By Blaine Schultz
It would be very easy to take John Sieger for granted. It seems like the guy has been around forever, since the heyday of the R&B Cadets at Century Hall in the 80s to Semi Twang’s album on Warner Brothers to a move to Nashville and ultimately back to Milwaukee with his current Sub Continentals. A few years ago he began conducting songwriter workshops, though it is no secret local musicians have been taking mental notes at Sieger’s performances for years.
His songwriting and guitar playing belies an omnivore’s musical appetite – from vintage New Orleans to The Beatles, from the reggae of The Harder They Come to Bob Dylan – and he does it all with his own style. No word on when his songs inspired by the 9/11 tragedy will be ready, but word on the street is a Semi Twang reunion may be in the cards.
1. What do you try to teach in your songwriting classes?
I try to demystify songwriting and pull the curtains back to reveal the little, petty, manipulative tricks good songwriters use to bend you to their whims. I also try to disabuse anyone of the notion that poetry and songwriting are more than third cousins. Some of my favorite lyrics are truly crap, look at “Johnny Carson” off The Beach Boys’ Love You disc. Brian Wilson was paid in hamburgers to write that and it’s brilliant!
2. What have you learned from your students?
Just how ingrained the love of music is and how it’s one of the things that makes us human. My songwriters are all optimistic and creative people who have often chosen a practical career path and accomplished a lot, professionally and personally. I am in awe of them.
Ouch! I would have read This Business Of Music and begged for fiscal restraint on the part of Warner Brothers Records. They were a spending machine and never met an expense in the making of Salty Tears that they didn’t embrace and then convince me to. Thing is, it was all recoupable… our money they were playing with and when we came up about a half a million short after selling 12 records, something had to give.
4. When did it dawn on you that you were able to write songs?
When other people started recording them, including my buddy Paul Cebar, I thought maybe I had something. Then Dwight Yoakam sang “I Don’t Need It Done.” I felt like Otis Redding, who exclaimed upon hearing Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect,” “That gal stole that song!”
5. Your son is a musician. how do you see his initial experiences differing from yours?
It’s hard for me to stand back and not drain all the fun out of it by telling him everything I know, but I think I manage. He seems to be having a parallel experience to the one I had as a young tyro: plug it in and let ‘er rip! I’m going to start paying him in hamburgers and see what he comes up with. VS