Batteries haven’t run down on Good’s music | AspenTimes.com

Batteries haven’t run down on Good’s music

Stewart Oksenhorn
Local singer-songwriter Larry Good performs at Main Street Bakery this week. Aspen Times photo/Stewart Oksenhorn.
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Larry Good is still licking batteries.For the first newspaper story I ever wrote, for The Aspen Times in 1993, I interviewed Larry Good, then a member of the local rock band the King Daffodils. Responding to my question of what his definition of success for the band would be, Good said he would know he hit that mark when he could buy new batteries for each gig – instead of licking them to see if they had any juice left.Twelve years later, Good has honed his battery-licking skills to those of an expert. “I tell you what – I still have to lick the batteries,” said the 47-year-old Good over the lunch special of gordoniz adobado, a succulent chicken dish, at Garcia’s in Carbondale. “And now I can lick them and tell you how many hours they have left.”So he didn’t hit that preconceived level of success. And the years of leading a band are behind him for the moment. Though he plays in the funk-rock band Jes’ Grew, his role is limited to keyboards and backing vocals, and he hasn’t fronted a group since the breakup of folk-rock band Treehouse six years ago.

But Good is still in the game, writing songs and playing gigs as well as putting metal to tongue. In the years since Treehouse was torn down, Good has added film and television composer and music educator to his résumé. And after setting aside his considerable songwriting talents in favor of scoring infomercials and teaching young musicians, Good has returned his focus to songs.Good performs at Main Street Bakery on Wednesday, March 16, on a bill with his former Treehouse bandmate Dan Sheridan. Good, accompanied by bassist Doug Whitney, will perform a handful of new tunes, making this his first Aspen gig in years to feature new, original material.Good’s songwriting slide began, paradoxically, as Treehouse edged toward becoming a regional touring band. As Treehouse grew in popularity, Good found his time devoted more to business than art.”I was the booking and band-management person,” said Good, whose signature tunes, involved and emotionally rich story songs like the rural lament “Sam Hill’s Farm” and the Vietnam romance “Lucy’s Treehouse,” were part of the Treehouse repertoire. “I played keyboard and guitar, but I wasn’t the focal point of the band. I played roles that needed to be done – rhythm guitar, lead guitar, keys – and it was hard to perform off the keyboards because I played guitar at the same time. And the management stuff was consuming, so the songwriting started slipping away.”Treehouse broke up in 1999. A year later Good and his wife Karen, the former talent buyer for the Double Diamond, found themselves new parents, living in Rifle, and searching for a new life rhythm, one that didn’t involve low pay, late nights and loads of travel. Good decided to put his composition degree from Stanford to use, and entered the world of TV and film scoring.Good earned boatloads of money writing the background music for baldness cures, skin-care products and Victoria Principal’s “Principal Secret.” But he also found that the unsung realm of infomercial scoring has an ugly underbelly. Infomercial producers would hire a handful of separate composers, who would be left to slug it out for their place in the final soundtrack. The final straw in infomercials came after Good wrote a 10-page manifesto addressing proper procedure and accountability in scoring to his producer, who also was an old college friend.

“The only three words I ever heard back from him was, ‘Got your message,'” said Good. “But it was time anyway to make films. The [infomercial] people were impossible to work with. It was almost like they were trying to trick you into the music. They gave you no information.”Film scoring was somewhat more satisfying, though also not without its pitfalls. Good wrote what he considered a masterpiece title song, “Tex, the Passive Aggressive Cowboy,” for a short film that would receive much play on cable TV. Unbeknownst to Good, however, the director had changed the title to “Tex, the Passive Aggressive Gunslinger,” and only a small bit of Good’s music was used in the film.”This was an illuminating experience about working with directors. You have to check everything, all the time. Because they’re changing scenes, cutting things, all the time.”Stepping back into songwritingGood was busy enough learning scoring skills – from watching directors like a hawk to mastering sampling techniques to learning how to send music files via Internet – that he didn’t miss songwriting. “It took me a few years to get within a few years of the technological frontier,” he explained. Good’s time was also consumed by the fleet of music students, as many as 15 in a week, that he taught.”I began to identify with myself as a teacher,” said Good, who wrote a beginner jazz instruction book for kids, using his own jazz tunes. “I was offering something that wasn’t available in Rifle. I was wide-open to everything – country, rock, Korn. I taught a whole lot of Christian music. It was really rewarding.”So close was he to his students that when his family moved in 2003 to Marble to become owner-operators of the Beaver Lake Lodge, Good left the teacher in him behind. “I couldn’t see starting over with new kids, because I had the greatest bunch already,” he said.

Writing songs had never come to a complete halt. “Sometimes I’d write a song over a particularly appealing infomercial groove,” said Good. But with no students, with the quietness of Marble to fill, and with a row of empty cabins on the lodge property, Good began drifting deeper into his former art. And with no bandmates to please, Good found the return to songwriting liberating.”When you’re in a band, you have to have the discipline to know what’s going to fly with that particular project,” said Good. “But this time, I didn’t care. So I wrote some really crappy songs, some really grandiose rock songs. But I saw them through, because the purpose was just to write songs. And I knew if I kept writing, I’d get some good ones. Eventually they dropped into my lap.”The latest batch of songs, around 25 in number, are less fussy and highfalutin compared to his earlier work. Good credits that to the experience of writing songs that he knew wouldn’t have a discerning audience.”They don’t care what anybody thinks as much,” said Good. “They’re less self-conscious; they’re goofier; they’re more personal than I might have allowed myself to get before. I’ve written some kids songs, some whacked-out songs that I wouldn’t think of putting someone through. And that makes me less conscious about placing them.”Throwing a battery away without a care may never come to Good. But he has a well-rounded musical existence. He is scoring a PBS documentary, “Still Wild at Heart,” about an environmental wilderness in the heart of San Francisco. He is back to teaching, this time as the coach of a group of high school students at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School. He remains a sideman in Jes’ Grew, and is flexing his songwriting muscles again. Good can even envision the day when he leads a band again.”I can be the house band at the lodge,” he said expectantly. “But I’ll never take a bunch of guys to Salt Lake City for $20 again. At least, not wittingly.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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