On Friday July 31st, 2009, I walked away from a 10-year career as a software engineer to run StevieSnacks (the predecessor to TXBA) as my full-time job. Walking out of the building that last day was one of the strangest things I've ever felt. There were feelings of excitement about embarking on a new adventure, but also a bit of sadness about leaving a great job (and a great team) behind.
Lesson sales dropped by 30% the very next month, and I started to freak out. As it turns out, September 2009 was a weird month for a lot of businesses. Economic trends are weird like that.
Thankfully, sales rebounded in October, so by the time Thanksgiving rolled around I was feeling more optimistic. Filled with optimism and gratitude, I sat down and recorded a lesson based on a slightly-modified version of While We Cry by KWS, and Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam. The Thanksgiving Ballad tradition was born.
Here now, is a look back at how the Thanksgiving Ballad Tradition was born, and how it evolved over the next 7 years.
The initial TGB lesson from 2009 was a jam style video where I taught the chords, then alternated between playing rhythm and lead, giving you a chance to play along.
In 2010 I put out a Free Lesson teaching some soloing licks to go along with the chord progression.
In 2011 I moved out of my basement into a rented office in downtown State College. It's hard to put into words how important this move was for my mental health. Being stuck working in a 12x12 room in my basement for four years had taken a toll on me and my family. Being able to leave the house, drive into down, see real live humans, and spend the day working in a sunny office was like a dream come true. I had a lot to be thankful for, and tried to show that in the longer, stretched-out performance recorded that year.
In November of 2012, I traveled to a guitar show near Philadelphia. It was at this show that I first discovered Zexcoil Pickups (which I've been using ever since). Another find at that show was my Leslie Model 16 cabinet.
A few weeks later, Scott sent me some Zexcoil pickups to try out. With my Grosh guitar in the shop, I quickly installed them into my trusty '96 MIM Strat - just in time to record another rendition of the ballad.
Interesting note: I actually forgot to turn on the Zoom recorder shown in the video, so the guitar audio was captured by the built-in stereo mics on my camcorder. Not too bad, all things considered.
March of 2013 brought more changes. I moved my studio out the upstairs office, and into a small rented house across town. Aside from having more space, this change allowed me to crank up my amps instead of recording through an isolation cabinet (which I had to do at the previous office).
When Thanksgiving arrived, I decided to record a more elaborate video with multiple camera angles and a much better backing track. The resulting performance was one of the best things I've ever done.
That year I also put out an extended lesson teaching the rhythm and chord embellishments used in the performance.
I worked incredibly hard for the first four months of 2014 to launch Texas Blues Alley, a replacement for StevieSnacks. It was a massive effort, but something I believed was necessary.
Unfortunately, I didn't really have anything "new" to do for the TGB that year, so I just created a new lesson teaching the solo from the previous year's performance.
That lesson, plus all the materials from the previous year's lesson were packaged together into the Thanksgiving Ballad 2014 Course.
2015 was supposed to be an easier year - except it wasn't. In late November of 2014, my wife and I discovered a property in the mountains near State College. The house and land were amazing.... but the property also had a barn, and that barn was calling my name. By April of 2015, we were living there.
I moved my studio into the basement of the barn, so that renovations on the top two levels could be done without interrupting my work. But, the whole reason I wanted this barn in the first place was so that I'd have a place to do actual performances with a band, performances that could be streamed live or recorded.
So I took the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to built a stage in the otherwise empty and unfinished main level of the barn. I got some musician friends to come over, setup my cameras, and we recorded three takes of the ballad. The first take was pretty straightforward, the second take (shown here) was looser and more drawn out, and the third take was probably the best. For whatever reason I chose the second take to be the "official" 2015 performance.
Being on that stage, playing with a band, was incredibly surreal. My first ideas about doing this kind of thing had only developed a year earlier, but I didn't expect any of those ideas to become reality for at least five years.
When Thanksgiving 2016 rolled around, I didn't really have anything new to do with the ballad. So I cut together a "Quick Fix" Mini-Course based the third take from the previous year. This was still my favorite of the three takes we did.
So where do we go from here? There's not really anything compelling I can do with the ballad that hasn't already been done. But there is something else I can do, and that will becoming later in December. Stay tuned.... :-)