How I Got Here: Jeff Krebs AKA Papa Crow (Heart / Dan Zanes)

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The first album from Papa Crow, AKA Michigan's Jeff Krebs -- Things That Roar -- charmed just about everybody who heard it with its tender folk.  As if to clear the air, so to his speak, his follow-up, What Was That Sound?, was a five-song EP about flatulence.

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Krebs is clearly a man of many talents and inspiration -- in addition to working on his full length follow-up Full Moon, Full Moon (clips here), he's also working on an EP of monkey-based ukulele songs (Monkeylele, clips here) and an EP based on Edward Lear poems (Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue, clips here and here).

At this point, I'd accept just about anything as his musical inspiration.  As it is, Krebs offers up two albums -- Heart's 1976 hit album Dreamboat Annie and Dan Zanes' [in my view totally overlooked] Sea Music.

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The first album that I remember becoming completely obsessed with was Heart's debut Dreamboat Annie.  As a youngster, I always had an ear to the radio and I kept lists of all the songs on American Top 40, making notes of songs I liked and disliked. I had heard the singles “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You” and felt an immediate connection to the album after successfully lobbying my mom to buy it for me. I wonder how many times I listened to this in my room with the headphones on, memorizing the liner notes, lyrics and photos. I knew which drummer and which guitarist played on each track. The pictures of Heart on the inside cover foldout made me want to start a rock band; it seemed like the most exciting thing one could do. Within a few years I had a little garage band of my own.

On Dreamboat Annie, Heart served up mystical tales of love, rock and roll, and the sea. Ann's sultry voice was way up front, and she could wail or sing a ballad with equal power. I loved the way Nancy Wilson's inventive acoustic playing contrasted the muscle of Roger Fisher's electric. There were more soft songs here than rockers, though the rockers were the hits. It all worked sonically for me, and I would never tire of spinning this album. There are numerous albums like Pink Moon, Revolver, and Rain Dogs that were probably more influential on me later in life, but Dreamboat Annie was my first love.

Fast forward a few decades to when my wife and I were expecting our first kid. I'm on YouTube searching for kids songs and click on Dan Zanes singing “All Around the Kitchen”. Here's a guy with whacky hair, a purple suit, a cheap guitar and a diverse band singing a silly, rocking song while dancing around with kids. I was floored by the vibe! This video opened a door for me into the possibilities of what family music can be. I checked Dan's catalog and ordered Sea Music as I was most drawn to it.

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What an album! I immediately loved the feel of these old sea shanties. The sound is natural, simple, homemade; it's the sound of a bunch of friends singing around a campfire (or on the deck of a whaling ship). Guitars, banjos, accordions and mandolins provide the backing. Take “All for Me Grog” for example: Zanes has a boy (backed by other kids) sing this boozy lament—it even has “arse” in the lyrics! Now, that's pushing the limits of family music, and certainly one of my all-time favorite recordings. What Zanes was doing seemed so appealing and I really tuned into family music, checking out dozens of kids music CDs at the library and finding what worked for me, artists like Elizabeth Mitchell, Dog on Fleas and Frances England. I was writing my own family songs before my first boy was born. I have since bought most of Dan's amazing family music albums, but Sea Music remains a favorite as it was my first.

I have lived close to the water for most of my life. I grew up on Lake Michigan, worked on San Francisco Bay boats for many years, and now my family and I live a couple of blocks from Lake Superior. Maybe it's just a coincidence, or maybe it has something to do with why the sea-themed Dreamboat Annie and Sea Music were such big influences on the music I make.