After 40 years of navigating whitewater rivers professionally, I figure I’m an expert by anyone’s standards. I’ve also played guitar for over 45 years. I am not however, an expert at the music business. I do know there’s hundreds of thousands of people making music beyond what gets promoted by the music industry.

In theory, the internet is changing that, leveling the playing field and making it possible for Indie artists and bands to publish their music. This is a good thing and good on everyone who has the tenacity to pursue their musical dreams. The challenge for artists or bands today is getting heard at all in a sea of 90 million songs on Spotify or other streaming services.

Music has been burning inside of me my whole life and I love it. I chose to create and record my music because I just felt I had to do it. A legacy, if you will, of my time on earth. When you’re running whitewater rapids, you do everything you can to do it right or suffer some consequences. Likewise, I didn’t want to publish my songs with a half hearted effort. I wanted them to be as good as they could be – recorded well, played well and sung as best I, or others could, so they would at stand up to scrutiny and not be tossed into the trash bin of mediocrity. People I trust in the music industry agree we did an excellent job.

In the end it all comes down to the song.  Can people identify with it and enjoy it? Does it grab them and make them feel something? Will they choose to buy that fancy cup of Starbucks coffee for $5.00 which cost pennies to make, little time to create and gone in a few minutes or will they spend $0.99 for a song that took years to create, thousands of dollars to record and lasts forever? Seems like most people choose the coffee. Go figure. In the end, it all comes down to the song and whether people are willing to help support the artist.

Most of my guitar playing has been on river trips, but I’ve played my share of open mics and small venues. In 2014 I decided to go to a ‘songwriters only’ open mic in Bremerton, WA. It was different than open mics I’d been to before. The audience actually came there to hear singer songwriters! Imagine that. I thought that was pretty cool, plus they passed a tip jar around a lot and ginned up around $100 a night. At the end of the evening the host would draw performers’ names from a hat and whoever was picked got the money. Didn’t matter if they were the best or the worst performer. Now that’s very hip and keeps everyone around for the evening. As is typical at open mics, the host also performed a few songs. I went there three times and after watching the host, Jeff Tassin, play guitar, I said to myself, “That is one of the best guitarists I’d ever seen.” I also asked myself “what the heck is he doing here running an open mic.” This guy is amazing.

It was on my fourth visit to this open mic at ‘Brother Don’s’ in Bremerton that things changed, though I didn’t know it at the time. I got there late and missed most of the show, but Jeff still let me play. Apparently, in addition to the weekly songwriter’s showcase, where they pass the tip jar and winner takes all, Jeff was conducting a separate contest known as the ‘Mayberry Award’ which they do once every 3 months. This is an audience based vote instead of the random draw for the tip jar. The winner of ‘Mayberry’ gets a different prize. Like I said, I came in late and wasn’t aware the Mayberry Award was also going on.

Well I got up and played a couple of songs, the evening ended and a trio, which I didn’t hear, won the Mayberry Award. It meant nothing to me as I didn’t know what it was all about, but I had a good time and the audience liked my songs, particularly the one called ’31-33′. I left having had a fine evening but gave Jeff my phone number – I had to find out more about this guy and why someone of his skill set was running an open mic!

The next day I got a call from Jeff Tassin. He told me that while I didn’t win the Mayberry Award the night before, I came in second place. He went on to say that the trio who did win had brought in 15 of their own people to vote for them. They got 15 votes and I got 14. Not only had they swayed the vote, Jeff indicated these young people were rude to the waitress, didn’t leave a tip, dissed the other performers. Not cool. So Jeff was calling me to tell me that he was rescinding the award from the trio and giving it to me instead. I felt a little bad for the trio, but hey, being rude and swaying the vote wasn’t cool and maybe they’d learn a lesson.

I was happy to hear I had won the Mayberry Award, though I didn’t know what that was. Jeff said the prize was a free recording of one of my songs at his studio in Port Orchard. Well, that’s cool, thank you very much and we set up a date. I had been in studios a few times before, not a lot, but enough to have some experience with sophisticated recording machinery. It was pretty laborious and took all day just to lay down a guitar track doing lots of takes until the engineer felt like I had played it perfectly and their machinery and software performed as it should. There were several computer crashes and difficulties in those studios.

Frankly I wasn’t expecting much when I arrived at Jeff’s studio to record my song. I didn’t know who Jeff Tassin was other than a heck of great guitar player. He was very friendly and accommodating. I figured the easiest song of mine to record was ’31-33′  because it’s your basic 3 chords and the truth type blues pattern. Jeff had heard me play it at the open mic and said with a big grin, “this is going to lay down quite nicely”. So Jeff played drums and I played the song and sang. Just one take each. Then he picked up a bass guitar and perfectly played the song all the way through. Next he laid down some tasty crunch guitar which really upped the game. Then he picked up another electric guitar and proceeded to tear my head off with screaming great slide guitar riffs. I think he just did two passes and I was shell shocked at what was happening.

“Anything else you want on it?” Jeff asked. I said I hear keyboards and a horn section on this song, kind of like a ‘Blues Brothers’ track. So he swivels his chair around to a keyboard and within a couple of passes has expertly added keys and horns to the song. Next thing I know, Jeff is handing me a CD with a fully mastered recording of 31-33 and it took less than two hours to complete. Needless to say I was blown away. I realized I had finally found the perfect person to record my quiver of songs.

Over the next several months I visited Jeff’s studio and laid down the rest of my tracks on acoustic guitar. We discussed what types of instrumentation and vibe the song was meant to convey and Jeff would go to work. He’d come up with a working song ‘bed’ and we’d get back together to hash out any minor details and add vocals, background vocals etc.

So that’s the story of how I met Jeff Tassin and how I’ve come to appreciate the depth of his musicality and production skills. This album effort would still be stuck in a glacier, but thanks to Jeff, it’s out in the current and floating down the river. Be sure to read the Bios of the other people on this recording!

I met George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam back in the 1970’s when I would go out to see them perform at clubs in Seattle. They were great then and I knew something good would happen in their musical careers. I took them on several local river trips and in 1976 they came along on a 4 day Rogue River trip along with a film crew from Seattle based ‘Exploration Northwest’ – a prime time TV documentary magazine that aired for over 20 years. Don McCune was the host and we had a blast. George and Shannon played on the deck of the river house in Galice, OR the night before the 4 day trip. Exploration Northwest scored two Emmy awards for their production of ‘Kayaking on the Rogue’. George has always been an inspiration to me and a part time musical mentor. In 1995 George came on a 21 day trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon with me and we brought musical instruments including a small keyboard! I think we played on 5 of the nights including Halloween. Talk about fun!

At this point George and Shannon had made a huge mark in the music business as they had written two of Whitney Houston’s biggest selling songs, ‘How will I know’ and ‘I wanna dance with somebody.’ They had also released ‘Waiting for a star to fall’ by that time as well. We stayed in touch all these years and today I’m thrilled to have George participate on this album!

Casey Garland