Pete Herzog is finally living the life he dreamed of when he was in high school — except the part about the money rolling in.
Since he recorded "Homestyle," his debut album, in June 2008, the solo acoustic blues artist who lives in Trail has been up and down the West Coast playing at venues familiar but mostly strange, meeting lots of new friends and sharing memorable moments with old ones — then loading up and doing it again and again. This summer had a particularly busy schedule, which he dubbed The Bad Decisions Tour because of its spur-of-the-moment planning.
It's mostly been the man and his music, full-time, with many friends and admirers, new and old, to meet and greet along the way. "I didn't really want to come home," he said.
Live performance is the origin of the blues, Herzog said, a tradition that inspires his music.
"If you play by yourself, it almost seems sinful," he said. "You get a reaction from your audience and you feed off that, and that sort of colors the way you play.
"You go back to the tradition — I love busking. I love playing on the street corners. It's not the money, it's kind of keeping score."
So when Herzog sat in Wednesday with his shiny, metal resonance guitar to play three songs at the Tidings Café in front of a handful of enthusiastic listeners, he was plenty accustomed to the small setting. He graciously accepted turkey and Swiss on wheat and video clips on dailytidings.com and connectashland.com (where his performance can be viewed) as his "tip."
He played "Woman That I love," the lead track from "Homestyle," and a pair of new tunes, "Gamblin and Ramblin," based on one of the characters in Herzog's next recording project, a blues opera, and "One-Eyed Jack," a folk-influenced blues he recently put together.
"Homestyle" is exactly what the title promises. It was recorded live "among friends, to insure that homestyle, back porch feeling" at Hartkop Studios in Central Point. It has 18 tracks, including 15 originals and a unique take on "House of the Rising Sun."
"About half the songs that are on it, once I found out, I wrote those in about a month's time," he said. "Some I'd been kicking around longer, but a lot of them I got real inspired — (the opportunity to record) opened up the faucet."
Herzog's down-home blues is rooted in the tradition of Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt — he is masterful in his use of the glass bottleneck slide — and at the same time he subtly twists in the folk styles of singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Greg Brown.
He is also heavily influenced by Blind Willie Johnson, an early 20th century musician who combined blues with spirituals. Of this not-often-heard form of 20s and 30s, a blending of American and European styles and played in minor keys, Herzog said: "The blues I listen to are a lot more than the standard 12-bar, three chords."
His fondness for spirituals goes back to childhood, when he learned guitar playing on Hawaiian steel lap. Even though it would seem very different, the philosophy of Hawaiian slack key guitar is similar to blues in that it tries to mimic the voice of the singer, Herzog said, adding: "It's sort of my musical touch stone."
His flat-pick style is unique because the types of guitar music he plays are normally performed finger-style: using a thumb for the bass line and the other four fingers to pluck the strings. "So I pick really fast because I'm trying to get all those notes that you would get playing with four fingers," he said.
He also spends a lot of time working off the different harmonics, trying to get a full sound and fit all the different notes he can into a space, and in that way, his guitar playing is heavily influenced by Leo Kottke, he said.
Of "Woman That I Love," one of his slide-heavy, traditional blues tunes, Herzog said: "I just kind of liked that galloping bass line, so then I needed to think up some words to go along with it. And I'm partial to blues love songs. Blues doesn't always have to be about hurting and crying. It can be about all kinds of things."
"Gamblin' and Ramblin'" was written from the standpoint of a mythical bluesman who does a lot of, well, you guessed it, gambling and rambling. The blues opera project was inspired by a one-man show, with Guy Davis, son of the late actor Ossie Davis, Herzog saw at the Unitarian Center in Ashland.
"I wanted to play venues where people would listen to me," Herzog said. "I'm not really the kind of musician that plays at a bar. I'm happy to, but most bars don't want to hire solo musicians. I'm trying to expand my career, and that was sort of a vehicle to do it. It was just sort of a project that would be fun to do."
"One-Eyed Jack," with its poetic lyrical imagery, is typical of Herzog's singer-songwriter influenced blues. He'd never had to write down a title, so he didn't have one before he played it Wednesday, he said.
"More often than not, I will develop the music first and then say, 'Well, that sounds good, now I need some words,'" he said.
Mike Oxendine is the Daily Tidings page design editor. He can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 229 or email@example.com.