do it!”
If you are on the wrong path in your life, get on a different path as soon as possible! and on’t be afraid to “take the road less traveled” as suggested by Robert Frost. I think Teddy Roosevelt summed up the correct mindset that we should all have in life: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
Clarity is vital for all of us to gain an understanding of where we should focus our time and effort. Once we can that clarity, get going and don’t let anyone or anything stop you! If a “rock” gets in your way… go around it. Be persistent and have a sense of urgency.
I like what Calvin Coolidge once said about persistence, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”
So get clear in your heart and mind and get going on your dreams, for the clock is ticking my friends! Press On!
Happy Place: The following are a few things that help me find joy:
My wife, Beth and I bought some refrigerator magnets at an art fair a few years ago that are made out of glass and the artist painted quirky smiling faces on them. We put them next to another magnet we have that says, “Find Joy In Each Day”. The grouping of magnets makes me smile every time that I see them, even after 6 months of winter in Minnesota. (That is a blatant lie… nothing makes me smile after 6 months of winter.)
When it isn’t winter, we love to hang out on our back porch as it feels like a cabin in the northwoods to us. Beth just bought some new cushions and I love the quote by Emerson that is stitched on them: “Live in the sunshine. Swim in the sea. Drink the wild air.” When we don’t have time to go up north, we go to the porch and it makes us smile!
Speaking of up north, last year when we were at the cabin, it rained much of the time and my youngest son, Will, and I went for a walk. When we found this perfect leaf on the road, it made me happy as it was so beautiful to see and it reminded me that even on rainy days you can still find joy.
My “Happy Place” is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area as it allows me to disconnect from the world for a bit and truly enjoy being in nature!
So what’s your happy place? What are some things that make you smile?
Leap of Faith…
I love this picture of my son, Will, Leaping over the water on a beach in Hawaii a few years ago. It is not a super imposed image or trick photography. I just happened to be in a great spot to capture his “Leap of Faith” as he ran as fast as he could and jumped off the edge in hopes of reaching the other side.
As I look at this photo, I think about my own leap of faith in regards to my music. Unlike Will, I can’t see the other side and I don’t really know where I’ll land. All I know is that at some point in my past, I jumped off a cliff (metaphorically speaking) in pursuit of my dreams of becoming a successful artist.
What do I mean by “successful” and “artist” you ask? Well, as my other son, Noah, once said to me, “An Artist writes their own music and a musician plays other people’s music!” and since my slogan is, “Life’s too short to play other people’s music!” you know that I find that definition to be spot on! In regards to “successful”, many define this in terms of financial achievement and while that certainly plays a role in my definition, it is not the ultimate measuring stick of success in my book.
I used to have a sign that I made hanging above my piano that read, “Success = Measurable Progress in Reasonable Time!” (I adapted this from something I heard Jim Rohn say at a sales seminar many years ago.) So, having released 12 solo albums in the last 20 years is measurable progress in reasonable time…aka… success!
Perhaps my greatest measure of “Success” in regards to my music is if I am able to capture a mood or feeling in one of my compositions and have the listener identify with that mood or feeling. I was moved to tears today by a note that I received from a fan after I sent her an email explaining the inspiration behind my song Lead Me Home on my Hopes and Wishes CD. Here was the note that I sent out: As many of you know, I was hospitalized a few years ago and when they brought in a living will for me to sign, across the top it stated… my hopes and wishes. It immediately became the name of a new CD as I was going through a rough patch in life dealing with my own health issues, and losing a friend to suicide, another to a tragic accident and another to Cancer. The song Lead Me Home was written for Betsy Slapnicher and this video will tell the story in a clearer fashion, Click on the words: Lead Me Home
Here is her response to me:
“I wanted to let you know that before I knew what your song ‘Lead Me Home’ was all about, I could tell by the title that it was something special and it spoke to me. I listened to it while my Dad was in his last days at the nursing home. His one and frequent wish was to ‘go home’ and be with my mom. Therefore, we played your song ‘Lead Me Home’ at his burial a few weeks ago in May. It was very appropriate and liked by all
I’m very sorry for your friend, but I am ever grateful it led you to write this song. So, thank you so much Neal.”
Wow! How amazing is that?
Obviously, my Leap of Faith hasn’t been without it’s bumps and bruises along the way but I’m grateful that I had the courage to jump off as it’s allowed me to meet some pretty awesome people along the way.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope that it is inspiring to you too.
I’d love to hear from you sometime so feel free to reach out!
Talk to you later,
Time to Reflect….
Much of our time up north on our annual family trip is spent reflecting on the past year of our lives. Every year, the trip seems so far off and it isn’t until the night before when we are scrambling to gather up all of our necessities for the week ahead that the reality of the trip starts to take hold. Even as we start off on our drive, it doesn’t feel like vacation yet, but the moment we turn down Blue Lake Road, it feels as if we never left. The roads and woods are familiar to all of us as we’ve been coming here for 17 years.
Our oldest son, Noah, was 4 and our youngest son, Will, wasn’t even 1 yet when we made our first family trip up here at the beginning of September in 2001. I had just released my Pictures CD on August 10th, 2001 and we had moved to our new home in Red Wing, MN. We shared a cabin with my Brother-In-Law Jeff, his Wife Cathy and our niece, Kate, who had just turned 1. I was only able to get a couple days off of work so we headed home after a great time at the lake and I returned to my job in Edina, MN on 9-11-2001. What a surreal first day back it was. I was digging through emails and trying to get caught up when a co-worker came in to tell me that a plane had crashed into the world trade center. I assumed it was a small plane and I didn’t give it much thought. When he came in a little while later to inform me that another plane had crashed into tower 2, I realized that something indeed was not normal or random about this situation now. After the 1st tower fell, the owner of the company sent us all home to be with our families. I was listening to the radio in my car and driving on 494 when the 2nd tower collapsed. I remember crying and calling Beth. She turned the TV on and soon joined me in crying. It was a horrible, devastating feeling that is forever seared into my brain.
Last week, while we were still at the cabin, we all agreed to attended a poetry reading at a local library and we were happy to discover that they had some books for sale. I bought a couple of John Grisham novels that I hadn’t read yet and Noah bought a book called, “Falling Man”. It is a story about 9-11 and the cover has the 11 enlarged to represent the two trade center towers. In the center of of one of the 1’s is a silhouette of an upside down man jumping from the tower on 9-11 to escape the fire. As I looked at the cover of Noah’s book and realized what it was about, I was immediately transported back in my mind to the days we spent at Blue Lake just before 9-11 in 2001.
All of our lives have been forever changed by the events that took place on 9-11, but I am grateful that for at least 1 week out of the year, my little family can get together and create new memories while we reflect on the past in the northwoods of Wisconsin. Blue Lake is restorative to my soul and I hope that you have a place where you can take time to reflect and count your own blessings.
Talk to you soon,
A Poem for my Mom…
Beth and I started going through closets and bookshelves today as we prepare for a near-future downsizing. In the back of one of our many closets, I found a box that had some old newspaper clippings and memorabilia from my childhood and It was if I’d opened a time capsule. Seeing all the photos of the handbell ensemble, “Strikepoint” that I was part of when we toured the US, Hawaii, Hong Kong and Japan in 1986 really brought back some great memories of some wonderful times spent with some amazing people. As I dug further down in the box, I found lyrics to the first song that I wrote back in 1979…. (so, for those of you who wondered how old I was when I wrote my first song, the answer is 11.) A few layers down I found a poem that I wrote to my Mom and as near as I could tell from where it was in the box, I was about 10 when I wrote it. I’d like to share it as it was actually pretty sweet. Here it is:
I LOOK OUT THE WINDOW THROUGH ICE-GLAZED GLASS TO CAST MY EYES ON FROST BITTEN GRASS.
FALL IS ENDING, WINTER IS NEAR. THE ICE ON THE WINDOW MAKES THAT QUITE CLEAR.
“BREAKFAST IS READY!” MY MOTHER YELLS.
I LOVE THE WAY HER MUFFINS SMELL.
I THINK TO MYSELF AS I LAY BACK ON MY BED, OF ALL THE NICE THINGS SHE HAS DONE AND SAID.
SHE WASHES MY LAUNDRY AND MAKES ME FOOD. I TAKE IT FOR GRANTED WHEN IN A BAD MOOD.
I WANT TO THANK HER BUT THE WORDS WON’T COME. I FELL QUITE AWKWARD AND KIND OF DUMB.
“LAST CALL!” I HEAR MY MOM SAY.
I THINK TO MYSELF, TODAY’S THE DAY.
As I look back on my life at all of the people who have come and gone, the reality of how quickly time passes hits me hard and I freely admit that I get a little teary. I hope you’ll reach out to a loved one who you haven’t connected with in awhile and let them know how much you appreciate them and don’t wait because as Jim Rohn used to say, “None of us get out of here alive and none of us know how long we have.”
Sing a new song unto the Lord…
I read an article a few years ago by Derek Siver, the founder of CD Baby. In the article, he shared about attending an annual song writing conference and while there, he saw a musician who had been trying to sell the same song for the last several years. Every year the musician would show up with a slightly altered version of the same song and he kept trying to find an audience for it. Derek’s takeaway from seeing this played out several times was, just write a new song instead of trying so hard to sell the same song over and over and over.
Being a song writer, I can see both sides to this. Sometimes our own ideas seem earth shattering to us and we can’t understand how someone else can’t be as excited as we are. We believe there is an audience and we just haven’t found it yet.
On the other hand, I like Derek’s perspective and it is one that I’ve practiced for a long time. When I first started out, I had extremely high expectations for my music and saw my life playing out in a similar fashion to Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams… “If you build it, they will come”. This became the unspoken motto of my endeavors as a music creator. I used to joke to people that I was really God’s puppet and that the music I played wasn’t my own at all and while on the outside, it may appear as a joke, on the inside it is quite true.
I’ve had some pretty amazing moments while writing music. In fact, I remember sitting in our apartment in Woodbury, MN and I was working on a song. I had been stuck on the some section for about a week and hadn’t found any other paths for the melody to take. As I was playing, I remember sliding to the left about 3 inches on my bench and it was if I had slid into a spotlight from heaven. Only it wasn’t a visible light. It was an overwhelming presence of the divine. A new melody came to life as tears streamed down my face. I realized that I had just tapped into the creative force that is all around us but few get to experience.
This song became “Coming Home” and it appeared on my First Love CD. It was no accident, in my opinion, that the “divine passage” that I had written in that song was selected by the record label to be the sound sample that people would hear when they pressed the botton on the interactive kiosk where my CD’s used to appear. First Love went on to become the national top selling Solo Piano CD for Page Music out of Tennessee.
I’ll get into more details on my story in future writings. In the meantime, I’ll write a new song, like this one: (The video only shows up on desktops and won’t work on mobile, so if you are on a phone, be sure to check out the new song when you get back to land)
I would love to hear from you when you get a moment.Talk to you soon!
Too much T in your can…
Someone posted this vintage shot on social media the other day and it made me think of my Grandpa Earnie. I remember several times growing up when I’d say something like, “I’d really like to buy a new stereo but I can’t figure out how to get enough money.” and Grandpa would say, “You’ve got too much “T” in your “Can” and then he would laugh as if it was the funniest joke he’d ever told. This joke of his became a large part of my foundation as I pursued my musical dreams. Whenever fear and doubt would creep into my mind and I was about to say I couldn’t do something, I’d remember that little joke and it made me persist and keep trying.
I mentioned in my last post that I’d share a little more of my story with you in future writings and I think this is the perfect opportunity to give you a broader overview of how my music career started and some of the bumps in the road that I’ve had to overcome.
I’ll leave the formative years as well as the story behind the rock band that I co-founded for a future time and I’ll jump in to my story at around 1995. I signed my first recording contract with Northwood Press around this time and I was to have a solo piano album that would have nature sounds mixed in with my music. These types of albums were very popular at that time and while I wasn’t really sure I liked the idea of my music mixed with nature, I went ahead and recorded an album. Shortly after completing my recording, there was a change in management at the record label and in the process, my master recording was lost and not long after, the company went bankrupt. In someways I was relieved because when I was honest with myself, I really didn’t want my music mixed with nature sounds at that point in time.
In about 1997, my friend and college roommate, Steven C. Anderson, was putting a series of albums together for Page Music out of Tennessee. I was able to land a record deal through Steve with Page Music and I released my debut solo piano CD, First Love, in the fall of 1998. As I stated in my last post, First Love went on to become the top selling solo piano CD for Page Music and I had found success on a national level. Again, this was a short lived moment for me as Page Music went bankrupt and sold the rights for First Love to another record label that was selling my cd’s at truck stops for around $3.00. I paid $10,000 to buy back the rights to my songs and decided that I’d had enough of working with record labels so I formed my own company, Harbour Light Music in June of 1999.
I shared the story about writing a song called Taking Flight, in an earlier post called the moment I knewand I left out a big part of the story. I’m not going to name names here but I did let another artist record this song before I did and the song was called, Morning Bird Melody and it appeared on an album called, Nature’s Experience on the Baby Genius Record Label. I believe there were about 8 albums in the series and in an effort to promote the albums, the record label hired, Deidre Hall, the actress most famous for her roll as Dr. Marlena Evans on Days of Our Lives to go on all of the major morning shows at that time, Rosie O’Donnell, Regis and Kathy Lee etc. etc. The record label made a demo CD that had the top 1 or 2 tracks from the 8 albums and Deidre gave away the Demo CD on live TV. Now, my mind may have inflated the number over the years, but lets say it was around 30,000 demos that were given out. Now here’s where it gets kind of upsetting to me, my name doesn’t appear in the credits for the original album and my song was selected for the demo and you guessed it, my name doesn’t appear on that either. The album won a Gold Medal from some nationally recognized organization and ….no, I didn’t receive a gold award but I can honestly say that I have award winning music! See, I can find the good in any situation lol.
Well, enough about that. With renewed determination to succeed on my own without the help of a national label, I released my Pictures CD on August 10, 2001 and it continues to be my personal favorite of all my works as it includes tributes to many of the people who are a big part of my life. One of my life’s goals had been to write a song for my Grandpa and on this CD, I was proud of “Grandpa’s Song” which included Carolyn Boulay on Violin. This song appeared on Almanac and was played on MPR as well. One of the other things my Grandpa was fond of saying is that, “Music is a great hobby but a lousy way to make a living!” After 25 years of trying to prove him wrong, I think I’ve partially succeeded lol. It would be easier if CD’s had continued to be as popular as they used to be. But, you won’t catch me saying I can’t succeed.
The next several years were fairly uneventful from a “bump in the road” perspective and I happily released Snow Angels – The Christmas Album in 2002, Up North in 2004, The Water’s Edge in 2005, Northwoods Retreat in 2007, A Peaceful Place in 2009 and then…. fasten your seat belts folks, we’re going to experience some turbulence. Many of the events that happened in 2010 are a bit jumbled so I can’t remember exactly which happened first but I’ll do my best to recall as accurately as I can. Now, if you’ve been following my career to this point, you know that I write music about people, places and events that inspire me and for several years people might say about me, Oh yeah, he’s that guy that loves to go to the boundary water’s canoe area and to the northwoods and he write songs about being at the cabin or paddling across a lake. etc. etc. etc. but on September 27th, of 2010 a close family friend took her own life at the age of 42. It really upset me and made me incredibly sad. A few weeks later, I found myself admitted to the hospital with a pin hole rupture in my intestine. While hooked up to tubes and machines, a living will was brought in for me to look at and across the top it read, “My Hopes and Wishes”. I immediately called Beth and asked her to bring me a notebook and pens. I started formulating the songs that I would create for my next CD that I decided to call Hopes and Wishes. The first day when I got home, I sat down at the piano and in one sitting wrote the song. Another Chance. It was a rare, stream of conscience moment for me and I remember feeling very elated to be home. I wrote Better Days for my friend Laura and started writing several other songs for the album. The weekend of Thanksgiving that year, we found out that the son of some of our friends in town was struck and killed by a train in Colorado. In tears, I was inspired to write, Heaven Knows in honor of his life. I continued to write songs and at some point in there I became friends with Beth’s boss at her Optician Job in Hastings. I learned that his wife had been battling cancer and while the family was praying for a miracle, Betsy was in between worlds and I wrote the song, Lead Me Home in her honor. An interesting footnote is that when she died on March 4th of 2011, I found out via a text from Beth, just moments before performing, Lead Me Home, at a sunrise concert at the Mayo Clinic in Red Wing. I remember being happy that she didn’t have to suffer anymore but I also felt the immense sadness that her family was experiencing. So, instead of going to the woods and getting inspired, I went through some really tough human experiences and selfishly wrote these songs to bring me solace and healing.
I did forget one event that happened in 2006. My CD’s had been popping up in Bed and Breakfasts all over the country and I started pro-actively marketing to B&B’s in Minnesota and I ended up becoming friends with Pam Thoreson, the owner of The Rosewood Inn in Hastings, MN. Pam suggested that I put together a 1 hour compilation CD of my music that would feature 3 recipes from the annual cookbook that the members of the Minnesota Bed And Breakfast association was putting out that year. It sounded like a great idea and I gathered all of the artwork and produced 1000 CD’s that I would sell to the Members and they could offer them for sale at their Inns. Well, the only problem, and I had cautioned them about this, was they were going to call the cookbook and CD, More Minnesota Mornings and Beyond as it was a follow up to the previous year. Some of you may remember this but there was another pianist that had a series of CD’s out called Minnesota Mornings. I suspected that he might take offense to me on the title they suggested. Well, my suspicions were confirmed when I received a cease and desist letter from the other musician’s lawyer. So, we had to rename the CD and I ended up eating the cost of the first production. Onwards and upwards right? Just keep trying Neal. I sold the Wisconsin and Michigan B&B Association on this same idea and I had alot of success with it for a few years. Now back to the correct timeline…
2012 was another big year of overcoming the odds. I had been in outside sales for a company in the Minneapolis area and after about 2 years with them, I was let go. I sat at my desk for maybe 20 minutes and then I threw out and erased all information on that organization and I launched a new business venture on the spot. I decided to create custom cover CD’s for B&B’s and this time I went national with the idea. I picked up the phone and started pitching the idea to all the B&B contacts that I had made over the years. This idea was very successful for about 3 years and then I started hearing phrases from B&B owner’s on the phone like IPods, Docking Stations, Streaming, Pandora etc. etc. I still have some great national accounts that order every year and I’m grateful for their support. (Also in 2012 I released The Best Of Neal A. Topliff as well as another Christmas CD, A Midnight Clear and once again Caroly Boulay joined me in the studio on the violin. It is a gorgeous CD!)
In 2013 I released a 4 CD set called the Artist Series which was basically 4 1 hour mixes of my music featuring the cover art of some of my Artist Friends in Red Wing, Sandra Borgen did the cover for New Beginnings, Art Kenyon did the cover for Reflections, Chap Achen did the cover for Solitude and Dan Wiemer did the cover for Heaven Sent. I also released both of my Christmas CD’s in a 2 CD set called the Christmas Collection and it continues to be very popular.
In 2015 I released my first solo guitar CD, Sacred Moments and a single of What Did You Ask For which was a vocal version of this song previously released in 2002 on my Snow Angels CD. The single was sold as a fundraiser and the profits went to my friend and his family as he was battling stage 4 cancer. (He is alive and well with a clean bill of health as of this writing… hallelujah!)
People enjoyed my guitar CD but the overwhelming majority missed my Piano music so in 2016 I released my first combination Piano and Guitar CD, Seasons Change.
I continued to write new songs and had intended to release a CD in 2017 called Natural Reflections but life hit another patch of turbulence that prevented that recording from happening. The events in my life also led me to write another 12 songs for yet another new album that will be all piano. I had intended to call it The Journey Within but after a week at the Cabin up north, I’m thinking of changing the name. We shall see.
I believe that God has led me to where I am and in me, he has found a willing vessel to write pretty songs that are hopefully enjoyable and inspirational to others. I just have to keep the “T” out of my “Can” and keep moving forward and trust that the big guy upstairs has some kind of plan/purpose for my life and it will all become clear to me at some point in time.
In writing this blog, I realized that there are alot more stories to share and I’ll continue to do so. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope in some way it might inspire you to get back to whatever it is you have set aside and try doing something that someone else said was impossible!
Talk to you later!
Ha ha ha.. (a joke my Dad told me this past weekend) Speaking of nights, you know what helps a lot of people get through their nights? Listening to my music!
Over the years, I’ve had many parents who played my music for their children with they were young to help them fall to sleep. In fact at one of my concerts at the Sheldon Theater in Red Wing, MN, I was walking around and saying hello to people at the break and one of the attendees said that her son fell asleep during the first half of my concert as I was playing the same songs that were used for his bedtime music! I assured her that I would play the same songs backwards for the last half of the show and see if her son might wake up.
What activities do you do to relax? For my family, we love to go on vacation and one of our favorite vacations is going to a cabin up north in Wisconsin. We enjoy going out for evening boat rides and taking in all the sights and sounds that the lake and woods have to offer. The picture that I included with this post was taken by my wife, Beth on our last boat ride at the cabin this year. I love to look at it as I remember the moment that she took the picture and how magical it felt to be in that moment with some of my favorite people in one of my favorite places. I’m so happy that my music has become the backdrop for many people to relax to and like this picture, it can take them back to a special memory that they had in a special place too
I hope the rest of your summer is relaxing!
Talk to you later!
Back in February of 1991 I started working for a company that promoted some of the top sales and motivational speakers in the world. One of the speakers talked about how he began each day having a positive conversation with himself that went something like this: “I like myself. I really, really like myself.” Now, to be honest it seemed absolutely comical to me and I couldn’t see myself doing this. Around this same time, Al Franken seemed to find humor in this type of self pep talk too as he appeared on Saturday Night Live as the character, Stuart Smalley. He had an ongoing segment called “daily affirmation with Stuart Smalley” where he would look in the mirror and talk to himself. Here is an image that may help refresh your memory:
I used to attend a lot of the seminars that we were promoting and I read the books and listened to the tapes of some of the speakers who’s messages seemed to resonate with me. One the speakers that I liked talked about how what we dwell upon in our minds expands into our reality. The idea is that if you complain about how you don’t have enough of something in your life than you will never have enough of that thing in your life. It’s an idea about not giving time or energy to a thought or idea that is self defeating and limiting, rather focussing on the things that you want to expand into your life such as love, prosperity, good health etc. etc. This type of mindset is about as close as I get to having a positive self talk with myself each morning.
These days, I find that I tend to be very hard on myself most of the time and there is a little voice in my head that will make daily announcements listing off all of the things that are wrong with me. I’ve been trying to get the voice to be a little nicer but it’s a work in progress.
An interesting thing happened this past Friday. My wife, Beth, came downstairs and announced, “Today is going to be the best day of our lives!” Beth is usually a upbeat and happy person but even this proclamation seemed a bit crazy to me. I pressed her a little bit to try and gain understanding and perspective and she said, “I don’t know. It’s just a feeling that I have.” Well, she seemed so convinced of this truth that I went through my day in the best mood I’ve been in for quite some time. Before I would do a task that I didn’t particularly care to do, I would hear Beth in my head. saying”Today, is going to be the best day of our lives!” I started looking for the good in every situation that I found myself in. I was eagerly going from task to task waiting for the big moment to arrive. To be honest, it wasn’t the best day of our lives but it was a much better day of our lives. It was a better way to get through the day looking for good instead of bad.
I did have a highlight of my life on Friday as I got invited by my brother to see the bands Journey and Def Leppard in concert at Target Field in Minneapolis. These were some of our favorite bands from growing up so it was very nostalgic for us to be part of the 40,500 people who were in attendance. It was the largest “choir” I’ve ever been a part of. lol
What if I started every day with the mindset that “today is going to be the best day of my life”? If every day were the best day that it could be than pretty soon I’d have the best week ever and best month ever. Pretty soon that negative voice in my head won’t know what to do with itself as it will have to agree that things are looking pretty good.
I hope you are having the best day of your life today!
Love to hear your thoughts on this post.
A Band Of Brothers – Cain’s Alibi
From Left to Right: Mark Christenson, Don Hettinga, Phil Galloway, Paul Miller, Me, Warren “Zeek” Pasbrig
I played my last gig with the hard rock / heavy metal band, Cain’s Alibi on February 13, 1999. I co-founded the band with my friend, Paul Miller in 1996. All of the music and lyrics on our debut CD were written, arranged, performed, recorded, produced by Paul and I. We released the self titled CD, “Cain’s Alibi” on our own record label, Wolfgang Productions in 1997.
We decided to form a band and take the show on the road so we went in search of a bass player and a drummer. Finding a bass player proved to be quite easy as my friend, Mark Christenson stepped into that role. Mark and I spent many late nights jamming together during our time as roommates while attending college in St. Paul, MN and he was eager to be part of the adventure.
Finding a drummer that was able to play the songs that we had written proved challenging and it was a bit of luck and fate that brought Phil Galloway into our lives. As I recall, Paul, Mark, myself and a drummer, that was trying out for the band, were practicing in a friend’s warehouse in Eden Prairie (The same warehouse that I wrote Summer Rain in from my First Love CD) and we decided to take a break and play hacky sack in front of the warehouse. While we were outside, Phil walked out of the warehouse next-door and said he could hear our music and thought we sounded pretty good. He mentioned that he played drums and one thing led to another and we invited him to tryout for the band. Needless to say, he got the gig.
We had a good chemistry between all of us and it wasn’t long before we were playing clubs in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was a blast and we all have great memories of our time performing together. We had many, many awesome moments together and I will cherish them forever but ultimately the time commitment was too much and Phil and I gave our notices to quit the band in August of 1998. Phil’s replacement came on fairly quickly but finding the right guitarist to step in for me took 6 months. The band continued on with Mark and Paul at the core and then Mark left and Paul continued to perform with other musicians for a few more years.
I was surprised last year when Mark reached out to all of us and asked if we would get the band together again for a one night performance in celebration of many of us turning 50 this year. We all agreed and the date was set. Mark and his wife, Brenda, were kind enough to host the party on their property and they got a tent and stage for the performance. Mark also contacted our good friend and main sound man, Zeek, to run sound and lights for the event.
We started to put together the song list and realized that there were some of the songs that we couldn’t really play or sing the way that we used to so we invited our friend and phenomenal vocalist, Don Hettinga to join us on stage on several songs and it made us a better band as we were able to add more harmonies behind his lead vocals. We also decided to include more classic songs by Journey and Foreigner so I could play my keyboard with the group.
We had 2 long practices 2 weeks apart in July and 1 short practice on Saturday at Noon. The show was set to go at 8:30pm. People started showing up in the late afternoon and we probably had around 100 people there by the time we hit the stage.
We kicked off the night with The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy. It was a song we had played a lot back in our performing days and when we hit that first chord and the lights came up, I felt sheer joy pass through my body and I could tell by the smiles on Paul, Mark and Phil’s face, they too were feeling good too. We played 20 songs and I can honestly say I was floating off the ground for most of the evening. It was a blast to be together with my friends again.
I was talking to Don after the show and he said that being in a band reminded him of being in the military where you have a closeness unlike anything else in life. You all have to work together to make it work and for one magical evening we were truly a band of brothers.
(Some of you were gracious enough to help me raise money for Don and his family several years ago as he was battling cancer. We are elated that he is currently cancer free! It is a miracle and we are grateful that he was able to be there with us on Saturday.)
I’m not sure what is next for me but I’m sure God has a plan and I’ll keep you in the loop.
Thanks for reading this and I wish you a great rest of your Summer!
I’ve wrestled with my faith off and on for as long as I can remember and I was recalling a day not very long ago that I almost died. I was mad at God for not being clearer with what was meant for me in my life. It seemed like everything I had done up to that point had been a failure veiled in the promise of false hope. I was filled with the field of dreams mentality that if “I built it they would come”. I was angry, bitter and really going on a rant inside my head as I walked past the library and continued walking towards the YMCA which was on the other side of US 61 in Red Wing. As I neared the intersection, the walk sign lit up and I didn’t look left or right. I just kept walking and silently cursing God for letting me continue to fail in my life. I suddenly heard a women’s voice behind me that was speaking in gibberish and getting louder and louder. As I turned my head to the left to try and see what was causing someone to make such a strange sound, I saw a grain truck coming right at me as it had run the red light. I stepped back and the truck whipped past just inches away. I turned to thank the Woman for warning me and she had tears in her eyes and still couldn’t speak clearly as she had been terrified that I was surely going to be run over. With shaky knees and rubbery legs, I continued my walk home thanking God for sending that Woman to save my life. It made me realize that God had been with me all along and just because he wasn’t showing up in the way that I wanted him too, he was still there looking out for me.
I’ve reached a milestone in my music career that came so fast that it makes me a little dizzy. My First Love CD is 20 years old and I can’t believe it. It truly seems like last week that I released that CD.
In honor of this special moment in my musical journey, I decided to re-release First Love with a new cover, dedication and the poster you see above inside the booklet. The new cover is a picture from the fall of 1971 of me, my sister and brother.
I also decided to do something that I haven’t done in forever…. I am sending out postcards in the mail announcing this special CD! Yikes…. lots of nail biting as I send out thousands of postcards to my fans. I said to Beth this morning, “Please say a prayer today as people will be getting my postcard in the mail.” I turned on Facebook and it had a post showing that 7 years ago today I posted the picture of Will on top of Barn Bluff from when he was 10 years old. How amazing that we chose to create an inspirational poster with this image and realizing moments after asking Beth to say a prayer, we find out that 7 years ago today I first posted it! I think God is telling me to stop worrying so much and he’ll take care of everything. Don’t sweat the small stuff!
I hope you all are doing well in your lives!
Here is a link to the special First Love CD, if you are interested. FIRST LOVE – 20th Anniversary Edition CD with Inspirational Poster
Have you ever been going about your day and a song will start playing and you are immediately transported back to another time in your life? Maybe a certain food will make you think of the holidays at Grandma’s house? That nostalgic feeling can be wonderful but it can also be sad.
Today, I ate a sandwich with bean sprouts on it and in the blink of an eye, I was back in 3rd Grade at Pike Lake Elementary School, north of Duluth, MN where I grew up. My Mom used to make me turkey and bean sprout sandwiches on homemade bread along with Mayonnaise and pepper. My friend Benjy loved these sandwiches and he would often trade me a hostess twinkie for half of my sandwich. I thought it was a great trade and so did he. Ben and I became friends in 1st grade and he gave me my first nickname, “Topflight” (inspired by a golf ball of course.)
Those darn bean sprouts have opened a can a worms for me and sent me spiraling back through my childhood and the memories that I have of Ben stand out in my mind like the main character in a best selling novel. I remember he and I deciding in 3rd grade that we were going to become archeologists and travel to Egypt to see the Pyramids. We also wanted to go scuba diving with sharks. You don’t have to settle on a career choice in the 3rd grade, right? I remember our 6th grade trip to Isabella, MN in the winter. Benjy and I signed up to go snowshoeing together with Mr. Johnson and we discovered deer beds, rabbit droppings and other wonderful woodland discoveries.
We had many more shared adventures together but not nearly enough. Benjy was killed in an accident in the summer of 1983 just a few miles from where I grew up. Of all the memories that I have of Benjy, the one that stands out the most was in Junior High when he would yell out at random, “Do It Today!” I never knew if it was a catch phrase from a movie or TV show but it served to remind me that life is short. I have never really dealt with Ben’s death. His memory is woven into many of my songs and even as I’m writing this post, I’m fighting back the tears. Damn bean sprouts.
When I write my songs, I often will see a video playing in my mind, usually in slow motion so it’s more dramatic. I remember back in 1998 when I was driving to a gig for my band, Cain’s Alibi, I suddenly saw Ben’s Mom in my mind and she was laying a rose on his casket. As she laid the rose down, I heard a melody in my head and the words, “The hardest part of living is saying goodbye.” I grabbed a napkin and scribbled down the lyrics and if you listen to my song, “Starry Night” from my CD, A Peaceful Place, you can sing that lyric at the end of the verse and chorus.
I feel a little better now so thanks for listening. I’d love to hear from you about anyone special in your life and what things make you think of them. If I don’t get another inspiration before next week, I wish you and yours a truly blessed Thanksgiving gathering.
Back in 2012 I was trying to come up with some new, creative products to market to businesses for Christmas when I got a call from Helen Marrs, who is one of the distribution labels that I work with. She had this idea to sell a 2 CD set and one of the CD’s would be one of my Christmas CD’s and the other CD would be a CD made out of chocolate! NO WAY!!! Well it wasn’t that large of a leap for me to come up with the Christmas Collection which is comprised of my Snow Angels CD and my CD, A Midnight Clear. We released this beautiful collection of Christmas Music back in 2013 and it is truly a wonderful gift! Did I mention that it is on sale now??? Here is a link: 2 CD Set – The Christmas Collection.
Much of my time is spent in the dark both literally and figuratively. I like to play my piano at night with as little light as possible as it truly allows me to get swept away in my compositions. When I create an album and release it, I occasionally will get a letter, email or call on the phone from a fan but quite often, I don’t hear from anyone and I have no idea if anyone is listening to the music or actually using the CD’s as coasters. A few days ago, I received an email from a fan and it made me feel good about what a positive impact I had in someone else’s life. I asked permission to share the note so here it is:
Good afternoon Neal!
Thank you so much for your kindness! You have no idea how much it means to me to have a new copy. I can tell you, the one I bought many years ago has seen better days lol. It’s been played over and over for years! I came across your First Love CD in a shop in Williamsburg, VA while I was in high school. Of course, I was the only one shopping in the section that was my age, everyone else was buying Hanson and Backstreet Boys. I think it’s safe to say I was a bit of an “odd ball” at my age. I had moved to Yorktown, VA with my mother, and found it hard to fit in. I had a love for classical/piano music, and spent my middle and high school years playing the flute. Now, I can’t tell you why it was that I picked your CD up specifically, but I was drawn to it. I took it home and put it on repeat. Pretty sure my mother thought I had completely lost my mind lol. It sounds kind of funny I’m sure, but I can sing every note, to almost every song from memory from that CD. You are truly a gifted musician. Thank you so much for creating and sharing your music with the world. You’ve touched my life for many years, never even knowing it. And thank you for including the demo from 97, and for your autographed copy!! It’s truly like Christmas morning!
Pretty cool eh? Makes me want to keep writing my music. If you’d like to get a copy of First Love, here is a link for that lovely CD: 20th Anniversary Edition – First Love.
I wish you and your loved ones a truly blessed Thanksgiving! Sometimes we have to dig, but there is always something to be grateful for.
A week ago, I posted about how bean sprouts on a sandwich made me think of my old friend Benjy. After that post, I wondered if I could find any old pictures of Benjy that I could show to my family as they had heard me talk about him many times through the years. I remembered hearing that the historical society in the area where I grew up had some old pictures and even included photos from field trips that students from Pike Lake Elementary School took to Isabella, Minnesota in the winter. I seem to recall posing for a picture with Benjy after we went out on snowshoes. Well, I made a mental note to look into tracking down the pictures “someday” and went back to my day to day life.
About a week later, while visiting my Mom and Dad for Thanksgiving, my Mom gave me a stack of old photos and inside were two with Benjy in them from my 9th birthday! How strange life is that our thoughts can bring things into our reality, with a little supernatural help of course:>)