Songwriting is not an exact art. The fickle finger of fate makes and breaks plenty of men and women with musical talent, ambition, good timing or serious mentors. Michael McCloud, a 30-year music veteran in the Keys, said even Shel Silverstein was occasionally afflicted with “hardening of the artistry.”
“That was Shel’s term for the mental block that stalls a song in progress; a point of diminishing return when you need another artist,” McCloud said as casually as he was dressed – denim shirt, blue jeans. “We worked together on several songs, but nothing came of them. Songwriting is like fishing or mining for gold; when it works, it’s special.”
So McCloud, who claims he’s one of the few musicians here who has “never been musically unemployed,” adds mental perspective, priorities and agenda to the blend of variables that contribute to musical success.
“To make a living, you have to learn how to control your ego – working on stage is not for timid egos – and the most important person is the customer, who often has incredibly bad taste in music,” McCloud said.
McCloud is a master of the request format because “I have no particular style. This forced me to appreciate all kinds of music,” he said, “and it’s my job to entertain customers, even with requests I don’t like. You see, out there somewhere is a guy working on a rooftop who wants my job.”
McCloud’s regular “house gig” is at Schooner Wharf Bar from noon to 5 p.m. He’s been a solo guitarist there for five years, but his success formula includes two gigs.
“Every musician needs a night job similar to the day job, but you have to keep the two different enough to look forward to the other one,” he said.
“Then you have to give back to the community. I have other local players work with me on weekends at Schooner Wharf and at Willy T’s.”
McCloud concurs with Evalena Worthington, owner of Schooner Wharf, who says the bar business and the music business have a symbiotic relationship.
“I can eyeball a crowd to know if I’m paying for myself,” McCloud said. “When no one’s listening, I turn the speakers to myself and try to sound better.
“When my talent brings in customers, I also sell my CDs. I sell two locally produced CDs, which keep me from breaking the bank of the people I’m playing for, at the same time, I’m advertising my products.”
“Gretastits” (his preferred spelling of “greatest hits”) and “Ain’t Life Grand” are two McCloud CDs that mix everything from blues to jazz to country ballads.
Recently, McCloud was mulling over a song idea inspired by “an overachieving, underpaid waitress who couldn’t afford to live here,” and a customer asked him why this woman tapped his creative energy.
“She’s a real nice girl playing hard to forget,” replied McCloud. And a new song was born.