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The Insightful Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows


Charlie Gillingham c. 2016

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Charlie Gillingham, a bright guy born in Torrance, California, graduates from The University of California -Berkeley with a degree in Artificial Intelligence and is quickly hired as a software engineer. He makes a good living for nearly a decade. If not for the fact that Charlie also happens to be a very talented musician and songwriter, it could have been a sweet, but predictable ending to a pleasant story. But, when an opportunity materialized in 1990 to join and help launch an emerging group, Counting Crows, Charlie Gillingham took a sharp right turn and added “Keyboardist and Multi Instrumentalist” to his resume.

“We started around Berkeley, CA, Adam Duritz, David Bryson and I,” Charlie said. Lead singer, Adam Duritz and guitarist David Bryson had been playing together in coffeehouses in and around San Francisco, CA. The name they were using, Counting Crows, was derived from a nursery rhyme, One for Sorrow, about the superstitious counting of magpies,  members of the crow family. “One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret, never to be told.” As members were added,  they decided that Counting Crows remain the name of the band.

Gillingham employs an impressive array of musical instruments. Whether he’s working with the Hammond B3, the piano accordion, mellotron, guitar, clarinet or oboe, he says, “I’m usually looking for an atmosphere, a texture….and lean more towards playing an instrument that I can improvise on and play really well…..piano is great…. You can make a “Whirly” (Wurlitzer’s early electronic piano) sound magical because it’s got a lot of effects on it. But it’s kind of more interesting to do that with your hands.…I’ve been playing a Hammond B3 for a long time, and I know how to do a lot of different things with it. I know how to shape the sound, how to move it somewhere, make it go. My hands know what to do.”

With regard to the piano accordion, Charlie says,  “It’s been around….I like playing accordion because I like the way it makes you feel. I don’t play it like an accordion player. I play it like I play it…. I use it as an instrument way more than I would ever use it as a hammer—as a rich, emotional pad, like the way someone might use strings.”

Charlie explains about the creative process of songwriting with members of Counting Crows, “So Adam is the writer. All our songs are lyric-driven….All of us, everybody in the band, are musicians in various ways by bringing home chord changes, coming up with new parts, moving things around. There are a few songs of ours that grew almost entirely out of recordings that I made….Then again, the lyrics and melody are all Adam. I think at the end of the day, a song is a lyric and a melody. The chord changes and the instrumental stuff that we do help that melody and the lyrics go.”

In 2004, Gillingham’s song,  “Accidently in Love” along with his co-writers, Adam Duritz, Jim Bogios, David Immergluck, Matt Malley, David Bryson and Dan Vickrey,  was nominated for The Academy Award for Best Original Song,  used in the film, Shrek 2.

Charlie Gillingham shares his insight into the process of using an instrument in his work “..there’s a learning curve in an instrument… If you’re just scrolling through the sounds trying to find something good, you’re not going to find something that can play the subtlety…..You can make an instrument sound great by the way you play it, or you can make it sound great by the way you orchestrate it. There are two sides to it.….You could find something to carry a melody, which might be what you want. If you just want to carry a melody, that’s fine…..But if you want to shape the song, shape the mood of the song, make it feel like something, you have to play well.”

He adds, “….there’s two sides to playing….say you have a Stradivarius violin, you have the best violin in the world. But it’s how you play it. It’s a big thing.  It’s just the nature of electronic software instruments that you don’t get a lot of practice time. You can’t practice some sampler. But there are people who learn certain samplers and synthesizers really well.”

And with the wisdom of a long time professional musician, Charlie Gillingham sums up his experience with this insight, ” It’s not what you know. It’s how much you practice.”

charlie gillingham 1

All quotes from “A Conversation with Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows”, Reverb, Published Aug 17, 2016 by Matt Biancardi


The Magnetic Adrian Dolan of The Bills


Adrian Dolan

Bio courtesy of  Adrian Dolan is a multi-instrumentalist and composer perhaps best known for his work with the award-winning roots ensemble The Bills over the past 13 years. His skills as an accordionist, violinist, fiddler and pianist have landed him on stage with some of the best in the business, and along with a passion for composing, educating and leading a new generation of folk music into the 21st century.

Classically trained on piano, violin, and viola, Adrian began composing at a young age, and performing professionally in his mid teens. After taking up fiddling  he was soon putting his piano skills to use as an accompanist, culminating with guest performances with the Victoria Symphony, and summer festival stages around the province.


After Adrian joined The Bills at age 17, the band became one of the foremost touring groups playing over 160 shows annually in Canada, the U.S., the UK, and Europe. Their 2002 and 2004 releases both garnered JUNO Award nominations, Western Canadian Music Awards, and received worldwide airplay. Music videos for two songs from “Let Em Run” have been featured on CMT Canada. They’ve played for countless radio broadcasts, including CBC (This Morning, Q, Canada Live), Radio-Canada, BBC Scotland, Radio Sweden, NPR, and Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour. The Bills continue to tour in support of their latest release “Trail of Tales” (2016).

For the past 10 years Adrian has been honing his creative and technical prowess in the studio as a producer and engineer, working with an eclectic array of artists over the years spanning the folk and Bluegrass realms, into country, garage rock, storytelling, jazz, and comedy. Adrian’s skills as an arranger have been sought out in many projects to expand the sonic landscapes to include live string sections. As a multi-instrumentalist he has been frequently called upon for session work in Vancouver, Victoria, and beyond

Currently, Adrian maintains a busy schedule of performing, arranging, producing, sound engineering, and teaching. He frequently travels to instruct at traditional music workshops across Canada, and has also served as Musical Director for the BC Fiddle Orchestra. Adrian currently performs with Ruth Moody (The Wailin’ Jennys), and has also toured and recorded with a wide array of artists including BCCMA winner Ridley Bent, The Arrogant Worms, Irish legends The Chieftains, Barney Bentall, Old Man Luedecke, Raffi, and Cape Breton’s Rankin Sisters. He recently was hired by Musical Director Bill Henderson to perform viola in the band for the world premiere production of Bruce Ruddell’s “Beyond Eden” which ran for 49 performances in Vancouver and Calgary as part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2010.

Adrian has served as concertmaster for Bach on the Rock Chamber Orchestra, and the Sooke Phiharmonic Chamber players under the direction of Norman Nelson, as well as performing on both viola and violin with the Victoria Chamber Orchestra and the Victoria Civic Orchestra.


The Bills

Jenny Conlee of the Indie band, The Decemberists

Jenny Conlee, Accordioist
 Jenny Conlee
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana There is a point where a band can evolve from a regionally identified indie folk rock band to that of a mainstream pop group. For The Decemberists, whether for good or bad, such an evolution is currently underway.
The Decemberists
The Decemberists
The Decemberists had been a relatively high profile band but chose to abruptly drop off the radar in 2011. It was understandable due to a health crisis experienced by the band’s indispensible accordionist and multi-instrumentalist, Jenny Conlee. With the release in January, 2015, of their long awaited full length album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, Conlee and The Decemberists are now healthy for the rigors of performing and touring.
The Decemberists originated in Portland, Oregon. The band’s name was inspired by the Decembrist Revolt, an insurrection in Russia in 1825. In 2000, Songwriter/Frontman Colin Meloy, who had recently left his band, Tarkio, migrated from Montana to Oregon.  Both Query and Conlee were members of the group, Calobo, and through Query, Meloy was introduced to Jenny Conlee. The three created a score for a silent film together then joined Chris Funk, who at the time was their unofficial guitarist and a fan of Tarkio, and enlisted drummers Ezra Holbrook, then Rachel Blumberg. John Moen has been their drummer since their third album. The Decemberists’ musical style is very lyrical with the elements of whimsy and fantasy playing a large role in their artistic sensibility.
As a seasoned musician and an excellent accordionist performing with an ensemble, Jenny Conlee knows when to alternate between using restraint and showmanship. To blend with the other musicians is fundamental, but not to the point where her presence is perceived as nonexistent. The goal is always to emotionally connect with the listener and to know what the music needs at that moment. The remoteness of the recording studio is a common challenge and a live performance is critical to show where that connection lies. Live shows are also fun for the audience and The Decemberists, who often involve the audience as participants in reinactments of historical events.
“Down By the Water”, from The King is Dead, was nominated for the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.
Meloy made good use of the hiatus and became a published children’s book author while Query, Funk, Moen and Conlee were involved with a side project, the band, Black Prairie. Jenny Conlee’s abilities as an accordionist, organist, pianist and “occasional back up singer” were featured as guest artist on several records. Artists and groups include Reclinerland, Lewis Longmire, Jerry Joseph, Buoy LaRue, Casey Neill & The Norway Rats as well as a collaboration between The Decemberists and The Minus 5 in “Killingsworth”. Jenny Conlee also appeared in Portlandia in comedic skits with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.