Singer/Songwriter Creative Session

My son’s best friend, Shea Colburn, is working out my lyrics and the melody to my new song, “The Duke Died in June.” I think the best iteration of this song could be with a mood shift from up tempo to melancholy vocals, or vice-versa. What do you think? In any case, please view all of this as a work in progress while we “find the music.”

I love the creative process.

Melancholy Version

Up Tempo version

“The Duke” Died in June

The Duke Died in June
My parents raised me the best they could
I grew up strong and I did some good
When I was a baby, there was a man on the moon
When I was little, “The Duke” died in June
I learned that people live, and some others die
…and summers meant Rhubarb pie
          in all my fifty years…
The war in Nam ended and it was none too soon
“The Last Camel (he) Died at Noon”
The President, he told a lie
He resigned, gave Ford a try
Nixon was pardoned, don’t know why
…and summers meant rhubarb pie,
in all my fifty years…
Elvis was dead, and Mother cried
A space shuttle launched, and SHE fell from the sky
NASA gave it another try
Reagan was shot, but he didn’t die
….and summers meant rhubarb pie
in all my fifty years…
A volcano erupted and blanketed the Earth
Female workers, finally paid their worth
The Berlin Wall came tumblin’ down
Houston, Jackson and Prince now gone
The stock market rose, and the twin towers fell
The world got sick while the Earth got well
Dad and brother, they both died
And, I watched again as Mother cried
Just like she did for Lady Di
….and summers meant rhubarb pie
In all my Fifty Years…
When I was a baby, there was a man on the moon
When I was little, “The Duke” died in June
I learned that people live, and some others die
…and summers meant Rhubarb pie
…and summers meant Rhubarb pie
Ya…summers meant Rhubarb pie! 
         In all my Fifty Years…

Copyright Tonia Allen Gould 2020 - All Rights Reserved

“Little Rose,” a song about domestic violence, releases.

“Little Rose” released on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, YouTube, etc.

Fred's Guitar.
Fred’s Guitar

My song, “Little Rose” by The Pits released on Spotify and various other media outlets. “Little Rose-Demo,” was produced by my ridiculously talented composer/singer/songwriter friend, “Doc” Fred Gortner of @reallythepits. Lyrics are posted below. I just wanted to say I’m sorry (in advance) that I couldn’t write a more uplifting song for all my friends during a global pandemic. But, “Little Rose” is a story I had tell, and one that may resonate with many.

The thing about good stories, is that other people glom onto them and want to tell them too. (Thanks, Doc! I’m forever indebted🙏 ) “Little Rose,” <spoiler alert> is a heart achingly tragic song with a profound bridge on Fred’s slide guitar with some wonderful resolve at the end.

This EXACT same feedback from at least three people resonates with me most: “It’s hauntingly beautiful.” We agree, but clearly we are biased. The bridge music for “Little Rose” was picked on Fred’s 1932 Jessie string guitar (see photo on this post). The rest of the song was produced on his Cedar top Goodall acoustic. All vocals on the demo are Fred’s.

This review kind of floats my boat, too!
This review is pretty cool, too!
Little Rose

I remember the hours of silence, the days that were filled with dread
Little girl hopin’ and prayin’, that her Mama wasn’t layin’ there dead
Summer rains pelting the trailer, storm winds howl in the heat
Little girl layin’ by her Mama, who’s all bloodied up and beat
Mama wore her bruises like childbirth, just something she had to get through
Three children came out like clockwork, but nothing there that she’d undo 
She didn’t have no education, no skills to call her own
Just another small town girl, tryin‘ to reap the life that she’d sown
She wondered why… her Mama never left him
Wondered why she never left home 
‘til one day her poor Mama told her
Don’t ya know, I stayed here for you… My Little Rose?
Papa spent his life on a barstool, always knew he’d never measure up
Took his pleasure from other folk’s women, found solace in the bottom of a cup
His daddy did the same thing before him, grand-daddy carried the brunt of the blame
A long slew of men going nowhere, each bearing the same damned shame
Neighbor’s dog starts barking, when Papa stumbles in late at night
Little girl covers her ears, while her Mama puts up another fight
But then the trailer soon goes silent, and Papa walks back out the door
She watches as her daddy steps over, Mama layin’ like trash on the floor
She wondered why… her Mama never left him
Wondered how Mama took his blows 
‘til one day her poor Mama told her
Don’t ya know, I stayed here for you… My Little Rose?   My Little Rose                               `                                   
She dreamed about… what her life would be like
To leave the trailer and break the mold
She swore her life… was gonna be different
Better than her momma’s…. ten-fold 
Many years… took me back to that trailer, my Papa’s been long since gone
My mama don’t have a pot to piss in, but little girl, she had it all wrong
Watchin’ Mama out back with the chickens, pinning laundry to the line
Home was all Mama had to give me, her HOME it ‘stood the test of time
She wondered why… her Mama never left him
Wondered how she stayed there at home
Mama knew what my Daddy was doin’
…but her damn pride never left her alone 
Always wondered why… Mama never left him
When the storm winds howled in the heat 
‘til one day her poor Mama told her
Don’t ya know, you made this home for me… My Little Rose?

(copyright 2020 by Really The Pits, All Rights Reserved.)

A Cool Swig of Water

Work in progress song lyrics that intentionally objectify hot country men who drink whiskey, wear cowboy hats, drive tractors, own Beagles, and smell like summer and sweat.

I’ve been writing new lyrics to a country song. At this point, it’s just words although I’ve been toying with a melody in my head. The song takes me back to my youth and my Hoosier roots back in Northern Indiana “When…” as Randy Travis once sang in his “Storms of Life” song, “Love was just a country girl, who lived on down the road.” In any case, I’d be delighted to hear what you think!

Disclaimer: The lyrics below are more up-to-date. This song intentionally objectifies hot country men everywhere who drink whiskey, wear cowboy hats, drive tractors, own Beagles, and smell like sweet summer and hay bales. No intentional likeness to anyone’s persona is intended. (But, if you match the description, good on you!)
A Cool Swig of Water
He was whiskey on the rocks or a Thermos of iced tea
He was four on the floor to his fishin' hole
He was John Deere, a back forty, and an ATV
He was Salt of the Earth; someone Mama could trust!
He was tractor and trailer, and gravel and dust

He wore boots and flannel with a farmer’s tan
He was a cool swig of water, and he was my KIND OF MAN 
But he was like a worn-thin tire on a beat-up truck 
Down to his very last leg with luck
Barstools kept him a sitting duck
With Wild Turkey, and WILDER women…

He was summer and hay bales, and sweet and salty sweat
He was a pitchfork to the heart and a night I can’t forget
He was a dash of remorse, mixed with a pound of regret
Drove me crazy with that bandanna tied around his neck

He wore boots and flannel with his farmer’s tan
He was a cool swig of water, and he was my KIND OF MAN
But he was like a worn-thin tire on a beat-up truck 
Down to his very last leg with luck
Barstools kept him a sitting duck
With Wild Turkey, and WILDER women…

He wore a ten-gallon hat on his tall, broad frame
He was a cool swig of water and MY KIND OF MAN!
He drank whiskey on the rocks or a Thermos of iced tea
He was four on the floor with a Beagle on his knee
He was backhoe and Bobcat, THE RIGHT MAN FOR ME.

He was boots and leather with a farmer’s tan
He was a cool swig of water and MY KIND OF MAN 
But he was like a worn-thin tire on a beat-up truck
I was looking for love, he was looking for a good (5 second pause) luck
Man oh Man, he was my sitting duck
Slide across the bar, Mister-Part-of-My-Plan
Mister Cool Swig of Water


Copyright ©Tonia Allen Gould 2020, All Rights Reserved.


’57 Chevy For Sale at (no copyright infringement intended)


Way out back is a tire swing, hanging low from a pepper tree
Swaying wild with the winds of memory 
A Coker Classic whitewall from a beat-up '57 Chevy
Gamboling in time with my reverie

An old turquoise truck, ambling down a long, dirt lane
Windshield wipers on repeated refrain
A four speed transmission, and a transfer case
Deep-etched lines carved into a seasoned man's face
A cracked vinyl bench seat, and windows rolled down
Gravel dust and Autumn leaves on the back roads to town

Grandpa taught me what mattered long before time took hold
Showed me asparagus grows wild in ditches, alongside the road
Told me home wasn't a place where a person should carry their load
Tomatoes were best heated by summer, eaten fresh off the vine
Never answer someone's greeting with a simple "Hi" or "I'm fine." 

A Pabst Blue Ribbon or a Thermos brimming with iced-tea
Packs of cheese and crackers, but only Pepsi for me
Ruffled hair from rough and calloused, working-man's hands
Wet whistles and hums from the weathered mouth of a strong man
And, chain-smoked Pall Mall's snuffed out in a Planter's Peanut can

Grandpa taught me what mattered long before time took hold
Showed me asparagus grows wild in ditches, alongside the road
Pay your dues, never take more than you're owed
Every day doesn’t have to be something big and grand
Get down off your truck, and lend a helping hand

No one knew what that old tire meant to me
Where my own kids swung out back, wild and free
Grandpa was there rooted as firmly as a pepper tree
Tethered in time, on a Coker Classic whitewall off a '57 Chevy

Grandpa taught me what mattered long before time took hold
Showed me asparagus grows deep and wild, alongside the road
And there was “No sense in talkin' once your temper's been blowed”
When you're with your kind of people, you’re never bored
And there “Ain’t no harm in praisin’ the Lord.” 

No one knew what that old tire meant to me
Way out back where our kids swung wild and free
That old man was tethered in time, and always there with me
Hanging low from an old pepper tree, swaying wild in the winds of memory
A Coker Classic whitewall from a rusted out ‘57 Chevy

It was a Turquois truck, ambling down a long, dirt lane
Grandpa honkin’ his horn, whenever he came
A cracked vinyl seat, windows rolled down
Back roads, and bygones left behind us on the way into town
No one knew what that old tire meant, but me.

TA GOULD 5/19/2020

A Lesson in Songwriting while Grappling with Grief

Earlier this year, I received a series of calls I hoped would never come. My younger brother, who had just turned 43, had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. To make matters worse, I was also under doctor’s care with an extreme case of Post-concussion syndrome after a freak accident playing with my dog. My brother was in bad shape, and I was prohibited from flying home to be with him. It hurt my brain to process my predicament, but I knew I was no good to anyone with a brain injury. My mind wasn’t clear, but the bandage had been ripped off my deeply rooted grief, and old, stifled emotion resurfaced for the brother I had already lost, long ago, to alcoholism. As the days progressed, the updates continued…

“He is in liver failure.”

“His organs are shutting down.”

“He is hallucinating.”

“He is terribly jaundiced.”

“They are putting him in a medically-induced coma.

“His situation is dire, you need to come home.”

Five days passed, and I finally flew back home to Indiana, post-concussed brain and all, but only after my doctor gave me a prescription with his nod to travel. By the time I arrived at my brother’s bedside, I first noticed how much he had aged in the year since I last saw him. He no longer looked like an alcoholic in his forties. He looked like a very sick and dying man, in his sixties.

After several long days of serving as my brother’s advocate and medical liaison to a highly trained team of doctors and surgeons in Indianapolis, finality came from one of them in just three swift sentences, “Your brother has been committing suicide for a very long time. If he didn’t want to die, he wouldn’t be in this position. There’s nothing more we can do.”

Grieving the sudden death of someone you already lost long ago isn’t easy because it means grieving again. After dealing with the business side of things at the hospital and with my family, numbness ensued. That welcomed absence of feeling suffocated my grief on my flight back to California, and I felt, if only for a spell, better. But, feeling better is not the point of grief. You have to reckon with grief through its stages or you will never be free from it. Grief is like a book that simply must have a beginning, a middle, and the part that reaches you to “The End.”

Days passed, and I still wanted nothing more than to remain in the place where I thought I had swallowed my grief whole. But, I knew I had to confront it head on; there was a lump at the bottom of my throat and a literal heartache in my chest that was so prevalent, I considered checking myself into the hospital. I knew I had to turn the key to my grief, unlock it, open the door, and let it out. I finally forced myself to do what I always did, back when I was child growing up in rural Indiana…a child in need of services…a ward of the court…an eventual fifteen-year-old foster kid.

I wrote.

I wrote to unlock those feelings rooted inside the core of my being. I wrote to find that creative outlet that once saved me from irreparable damage when I was a child. I wrote to move past the beginning and to search for the middle of my grief.

I wrote. I wrote. I wrote.

Until I broke.

From all that teeth gritting and soul baring composition came, amongst other things, a heart-wrenching story, composed with a tragically beautiful melody, sung and produced by a man whom I am now honored to call a friend. Our friendship is, at the very least, now bound to perpetuity by a singular song titled, “Little Rose.”

Fred “Doc” Gortner is the founder and lead singer/songwriter of a local, Southern California rock/blues band called “The Pits” (Find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @ReallyThePits). Doc and I have been loosely connected for years, and it was only a matter of time before our chance meeting when we’d become friends.

By day, Doc works in private equity. By night, he ditches his suit, dons one of his collectible guitars, bypasses the status-quo garage, and riffs from his backyard guest house with his band from his custom studio built with help from legendary studio designer, Charlie Bolois. “The Pits” aren’t your average run-of-the-mill “Dad Band,” nor is Doc your average dad. But, Doc is humble with his own description of himself along with his not-so-misfit-band-of-melody-makers, “We’re just a bunch of dads with day jobs who love writing, jamming and sharing our music.”

Recently, Doc and his band released a song on Spotify, and he asked me to check it out. I tuned in, and I was impressed. I told him I always wanted to “Try my hand at songwriting, particularly since I fancied myself as a bit of a poet,” and he simply replied, “Would love to see what you’ve written.”

My concussed brain and my heavy-laden heart was in the perfect place to try something new with the written word. And, I was writing.

I dug up an old poem I wrote years ago called, “Little Rose.” Somewhere in the bowels of my prose, I knew there was a path that would lead to the story I ultimately wanted to tell…one that wouldn’t underscore the finality of my brother’s death, only its inevitability. In my original handwriting, on a lined sheet of paper, I had written beneath its title, “A song.” So, I typed it up, poured new, open-wound grief into an old, closed-wound story, and sent the newer interpretation of my poem/song to Doc. And, while his feedback didn’t come swiftly, it came remarkably back in paragraphs that not only commended the lyrics, but with a thorough education in songwriting. (By then, I was beginning to figure out how Fred earned his moniker, “Doc.”)

Turns out, Doc couldn’t put the initial lyrics to “Little Rose” down, and he began composing the melody at first in his head, and then with his voice and his guitars. Over the next few weeks, after our workdays wrapped, Doc taught me everything he knew about songwriting, and I soaked up the education. I wrote some more and added additional stanzas at his prompting, although he educated me earlier about word choice, concise lines, and shorter song length. Somewhere along the way, Doc deviated, and asked me to add stanzas, and “Little Rose” grew bigger and bigger…like almost “American Pie” by Don McLean BIGGER. He asked me to dig deeper, and I did. After all, this wasn’t a short story or a novel that could take you on a journey across multiple pages. We had minutes to tell, through a song, the burning story that would rid myself of the lump in my throat and the pain in my chest that wouldn’t go away.

Through Doc, I learned how single words could impact the “sing-ability” of the song, and how certain words in poetry can be pure magic, but be tragic when they are sung. I learned how to scratch words Doc didn’t like, and to defend the ones I loved. I learned that certain poetic devices may not work in songwriting, and how rhyming can be imperfect and flexible, along with length of lines and stanza. But, ultimately I learned that songwriting is similar to writing poetry because the overall musicality is found within a strong voice. I learned how to accept his single word changes along the way, because another word of his choosing might sound better flowing from his mouth to his fingers strumming on his guitar. Towards the end, when we almost had the final lyrics in front of us, Doc and I were having long discussions about single words. Yes, single, solitary words can impact the direction and gravity of the whole song. I learned how to really listen to each and every word that came out of a singer’s mouth when I got each of his rough cuts by email. And, I was asked to critique the cuts as if I were an actual living and breathing songwriter in real life. 

And while I call myself a creative, this particular creative process was especially cathartic for me, because I was struggling with grief. I was engrossed and learning under Doc’s tutelage, and once I finally got the words out, the healing process began for me. But, Doc absorbed them. He told me he couldn’t get through singing the song without breaking down. If music is meant to evoke feeling then I had, at least to that point, done a pretty good job with writing the lyrics. “Little Rose” could quite possibly be one of the saddest songs you’ve ever heard, and I’m truly sorry about that. 

I simply cannot express enough thanks to Doc for taking me, and this song, under his wing. “Little Rose” went live across various music outlets this week. While all this technically makes me now a bonafide lyricist, I remain a frustrated songwriter that doesn’t know how to read music or play an instrument. But, I do have two brand new Taylor guitars arriving this week. What can I say, I’m now addicted to the process of songwriting, and I hear that learning an instrument is good for my brain as I age.

I still have so much to say on the subject of alcoholism, and its long-term and lasting impact on family and friends, but my brother didn’t die from alcoholism. He died from early childhood trauma at the hands of another alcoholic who likely also suffered through early childhood trauma, and that likely continued “on down the line” as they say in country music. But, I will talk about that more in another blog post. But, first you have to listen to our song because, like with all stories, you’ll need a beginning before the writer gets you to the middle, and then finally moves you on to “The End.”

Introducing, “Little Rose.”