and friends build
, I had a late night call with pat about
. pat had been commissioned by a Green Bay firm called
to create a film score for their documentary about Vandertie, "The Grand Duke of The Hobos" on cigar box guitar. All of that sounded very interesting to me and when I asked pat about it, he told me a magical, true story about a train-hopping tramp from Green Bay who lived a tough life and spent years whittling outsider art pieces now numbering in the thousands. We spoke until very late and when I woke up, this song came out, all in one piece. I usually write rock songs...where did this very traditional sounding song come from? I called pat and played it for him. We agreed it must be for Vandertie and with the help of some other friends we got it to to Jim Rivett at Arketype for his consideration.
After a couple of years in production, the 200+ hours of film they shot turned in to an iconic gem called Westbound, which is hobo slang for passing from this world. Jim called me to say that they would be featuring the song Steam Train in the film and I was deeply honored to be a part of it. During production, Shelley and Jim at Arketype asked if they could shoot a video for the song and add some B Roll from shooting Westbound. Naturally I said, "Hell yes" and this video was created. After 4 years in Door County, I moved to Hollywood and made some great friends. The documentary was screening around the states and so I helped the team at Arketype set up a west coast premiere with my friend James at The Downtown Independent. I went to the screening expecting to hear my song somewhere in the end credits but to my surprise, Steam Train played during the scene where Vandertie is crowned Grand Duke of The Hobos.
Now, I know this all sounds a bit goofy. Why is this guy so excited about hobos? Well, here's a #spoileralert for anyone who gets the chance to see this film. Word got out about Vandertie's many carvings and some people from Kohler came by his house to investigate. It turns out, Vandertie had created a cross-over form of whittling and created a new form of outsider tramp art never before seen in American art history. Kohler bought several hundred pieces before The Smithsonian showed up to buy several hundred more. Vandertie was in his 80's at this point and had been without the means to buy food for his family over many periods in his life. Beginning to realize that he would soon be heading Westbound he did something wonderful. As a child, he watched all of the neighborhood kids ride around on their bikes while his family struggled to buy beans for supper. Adolph never forgot this feeling of being denied the simple liberty provided by a bicycle. He went out with money from the sale of all of his art and bought bicycles for every child in the neighborhood. I got to meet him briefly before he passed and being included, being able to write this song and having the time to work on getting it heard by the right people continues to be an experience I am deeply grateful for.
In 2014, Purdue University invited me to perform the song for their Alan Lomax Field recording sessions with Jayme Stone and the whole band jumped up for the second take. Having never played together, it turned out pretty fantastic.
Video Here: https://youtu.be/f3i9PjRMNbE
I think you get what I'm saying here but I'll be clear. Help get me the time and I'll get myself in the right place for great things to happen for all to share. Tank you for reading.
#songwriting #indiefilm #wisconsin #original #trainsongs