by Roger Jokela
"...so why don't you write your own songs?"
....the question was simple enough, but i didn't have an answer. I don't know how to write songs i thought to myself, but i couldn't say that! This was my big opportunity! If i were to write her the perfect love song i would have her in the palm of my hand! And with that one simple question the path of my life was changed. As i set off with guitar in hand to compose my first song i quickly realized not only could i write a song, but i rather enjoyed the process. So the next time i saw my lovely young muse i brought my guitar along and with my heart racing pulled it out and played this oh so sweet song about the love that i felt for her...
"that's not too bad"
....the dreaded not too bad!!! Now in my book not too bad and not too good are pretty much synonymous statements. I was crushed. But rather than crawl into a shell and hide from the world for some reason i took this as a challenge. In the ensuing weeks i would finish a new song and rush over for her to hear.......
"I really like that one line"
"I kinda like that one"
.......kinda like that one? What kind of a statement is that?!?!! Either you do or you don't!!!! So back to the pen and paper i would head and scratch out another song until that one day when it finally happened....
"You wrote that?!?"
...ahhhhh...the sweet sound of success!!! To me there is no greater compliment then someone thinking you have out-written your own songwriting abilities! To this day I rarely feel more satisfaction as a songwriter than playing a song and having someone ask whose song it is and when told that i wrote it myself they look on in disbelief. Ah life's simple pleasures!
And so it was in the summer of 1990, at the ripe old age of 26, that this one simple question began my life as a songwriter. And as i look back i could not have had a better first critic. The pressure to write good songs was instilled on me early in my writing career and, though frustrating at the time, I feel greatly indebted for that to this day.
Now mind you music had always been a part of my life, my grandfather was one of the best accordian players in northern Wisconsin and my father kept us entertained as children playing the piano as my sisters and i would dance around the living room. My father always had a.m. country radio on in the house so i grew up listening to george jones, merle haggard, waylon jennings and the other greats of the late 60's early 70's.
As the world opened up to me as a teenager i found my musical taste constantly enlarging. I distinctly remember a day in high school going to Beggar's Tune record store and purchasing a copy of Judas Priest "Screaming for Vengance", Merle Haggard "Big City" and New Grass Revival's "When the Storm is Over" and rushing home to play them all. I must say i was not your average Wisconsin teenager as far as that goes. When i got my first guitar i bought the big country music "fake" books that had the words and chords to the hit songs of the day and walk around the house playing "King of the Road" or "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain". Once i figured out i could tune my guitar to the piano in the house and then play along with my records I was off and running!
I have always enjoyed songwriters that employ a sense of humor in their songs and i feel my writing style is reflective of that influence. John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Roger Miller and Jimmy Buffett were all prominent artists in my record collection. I played other peoples songs exclusively through high school and college and exclusivley for own my enjoyment. If there was someone else in the room i would of course let them listen but i spent countless hours by myself singing and learning new songs and new tricks on the guitar.
Once i started writing my own music i think i avoid many of the pitfalls of a new writer because i could always feel when something wasn't right in the song structure. I must say that i have always thought of myself as a songwriter more than a singer though the last few years i have opened up more to the thought of being a performer.
It only took a few months of writing for me to realize that i had come upon something that i really enjoyed and knew i would continue doing throughout my life. With my life in a quiet stage as i was about to turn 30 i decided i needed a change and packed up my belongings and moved to Nashville. Looking back it was the best decision i could have ever made. Now 14 years later and with my first CD released i look back on all of the wonderful people i have met and all of the great music i have heard and been a part of and count my blessings that i had the guts to pack up and leave the safe confines of home. Music CIty is my home now and it just feels right.