The last few weeks, Brian and I were out in Northeastern Iowa, playing around 20 schools. This opportunity was due to the Dubuque Arts Council, a group of citizens whose mission has been to promote the arts in education in the region that makes up Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Each day, we would head off across the Iowa countryside to find ourselves unloading gear at a school and setting up in a gymnasium. You could tell that not only the kids were excited about seeing us play, but so were the teachers. For many schools, this was the first chance to have a program like ours after the long two years of Covid lockdowns. The kids themselves were quiet, attentive and respectful. There was an air of novelty about it all, as if the pandemic reset some sort of attitude about education. We were there not only to teach, but to express our joy of being entertainers. To inspire, uplift and unite. Since Aine is in second grade, I joked with each school that “second graders know everything” and indeed on some level they do. Adults have a funny way of unlearning some of the beautiful understanding that came naturally as kids. We tend to forget how perceptive children are at picking up on everything that is going on not only in the world, but our homes. Our mistakes, our arguments, our beliefs and actions are readily observed by our children. Children naturally assume that things are going to be alright, that everyone has something good to offer and that love of one another is as natural as breathing air. It was refreshing to see such children, hopeful and happy. Brian and I received a thank you letter. It read “Dear Switchback, Thank you for coming to our school to perform. We hope you come back soon! We really enjoyed it! From the smartest second graders.” My hope is that we all tap into our second grader and see the world not for what it is, but what it should be. Thank you for making it a WayGood World! Marty
A friend of mine, Sheila Walk, sent along an article from the Texas Monthly. It was a story about Willie Nelson and his guitar, Trigger. Willie is one of those icons every musician would love to share the stage with. We came close, but instead opened for the Moody Blues. It would be great to share the stage with Willie, not only to sing with him, but to check out that fabled guitar of his. Guitars are important “tools of the trade” for musicians. Ironically, they sometimes happen to look like the most abused of tools. But it isn’t neglect that is on display. It is in constant use. A well worn guitar becomes almost a part of the musician holding it. Switchback has had a lot of guitars over the years. And, unlike Trigger, some of our guitars have had to go out to pasture. Mainly because of the way we play. Anyone watching a Switchback concert can see the amount of energy and effort that goes into getting a large sound out of a small instrument. The picks, the fingernails, the constant touring, all leave a mark on the pine tops and wear through whatever varnish to slowly etch into the wood. Brian’s Gibson, a 1950’s vintage guitar, was one of the first ones we had in the Wailin’ Banshees, our Irish band. It was a wonderful sounding guitar, with a smooth neck. We pulled it out of service as it wasn’t wired and the wood was slowly getting to where the sound of the guitar was getting affected.
The next guitar was my Yamaha that I purchased in 1986. This guitar had a composite back and a wood front. I still have it and I loaned it to Brian as we went on the road as Switchback. It slowly was starting to fall apart as our gigs increased. One problem was that Brian had heavy gauge strings installed on all his instruments. The neck pressure alone slowly would bend the guitar and wreak havoc on the braces. A couple of emergency repairs told us that the guitar wasn’t going to keep going. And I wanted to keep it relatively intact. We bought a second Yamaha. That guitar Brian had for a long time and it was that guitar that eventually wore a big hole near the sound hole. The brace was exposed and eventually as the sound got sweeter, the guitar became weaker. We bought a Taylor to back up the Yamaha. The Taylor was fine, but it didn’t have that snarl that the Yamaha could create when the duo was onstage. So we bought our third Yamaha, Blackie. Blackie is the main Yamaha these days, though the Taylor with its mellow sound does get used.
Brian had one mandolin for about 33 years, the Kentucky mandolin he bought to study with Jethro Burns. Unfortunately, that mandolin also began to disintegrate from steady, hard playing. That mandolin held up through storms, two kids having a tug of war with it and living in a cloth bag. It had a charmed life. But alas, it wasn’t to last. It was still going strong when in August of 2018 a mic stand accidentally fell on it, hitting the mandolin exactly in the bridge and snapping the brace. The luthier sadly shook his head as another instrument was brought to him on life support. Luckily, he had a spare mandolin that Brian loaned and then was bought by the band. That mandolin had a surprisingly smooth sound that was very much like the Kentucky mandolin. People always wonder why musicians agonize over losing instruments. In many ways, they not only become repositories of each show, but also an extension of your own personality. And they also become, like the possessor of the instrument, art itself. I am amazed that Willie Nelson has been able to keep that guitar of his going through the years. I am sure that there are many luthier stories about it and what it has taken to keep it onstage and in tune. And in a way, they will be around long after we are gone. It’s a tough call on whether or not an instrument should be hanging on a wall or kept going in someone’s hands. For our part in Switchback, hanging an instrument on the wall is putting Trigger out of its misery. You hate to do it, but there’s a lot more riding ahead. Thanks for making it a WayGood World! Marty
I know you are probably as weary of the pandemic as I am. I look forward to the day when music can be played without any risk except for hitting a wrong note. So while I wait for that day, I am grateful to be able to celebrate Aine’s birthday in person this year.
Eight years ago when she was born, we were in the midst of the polar vortex. At the time, it was looked upon as a major irritation and inconvenience. Eight years later, that whole time seems quaint in comparison to the utter loss and chaos brought about by Covid.
Aine is like a lot of kids her age. It is scary to be young, living in a world where grownups call the shots. She hears about climate change, the people in politics who are acting younger than she is, the fear of getting and possibly dying from Covid. Those who wear masks and vaccinate, and those who choose not to. People acting out in rage. I can go on.
When I drive her to school, she asks those round-about questions or statements that represent those fears.
“If people breathe, they are letting out C2O, Poppa.” “It’s CO2,” I say. “Yes, people and animals breathe out CO2.” “We need more plants and trees to absorb the CO2, right? We have to fix the planet.” “Don’t worry Aine, humans are pretty smart, we will figure out how to protect our world.”
“Have you ever been in an ambulance, Poppa?” “No Aine, and I hope I never have to. Or that you don’t have to, either. Unless you wish to be an ambulance driver.”
“Can I have a sleepover?” “Yes, but we have to make sure that the family is tested. And we will have to test, too.”
She bears it all remarkably well. Wearing the mask to school. She takes in the reports of a child or two at school who have the virus. Families who have a relative fighting Covid. People who have died.
Yet, I look at her and I am hopeful. I am hopeful that her generation might be the generation that gets it all right. Or partly right. Even that would be great. There is a strength and hopefulness in her. We have done music shows from home during the pandemic and she participates with joy, a great sense of humor and a killer harmonica.
She might give Uncle Brian a run for his money.
She draws, she paints, she is better at math than I ever was. She has dreams of what she wants to be. An engineer and a musician. Next week that might change, but she is looking ahead.
In the meantime, I ask myself. “What can I do?” Aside from holding my breath, what can I do to help her world become that much better? It can’t only be on these kids’ shoulders. We have much to do.
Playing music has always been my way of creating peace and community in the world. I am happy that people (who otherwise might be tweeting negative things about the other) can sit at a Switchback concert and be one. That has been thwarted. But I believe in the WayGood World and that together we will figure a way.
We all have fears. Us big people are fearful as we don’t know what the future will bring. It’s easy to fall prey to those who love to stoke such fears. We cannot control the future, but we are able to control ourselves, our thoughts, channel our fears into constructive and kind communication. We can do that just within this wonderful musical community we have made together for almost 40 yeas.
That in and of itself would make one young girl’s future all the brighter.
Dear Friends of Switchback, We hope everyone is doing well. We are vaccinated and look forward to the day that we can get back on the road. We are releasing the second of our “live” concert series. Our idea is to take a walk back through our albums and perform them in their entirety, one by one, starting with Ain’t Going Back.
For this concert, we are literally going back to our garage band roots by playing-where else?- in Marty’s garage. We took advantage of a warm April day and with the garage door open, presented a live concert filled with the sounds of the city. We’ve also kept in some of the start overs as we felt it would make it more real. Special commentary and rare photos are interspersed throughout this exciting video. Find out about Brian’s first Irish band.Hear about why Switchback first started.What does Switchback and Anarchy have in common?Listen as Marty tells of the his near-miss with Ed McMahon. We are offering this at a gift suggestion of $25. We are happy to take more and we are also happy to accept what you can offer. To make your gift go to the link below. Once we receive your gift, we will send along the link to the concert. It will be available for you to see anytime! We are relying on your generosityand continued support. Let’s keep on making it a WayGood World. Brian and Marty
Dear Friends of Switchback, This week marks my 57th year of being in this world. As I count many blessings that surround my life, I include the many friendships that I have had the pleasure of making over the years. Playing in Switchback gives me an opportunity that is rare today. Traveling, sharing life stories with others and connecting on a soul level through music has and hopefully will continue to be, a gift. Yet, the pandemic has its gifts to give. The biggest one is the ability to slow down time. Fortunately for me, I haven’t had to spend that time alone. Having spent 35 years performing music, I can draw upon a rich store of relationships. And with the Internet, connecting with people may not be face-to-face, but we can still enjoy connection that those souls in the 1918 flu pandemic could only dream about. Another gift is watching Áine grow. Spending time with her, face masks and all, has been a joy. We have played together quite a lot, especially with the hot weather. Sprinklers, water balloons, chalk drawings, walks and getting her to ride her bike sans training wheels. Heading out to Woodstock and catching bullfrogs and salamanders at Uncle Robby’s farm to bring back to our little pond in Chicago. Áine is growing into a little lady. The sheer joy of holding her, carrying my little daughter is done with the awareness of the passing of pandemic time, all made possible because I am not touring, but here at home. Annie and I have had the pleasure of watching our gardens grow. We both are as busy as ever it seems and yet, with not being away from home, our home has become a wonderful oasis to talk at length and share the joy of being together. Our gardens, those in the yard and the spiritual ones are well tended these days. The yards are finally getting the attention they deserve. And so, too, is our relationship, often playing second fiddle to the road. Getting to look at my wife every day and seeing just how beautiful she is has been a great gift. I have been able to delve into music, visiting tunes that were dormant from my pre-Switchback days or writing songs that are off in directions far from Marty and Brian. Rediscovering my guitar playing after all the years has been both a humbling challenge, but again a joyful opportunity. Livestreaming a weekly show has now given me the opportunity to hone my songwriting skills to the point that I am creating about two songs a week. Áine’s kindergarten teacher, Miss Rack, had me writing songs for her class Zoom meetings. My reunion with my artwork has been a great pleasure. When I set off on Switchback, I knew I had to burn some bridges to keep heading forward. Art and the demand it has on being in one place for an extended period of time, took a prompt backseat. In many ways, drawing and painting allows me to express myself in ways that writing or performing never could. At the very least it is an unadulterated look at my soul and emotion. Of course there are the “honey-do’s” that I actually am doing with being at home. Painting Nilles hall, our coach/studio/gathering house in the back has been waiting for quite a while. It is satisfying to scratch off a chore as accomplished. This may be the year the front fence is painted in its entirety. You can’t paint a fence from Colorado. I still have about 20 projects in front of me, all begging to be done while the weather is good. And then the other 20 that are inside. Enough projects for several pandemics, unfortunately. Finally, there has been a more pointed use of the words “I love you” when addressing family and friends. The fragility of life has become more evident. It is done with the acknowledgment of the moment. This odd gift of the pandemic allows us all to collectively pause and take stock of our lives. Do I miss Switchback? Yes. And do I miss seeing, performing for and connecting with all of you? Certainly. Livestreaming is a one-way street in many aspects. That energy connection live music brings, much like songwriting with Brian, is not there. It is a new way of riding a bike, but I am determined to do it. And I welcome, gratefully that return connection from all of you, if you wish to tune in. Speaking of bikes, I have to get our bikes, last ridden before Aine was born to the bike shop to be tuned up. We have a chance to finally get out riding as a family for the first time. As much as I wish the pandemic over, I wish it could go on forever. Marty
We are selling more items at a discount until August 15. Any purchase over $50 gets a free Switchback DVD Case. If interested, please email Marty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stained glass and lead window art “Switchback Treble Clef” SOLD
Waterford Crystal Wine Stopper from Ireland Tour. SOLD
Connemara Marble and Amethyst bracelet. Only 1 in stock. SALE $40
Only 7 NOW in stock, this is the BEST of Switchback compilation CD from the German Music Company Zounds. A rare, rare, collectors item. SALE $15
Think you have all things Switchback? Think again. This is a bag-full of buttons, picks, stickers, cards. Grab the bag at a bargain! SOLD
Special Handmade “Switchmasks” Made by Switchback friends Arleen Faeth and Kelsey Deschamps in Biloxi, Mississippi, these masks are perfect for the true Switchback enthusiast. Limited quantity shamrocks and musical notes. SALE: $20 each or two for $30.
Switchback Marquee Posters–These posters are extremely rare and truly one of a kind. They are from various theaters around the country and were presented to the band after a concert. Perfect for the diehard Switchback follower and a big size for that studio. All sizes are approximate.
a) Coleman Theatre–Miami Oklahoma. March 26. Laminated 33″ x 55″ SALE! $70
b) Kent Theater–Kent Michigan. 27″ x 42″ SALE $ 65
c) Coleman Theatre–Miami, Oklahoma. 33″ x 55″ SALE! $70
e) Woodstock Opera House–Feb. One of the last shows before the virus! 24″ x 36″ SALE $70
f) Hobart Theater, March 13, 2020–The last Switchback show before the virus! 11” x 17”. Only 2 NOW available and “taken from the wall”. Own a piece of Switchback history. SALE $45
While Marquee posters are rare, there are the Switchback touring posters that over time change with the band getting older, different venues, etc. We have two fine examples of discontinued Switchback posters.
a) Michigan Touring Poster, circa 2013-2020. 11″x17″ Shot in front of the old Michigan State Mental Hospital grounds, it was a spooky experience for Brian and Marty with an abandoned, haunted building. Only 31 in stock. SALE! $10
b) Ireland Touring Poster, circa 2004–2009 11″x 17″ Shot outside of Leenane, Co. Mayo, this poster was an original touring poster with quotes by notables like Matt Malloy of the Chieftains. Only 10 in stock SALE! $10
c) Mini Ireland poster—same as the touring poster, but a smaller size. Back in the days before emailing took off, notices were sent by post. 8.5 x 6″ SALE! $5
e) Soiled Dove Birds of Prey Release poster. 11”x17” This is a limited edition of the only official release party celebrated before Brian’s injury and the Covid-19 outbreak. Another rare piece of Switchback history to have in your collection. SALE! $5
Embroidered Tour Jackets L and M. These were created as tests for early tour jackets and feature a fully lined and colorfully embroidered Switchback logo on the back. One of a kind, they are sold as a pair. SALE! $175
Switchback Wooden Anniversary Box with 10th and 20th Anniversary included. This box was handmade by woodworker Jerry Duve in honor of Switchback’s 10th Anniversary in 2003. Emblazoned with a brand that was created by Luke Russell, Brian’s nephew, each box has a unique brand on it due to the heat, etc. Included in the box are the 10th and 20th Anniversary collections. A real rarity, only 4 remain. SALE $125
Just because they’ve been songwriting and musical partners
for 35 years doesn’t mean that Brian FitzGerald and Marty McCormack think
alike. In fact, talking to them recently about their New Year’s resolutions for
Switchback for 2020, you’d think they’d never heard of each other.
“I think Switchback should re-establish themselves in 2020
as a rockin’ duo who can also provide the full spectrum of folk, jazz, blues,
country and, of course, Celtic music,” Brian said.
“I think Marty and I should double down on our songwriting.
Our musicianship flourishes when fueled with new melodies, harmonies and ideas
to share with audiences.”
Brian added that his recovery from his broken leg is healing
quickly, perhaps faster than he anticipated, and the band will be back on the
road in a month. At the time of our conversation, he said he just finished
doing some driving for the first time since the accident. He also added a
little insight into a new way of making music. “We are in the process of trying
to establish ‘New Tunes Tuesday,’ where we would work together on hatching new
material in the same room or remotely.
“We have yet to Facetime each other in the songwriting
process but we should do everything we can to further the nurturing of the new
As for Marty, after spending the last three months of 2019
worrying about the future of the band, putting the finishing touches on a
Airbnb space from a converted barn and schleping his 5-year old daughter around
to school and extracurricular activities, his initial thought was, “First of
all, I’m so grateful for the support for Brian and us in general; people say
they miss our music. In the 35 years we’ve been together, this is the longest
we’ve gone without working together.”
So, the next step is to reach out.
“I think we’re not that good at asking for support, “Marty
said. “So for 2020 my goal is not to be so shy about asking for support. I feel
like our fans, our followers, our friends, we need them to be good advocates
“It’s really gotta be a group effort, and that means our
friends, for them to introduce other people to our music. Something as simple
as if you’ve got Pandora or Spotify at work, leave it on all day playing
“I just want to invite people to get involved any way they
can. Just remember, we’re two guys struggling against the world.”
He was a mountain of a man, the sort of person you naturally had to look up to. And, he was the real deal when it came to music. Sleepy LaBeef was one of the last of his kind, a genuine honky tonk, club circuit cowboy. With a deep resonating voice, he would hold court over a room, his band barely keeping up with the frenetic pace of his changing setlist. To watch Sleepy La Beef play was like watching a show that was something out of the tube amped past. The sort of show that was to music what Evel Knievel was to car driving, you stood there thinking “Is he gonna make it?” and somehow Sleepy would jump over 27 songs with his band in close pursuit.
For Brian and myself, we had the good fortune one night to arrive at FitzGerald’s and see Sleepy play. Good fortune on a lot of fronts, for not only did we meet Sleepy, but we met his loyal fans and supporters from the Hey Hey Club in Columbus, Ohio. Those friends became our friends and it could be argued that Sleepy was the superglue.
That night became the sort of magical moment that musicians live for. Sleepy, as it turned out, was having some trouble with his bass player. What exactly that trouble was anybody’s guess, but the bass player wasn’t around. A film crew was on hand to capture his show at FitzGerald’s for a documentary on his life. Never one to pass up a musician to join him on stage, Sleepy right away made me his bass player for the evening and Brian his back up guitarist. That was all well and good, except that the only bass guitar on hand was a five string bass, which was something I never touched until that very moment. And, the other issue was that we had no idea what the songs were, what the keys would be and what order anything was going to happen. The film crew looked at the band, looked at Sleepy and sure enough, we started in. Probably one of the most intense, sweat-filled moments of my life. To be filmed and recorded on something you never played doing something you never did with someone you really respected. Sort of like having a Wallenda hand you a pole and say, “hey, try this, the crowd is gonna eat you up!”
It was pure Sleepy. I remember coming down shakily from the stage, hoping that there was something in the recordings that resembled bass playing. Sleepy was nonplussed, in fact, thrilled that the Switchback boys, as he called us, were up on stage with him.
I thought that meeting with Sleepy was a rule musician experience. But it paled in comparison to a double concert with Sleepy at the Hey Hey and then on to FitzGerald’s for the American Music Festival. Sleepy’s band had changed to an ensemble that I wasn’t exactly familiar with. I met Jerry, who played drums and was the band manager. And Jimmy, who played the bass. Their set was an amazing non-stop delivery of the history of rock n’ roll in no chronological order. If Sleepy did stop, then someone would yell out a song and Sleepy would chuckle, and launch right into it. The band would surge along, always with about two measures of them trying to find out what Sleepy was playing and what key it could possibly be in. Jimmy had his eye on some lady friend and that even made the whole evening better, as that distraction caused palpable tension between him, Jerry the band manager and Sleepy. The show ended and after much celebrating, I finally found a place to sleep on the kitchen floor in Sue Gall’s apartment across the street. It was fine to sleep there as Jerry was asleep and Jimmy was nowhere to be found. So the number of people stepping over my body was limited to Brian.
About 4:30 in the morning, Jerry stepped over me.
“Mahty?” Jerry said in that light southern drawl.
“Mahty? You awake?” he asked.
I wasn’t until then.
“Yeah?” I replied with the sound of a guy who had been sleeping on a kitchen floor.
“Mahty, you seen Jimmy?” asked Jerry.
I thought about it and knew that I hadn’t been stepped over by Jimmy.
“No,” I said. “He hasn’t come in.”
“Oh no,” said Jerry. “I’m afraid he’s been a drinkin’ and a whorin’ the whole night. If he ain’t ready to go by 6:30 a.m., Sleepy is going to be mad. I’m the manager. I gotta make sure he gets in or else I will have to call Sleepy.”
Sleepy, giving Jerry the manager role, allowed himself at least the perception that everything would allow him some undisturbed sleep at his hotel. A teetotaler, Sleepy didn’t care too much for the partying aspect and with his deep evangelical roots, he was certainly not going to be prowling around.
The drama quickly ramped up as the time ticked by. No word from Jimmy. Jerry getting more anxious, eyeing the clock on the Hey Hey wall and sipping on coffee. We were going to get on the road by 6:30 a.m. and drive the five hours in caravan to Chicago. No Jimmy.
“If Jimmy don’t come, y’all will have to play with us,” said Jerry to Brian and myself. “I hate to call him, but I am gonna have to call Sleepy about Jimmy.” Sure enough, 6:30 a.m. on the dot, Jerry nervously called Sleepy, unleashing a tsunami of rancor on the other end of the line. And at 6:31 a.m., Jimmy threw open the door to the Hey Hey and rushed in crying “I’m in Love!”
Probably the best advice Sleepy gave us was about just accepting the music business for its pitfalls, unlevel playing field and sacrifice. Playing music and lifting people up was what Sleepy was all about. I remember him telling us a story about his driving to a town square in New England and setting up for a concert in the park. Like a lot of these sort of shows, the person setting up the show is usually not there when the band arrives. The band has the equipment, gets set up on the town gazebo, looks at the clock and figures that they should probably get playing. By that time, the noise of the setup gets a small audience and pretty soon that crowd grows. That all happened for Sleepy and his band. Pretty soon a big crowd formed. And then the mayor showed up and shook Sleepy’s hand. Turned out that he and his band had set up in the wrong town. Now, if that happened to me, I would pop a Xanax and be on my cell phone while Brian ran around tearing things down. But Sleepy, seeing the crowd and having a good time decided to just have the concert where he set up. It was probably one of the best free concerts ever given.
Another bit of that zen philosophy came one time at the Hey Hey. Brian and I were getting ready for a set during the afternoon. Sleepy came in and he sat for a bit and heard us play. We stopped playing and sat with him and talked. Brian pulled out some CDs to give Sleepy and we asked him what he charged for CDs.
“Should we try to charge a competitive price?” I asked. “Is $15 too much?”
“Weeell” said Sleepy in that deep voice. “I charge $20 a CD. I’m not gonna sit there handing back five dollar bills and people always have a $20.” It was one of those no nonsense admonitions: don’t complicate things.
We last saw Sleepy at FitzGerald’s. He came into town some months ago, along with his family. A band of local well-known musicians backed him. I watched them grin and sweat through every twist and turn. Every song that never ended, but had a new song grafted right on to the last few measures. I was very glad I wasn’t up there and yet very sad, too. Our family from the Hey Hey were there and we celebrated along with Sleepy his life. It wasn’t mentioned as such. But it was a great Irish wake for our Arkansas traveller. We had a chance to stand for some pictures and shoot the breeze about music. About being a road musician, an independent musician.
Just over this break came the news. Sleepy, at 84, had played up to the end. I am sure he died with his boots on. That’s pretty much what you expect from the last of the club circuit cowboys.