I was sitting on the porch at Flipnotics Coffeespace in Austin Texas at one of Guy Forsyth's Wednesday lunchtime jams in August of 1999 when Pops Bayless and Mysterious John joined the song circle. About a week previous, I had pulled a ukulele my great-grandmother Haddy had brought home from Honolulu back in 1955 out of the closet. With my guitar skills and a new set of strings, I had learned to plink a little three-chord tune. Pops was so gracious as to loan me his uke to play for the folks assembled. Before we went our separate ways, I was scheduled for a ukulele lesson at his house the following week.
This was a monumental thrill for me. I had been a fan of the Asylum Street Spankers, of which Guy, Pops, and John were founding members, since I was thirteen and I saw them play their all-acoustic ("No Demon Electricity") show at the Texas Independence Day Bash. I was completely hooked. Four years later, I was playing on the coffee shop porch with three of my heroes.
The late afternoon sun glared on an aging wagon bearing Pennsylvania plates when I pulled up to Pops' house that afternoon. My lesson was scheduled to start about an hour after two Philly musicians had arrived on the same doorstep. They were at the end of their cross-country move to Austin to start a ukulele band with Pops and John. We jammed, and I was able to follow along well enough that, rather than scheduling another lesson with me, the boys just had me show up to rehearsals. That was the birth of Shorty Long.
We played our first gig in the old Ruta Maya in downtown Austin on Y2K. The week I turned eighteen, in May 2000, we recorded our first album, "Chickenboxer". We had a dedicated following at our regular gigs, and I was tickled to count myself a member of the music scene I'd grown up around. It was also pretty fun to dress up in vintage hats and sing three part harmonies.
By the time I turned nineteen, I had been accepted to Gallaudet University in Washington DC, and I left a lifetime of listening to and playing music in my hometown for a collegiate career on a 24/7 sign-language-only-no-talking campus. I went from playing a gig three times a week to not uttering a word for a week or more at a time. Now I'm fluent in sign language and enamored with public transportation, and I love my job as a freelance interpreter. I've spent most of the first decade of the 21st century going to school with, partying with, and working with Deaf people. My life is rich and interesting, but it hasn't had as much music in it since I left Austin.
Last year I was at the Kerrville Folk Festival, where I go every year in the summer for eighteen days of acoustic music in the central Texas hill country. One afternoon at my friend's camp, I picked up a guitar and sang a song. My friend's mouth hung open. It wasn't just that he thought I was good, it was that he'd known me for quite a while, and he didn't know I played music, at all. The whole scene came as a big surprise to the poor guy. It was also a wake-up call for me.
I now begin my re-entrance into the world of music. Don't get me wrong, now, I love what I've done with my life. I'm just ready to play again. I came home for Christmas and visited my old band mate at his home. We caught up on all kinds of things, and then I told him I was making music my new part-time job, that I was ready to start playing again. Pops grinned and told me, "You have no idea, do you?" I was really confused. "You have a hit in England."
It turns out that a company called Marks & Spencer had put a little ditty called "I want to Marry a Light House Keeper" in a television ad they put out in the spring of 2008. You've heard the song if you've ever seen the Kubrik film A Clockwork Orange. That recording, however, is long out of print and not available to the general public. It just so happens that Shorty Long recorded it on that first album back in 2000, and you can download our recording at every major music outlet. When people went gaga over the ad, they googled for Eagan and found us instead. So, it seems that even while I was not playing music, my music career had taken off without me.
Jammin' at Jackson's is the beginning of my attempts to catch up. I wrote the songs, and am fortunate to play them with some very talented musicians. We recorded all five tunes in three hours, not more than three full takes of any one song. None of the guys had ever played those songs together before that night. You wouldn't know it by the sound of it, though. I'm writing more songs and getting ready to hit the road this summer. If you know some place I should play, even in your own living room, I'd love to hear about it.
I keep my schedule up to date at my MySpace page (myspace.com/mustangsings), and you can always email me at missjessmusic [at] gmail [dot] com. Stop by or drop me a line any old time.