Amy Barlow Liberatore… stories of lost years, wild times, mental variety, faith, and lots of jazz

Tag Archives: Musicians

At the Great American Food & Beverage Co., Wilshire at Sixth (1979)

Joe’s behind the keys
Doug, Lisa and I singing backup until
others join the fray, Carolyn on cabasa

This restaurant is like nothing ever

Smells mingle and linger
Rib sauce, beer, whipped cream
Sweat and hot chocolate

Sounds bounce and dervish
Music: Tambourines, guitars,
ivories, voices of every color and timbre

It’s late, so Jamie takes to the piano
“Heartbreak City” in the key of frenetic
Climbing on tables, raising hell, crazed

Chuck on “Takin’ It To The Streets”
We gather around him, the army of
musicial pacifists, guitars the only weapons

No mics, just naked acoustics, so I have to
wait for a lull and take the piano with great
intention to render “Skylark” as it should be

People wait for hours outside
Munching veggie trays, waiting for
two hours just to get in

The floorboards harbor stories
of naked piano players, cooks banging
fudge pots, making fun of musicians

Of after-hours massage lines, practical
jokes magic serving starving
The life of a singing waiter or host

Poppy stops in, baby River bops in his arms
He laughs when he smells the Divine Weed
wafting from the kitchen

Enrique the dishwasher knows three words
in English: “E-spread ‘em, babeeee!”
Kitchen staff schooling him

Late nights playing pinball for free
Greggie found the key and we laugh and
drink and sing the old songs, it’s quiet now

Lights out, don’t have to go home
but ya can’t stay here…
Farewell, my youth, my touchstone

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Imaginary Garden With Real Toads’ Fireblossom wanted poems about a specific place. How about a specific place and time, with specific people? For those of you who never experienced the Great American Food & Beverage Co. in Santa Monica in the 70s, this is only a taste of the wild, wickedly fun, wantonness that was the G.A. A place that holds me fixed in time and space, a place where I went from girl to woman – and from beer to beyond. Peace, Amy

The Hourglass

“Like sand through the hourglass,”
so goes the daze of my life…
a hazy mix of meter and mantra:

Shy shy little girl;
emerges from shell
only if she’s to sing.

Singer takes to the road,
works with the rude,
hangs with the rowdy.

Faces the raid of AIDS
on the dearest friends,
the dearest men…

Mentors anxious daughter
from dread-the-world to
worldly wise vixen,

fixin’ to show them all,
to know them all,
to grow from within.

I am all in this timekeeper:
A grain of salt or truth falls,
skims the surface of my past.

Don’t care how much is left
to sift and flow, but the
bottom bits… these, I know.

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Hourglass image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Day 22 of NaPoWriMo! PAD (Poem A Day) in April…

Imaginary Garden With Real Toads has Open Link Monday, so I will post there a wonderful prompt from my friends Walt and Marie Elena at Poetic Bloomings, “Time Flies.” When I thought of the hourglass, the next “tape” from the Music of My Life was the theme to an old soap opera, along with its catch phrase: “Like sands through the hourglass, so go the Days of Our Lives…” and I was off and running for my pencil.

Hope all had a good weekend. I know I’m enjoying a break in the Wisconsin snow-spits of the past few days. Peace, Amy

First, watch this classic, short clip from “Sunset Boulevard,” with Wm. Holden and Gloria Swanson

Studio Blues (the session)

So we’re sittin around
We are, so far, not happy
It doesn’t sound like us at all

The urge to get it right
to project confidence and
unity in the band’s sound…
Technology can get in the way:

Today was a clusterfrack of
padded drums with five mikes
and 64 tracks on the sound board
and an OCD tech whose mantra is


(If he were a makeup artist,
a single smudge would be verboten)
Inquisitive as to our dissatisfaction
(this being an old-style jazz recording)

he joins us and digs into the
delicious coffee cake make by
the bass player’s girlfriend. I activate
the discussion: “It’s too clean.”

Tech gets defensive. “I’ve made
stellar recordings for (so-and-so)
It takes the master’s touch to clean up
the blips and merge all the tracks.”

“Look,” sez I, “let’s do a Sinatra session.
Strip the drums – Mike, use brushes
Jimmy, get your stand-up bass, no more electric
Screw the keyboard effects, Stu, just

tickle the baby grand in the corner. One
mike on that, and I’ll sing in the center,
Billie-style. Lower the lights and let’s
get the mood right.” Tech is instructed

to merge all tracks simultaneously and
create a single, live session. “But there
will be off notes and sometimes the
guitarist squeaks on the strings!” frets he.

“You need reverb, some sweetening…”
I honey/hotsauce him: “Listen, babe,
I’m a singer, not a vocal machine, and
we want soul, not squeaky-clean.

“Wanna know how we did it when
I started out? Watch this and
get schooled, learn from someone
who came up in smoky clubs.

“Dusty Springfield sang sitting on a toilet
because the sound was better in the bathroom.
We didn’t NEED reverb then…
We had voices.”

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Well, the Real Toads had a “come one, come all” today, so I thought I’d pick up a prompt from The Sunday Whirl. This comes from my “old school” background in music, where the singers whose catalogs I raided (Sinatra, Billie, Bennett, Satch, Nat “King” Cole, the early years of Barbra Streisand) all had one thing in common: They recorded live with their band or orchestras. No fiddling around with the sound post-session.

Once Madonna came on the scene, she was sued for using a second singer’s voice to give her own so-so voice that high-nasal feel (She lip-synched most of “Like A Virgin” at the Grammy Awards, but no one noticed because she was writhing on the floor). Studios full of baffles, drum rooms, and solo vocals recorded separately after the band, a jillion tracks they could add later, as well as reverb (the first vocal enhancement) and eventually the vocanizer, which not only “sweetens” a vocal flat note but was used by Cher on “Believe (In Life After Lov e)” – that “it takes ti-i-i-ime” computerized effect, used to create an interesting vibe.

MY PEOPLE SANG. Sinatra always had an audience (women had to remove all clinky jewelry); Billie sat in the middle of a circle, mike suspended from the ceiling; Streisand, accompanied by full orchestras in her 20s, had a knack for getting her emotional performances on the very first take. Nat live in sessions, playing his own piano? The livin’ end.

In other words, things change, but I don’t have to follow the trend. None of the recordings you have heard from me have ever had any monkey business, no sweetening, etc. Pure, simple jazz. Peace, Amy

(NOTE: This instrument, called the hang, is pronounced “hong.” Click on the video before you read the poem!)



Find him in nature
a shaded nook where
trees whisper stories of
the ancient ones.

Matthew finds a
perfect perch and
carefully lifts his hang,
its song to share.

Nimble, careful,
deliberate fingers seem
carved from soft wood,
burnished brown.

He conjures chords,
soothing harmonies,
unearthly sounds, yet
so natural: Soul songs.

In this moment there is only
Matt, the hang, and strains
of unrestrained bliss;
the gods conjured his gift.

And we, who were
a moment ago merely
bumps on a log are
lifted to a higher place…

Musical, ethereal, reflective, mindful.

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Perfect moment for ABC Wednesday to feature the letter “Z.”

Also, Kim Nelson at Poets United (my poetic shady nook) asked for poems about reflection.

My cousin by marriage, Matt Venuti, is a soulful musician. Please visit his site,, for more videos and information about his art. He also plays the EVI and a variety of other instruments, but the hang has his heart at present.

He is also one of those musicians who didn’t get into it so he could drink and smoke on the job! He’s a gentle soul, utterly sincere, and wildly talented… yet humble. If you’re lucky, you’ll experience him performing live.

Peace from a lucky cousin, Amy

Playing Bongos in Topanga Canyon

Several members of our tribe are
breathing slowly, exhaling with tenderness
the holy incense of the day

Shakha opens tent flaps and
scurries to exchange the
stinky bong water for fresh

Empties grimy slog into
Topanga Canyon’s stream
without fear of discovery

We are in the back of
the deep woods now
Our prayers answered

Don strums his twelve-string
as singers attempt the dazed
yet sweet harmonies of ambivalence

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For The Sunday Whirl, click to see Wordle and other folks’ posts. Thanks, Brenda, for some words that almost gave me a contact high… but that was the 70s for ya. The memories do linger after all these years. Some flashbacks are quite sweet, and so are the people.

Also at my poetic all-time clear-headed high, Poets United!


He’s parked and playing
outside the Willy St. Coop.

Walnut guitar strummed by
chestnut fingers. A smile

as he soulslides his way
through “Stand By Me.”

I stand swaying, appreciating;
we share a grin and I join in

on the chorus. We sing
in pitchpricklingperfect harmony.

“Take a verse, little sister.”
I slip in that side door of possibility

and respond in a gritty voice
from my soulful side, bringin it.

As the troubadour takes
lead on the chorus, I’m

floating above with a subdued
harmony. We blend like

strong coffee and Bailey’s,
mingling, merging, melding

into one voice. We finish and
exchange info to do this again.

Serendipity lives in Madison,
streets abloom with organic music.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For ABC Wednesday, brought to you by the letter “T.” Also for Poets United’s Think Tank Thursday, “possibility.” This actually happened to me during a shopping trip on my way to my therapist’s office. I composed the poem in its entirety while in her waiting room. Rarely have I been so fortunate, especially during a depressed period, to come upon such a soulful singer/guitarist sitting right in my path, open to a short jam. Carl is his name and we’re hoping to record a bit in the near future.

Possibility. This poem reminds me that ANYTHING is possible if only I can get myself out the door and into the world! Soul singing. Uplifting, unexpected, and so good for everything positive that dwells beneath my inner darkness. Carl helped light a spark in me that reminded me of all the beauty that awaits once this cloud lifts… Peace, Amy

Billie Holiday

Her story, stuff of legend
Hard to believe a girl
who scrubbed the whorehouse steps
was a child of destiny

Louis and Bessie’s songs, a balm
wafting through the brothel windows
(masking commercial commotion upstairs)
That jazz summoned magic buried in her very marrow

At seventeen, at dusk, she entered a club
The audience, the first witnesses
to a staggering talent, unbroken by
the sorrows of her childhood

Finding her soulmate in sax man Lester Young
Coursing through their veins and blended history,
their addictions: Jazz and heroin
First gave life; second led to early death

Too young, a deathbed. Money taped to her thigh?
A filthy lie, as befits urban legend
The collective force of Lady Day and Pres?
The real deal – raw truth pressed on vinyl

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For The Sunday Whirl: Destiny, Dusk, Mate, Marrow, Staggering, Buried, Songs, Blood, Addiction, Story, Sorrows, Broken. These words began singing choruses of “Lover Man” to me before I knew what I was going to do with them.  Also posted at the Poets United Poetry Pantry.

Image courtesy of, in his photo files. Thanks, Jack!

Although the rumor of money taped to her thigh was false, police did arrest her on her deathbed for possession. Lester “Pres” Young, who nicknamed Billie “Lady Day,” was in fact nicknamed by Billie as the President of Sax Players. Wish I could have included the video on YouTube of her TV session in her later years on “Fine and Mellow,” but the cut was too long. Look it up; you’ll spot Gerry Mulligan, Coleman Hawkins, Pres on the second sax solo, Mal Waldron on piano, and more.  When Pres Young died of self-abuse (alcohol and heroin), Billie was not allowed by Young’s wife to sing at the funeral.  Billie said bitterly, “I’ll be next,” and she was, four months later.

Never before have I witness such an outpouring of love as for Marques Bovre, a local Madison musician who has played every venue from coffeehouses to large clubs to churches. He is the Artist-in-Residence at our church, Lake Edge UCC here in Madison. Marques has been battling an illness and the event tonight, chock-full of bands, was a fundraiser to cover his medical bills. (Universal health care, anyone?) Marques himself garnered strength to play with his two previous bands, So Dang Yang and Marques and the Evil Twins (yeah, there are four folks in that one!). We’re praying for his recovery, and man, he really BRANG it tonight, if you can dig that!

Impromptu (for Marques)

Tribute to a great and good Madison musician;
a rare, beautiful brother, fighting a rare, ugly disease.
Songwriter of extraordinary range and style,
Marques can bring the Holy Spirit into a rock club.

This night, it’s all his songs played by many bands.
The stage is spacious and filled with love –
rowdy crowd vibes spill up over the edge, flooding the stage.
Band throbbing, pulsations vibrating in our collective gut.

My glass of local brew is refilled by Craig
and I know the time is coming when the lure of
raw elements grip me and I will ascend the steps.
Musicians are an enigma: We have to do it.

The final tune is a jam; the beat renders me weightless,
abandon rapidly released. Spasms of hesitancy are overcome
and come tumbling out as overwhelming enthusiasm
for the task at hand… it’s about affirming Marques.

We are all vessels, vital elements of the shout-out.
the crowd pleaser, the old classic everyone knows,
and we release full-tilt at the top of our lungs:
“You ain’t seen nothin’ like the Mighty Quinn.”

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For the Sunday Whirl: Elements, tumbling, spasm, released, weightless, enigmas, grip, rapid, glass, pulsations, rare, spacious. Thanks, Brenda, for mining the work of Billy Collins to give us this Wordle! The words literally called out to me and I wrote this shortly after arriving home from Marques’ gig. Peace, and please add Marques and this family to your prayers. Peace in the key of D, Amy