Steve Dawson: The creative process, and the ups and downs of a life in the arts.


Steve Dawson.  Singer.  Songwriter.  Performer.  He will break your heart and mend it at the exact same time.  

We worked on this song together for the 7.16 Haiku Milieu: Begin with the End in Mind, and you can add it to your collection here.  All proceeds benefit My Block, My Hood, My City, an organization with a mission of “taking care of people, no matter what.”  Learn more here

Sometimes you think you do something, but you are really only doing it in your mind.  I had a realization about 11 years ago, that while I wrote songs and performed them, I thought of myself as a songwriter way more than I actually wrote and performed songs. 


Let me spare you the details of my dark night of the soul.  Fast forward to where I signed up for 2 classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music.  One, music theory; the other, Irish Songs and Singing.  When I arrived at Old Town, they said my music theory class was at the other building.  They asked if I would like to sign up for anything else. 


My husband Robin had known, loved, and performed on the same bills as Steve and Diane for years.  My friends Deb, Sue and Bruce knew and loved Steve and Diane for forever.  

I did not know him but he had just come out with a CD and this group spoke of little else.  Ingrid Graudins was holding a series of shows at SPACE, and one night Steve was part of a lineup that included Naomi Ashley, Chris Neville, Robbie Fulks, Steve and Ingrid herself.  We went. 

I remember very clearly the last song he played that night, “On the Edge of the Twilight Sky.”  He had written it as a teenage in Idaho.  As he played it, I began to have the extraordinary sensation that I was dancing, though I was very firmly seated in my chair. 

So when they said, “Is there another class you’d like to take?”  I said, “Does Steve Dawson’s class have any room?”  And they said, “Yes, there is one seat in his 101 class.”  “I’ll take it,” I said. 

And thus I pushed the reset button on my songwriting life. 

Flashforward to today: 

Steve is an extraordinary teacher.  It is like he holds open the door between your feelings of inadequacy and your ability to create.  He never makes it about himself, he just does it, and you do it, because you can now actually concentrate on writing a song!  

After experiencing him in the classroom, he became one of my go-to collaborators in the studio, a source of thoughtful advice that could be trusted as much from the place it came from in him, as in its artistic and technical merit. 

It is only slight hyperbole to say that I have met thousands of artists through Steve.  I met many, many of the artists I invited to participate in the Haiku Milieu shows through him, and I will not list them all only because I am sure to leave someone out.  

That, in the last few years, that Robin and I began to meet with Steve, Diane, Louis Bardales and Steve Hughes to share songs and other works in progress on a monthly basis, has been one of the great joys of my life. 

Enjoy this note on our collaboration from Steve Dawson: 

“I think I first met Jenny around 2009 when she showed up in one of my songwriting classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music. It is a testament to her humbleness that she took a class in something that she was already very, very good at. 

She was beginning work on her album, "Heading Slowly Towards the Beginning," and a short time later we did some work on it together in my home studio, particularly on the song, "Asleep," where she let me experiment with sounds and textures over her beautiful melody and lyric. 

It was fun, open and experiential. I think that's how collaborations work best - when everyone involved sees the work as a journey with the attitude of "let's see what happens if we try this..." 

Along the way we've also become friends and often talk about creativity, the creative process and the ups and downs of a life in the arts. 

A few years ago I stopped writing songs. I had no interest in it and the ideas were just not flowing. Jenny and I talked about putting together a small group of songwriting friends that would meet once a month to share new songs. I've learned that a deadline is a very powerful tool in getting work done! 

So we started the group and I began to write songs for our meetings and it has been a deeply moving source of inspiration and fellowship. (Side note: Diane hadn't written a song since 2006 and since being in the group she as at least an EP's worth of new material.) I've written more than enough songs to fill a double LP and I've been recording them one by one as they appear. 

Before the pandemic we'd get together, have a meal, talk about our lives and then sit in a circle and sing songs to each other. Heavenly! More recently we've met on Zoom. In a recent meeting Jenny shared a fragment of a song saying she thought it wasn't finished but that she liked it. She sang, "Oh, Sunshine." My response was, "I think that's the song. I think that song is finished." Others agreed. 

So Jenny presented me with the idea of making a fully realized track out of her guitar and vocal recording. I loaded her acoustic guitar and vocal tracks into pro tools and, without thinking too much, chopped it up and extended some parts and made a repetitive chant out of the phrase "good times come again." I added drums, bass, electric guitar, piano, midi strings and a harmony vocal, again not over thinking it but trying to go with the first thought. 

I knew Jenny would trust me to try things and I knew she knew I loved the song - so I wasn't worried about her reaction so much as trying to honor the song's intention and feeling. When I did play it for her she liked it - so I was happy about that - because as I listened back to it I was pretty happy with it myself. 

Jenny is really a one of a kind and I am so very glad that I can call her a friend and a collaborator. Knowing her has enriched my life and my creative practice. [Editor’s note: blush.]  Thanks, Jenny!!” – Steve Dawson


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