The Magnificent Return of Lane Tietgen, Part I

A few weeks ago, while I was making breakfast, Judy came into the kitchen to tell me that she had a song running around in her head that would not stop. Interestingly, I had the very same song running around in mine: “Wheel of Fortune” by Lane Tietgen.

Not many people know who Lane Tietgen is. I first saw his name in 1971 when a friend turned me on to an album by the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, an early jazz-rock fusion band. Seven of the album’s ten songs were written by Tietgen, yet he was not a member of the band, which was somewhat unusual in those days. Nearly everybody did their own songs. They were good songs, intelligent songs, and I was curious to know more about the composer. But there was nothing on him. A year later, my friend turned me onto Crazed Hipsters, an album by Finnigan and Wood. Crazed Hipsters had three more songs by this Lane Tietgen fellow, and, once again, he was not one of the band members. One of the songs, “Highway,” was extraordinary. It seemed to speak of hidden truths, secret wisdom, and it became very important to me. The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and Finnigan and Wood had one musician in common: Mike Finnigan, a singer and keyboard player. He seemed the obvious source for the Tietgen material. The lack of any hard facts about Tietgen made him seem a bit of a mystery man to me.

Jump ahead 36 years:

Working on my book, I realized that “Highway” wanted to be part of the manuscript, which meant that I needed to try to track down Tietgen and seek his permission to quote the lyrics. Last Summer, through Google, I learned that  he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Not only that, in just a few weeks he was going to play at a bar/restaurant in nearby Sonoma. The day of the gig, Judy and I drove up there. It was a scene I knew well: folksinger in the corner playing songs that hardly anybody was listening to. Instead of playing his own songs, he was playing songs by others—Dylan, Van Morrison, and others like that. My old favorites, actually. He sounded good, but in that situation it was impossible to make much of a judgment. Between sets, I spoke with him briefly, explained what I wanted, and gave him my contact information.

In February, I got an email from Lane. He’d just finished a self-produced CD and asked if I was interested in hearing it. I’m usually a little uncomfortable when people offer me artwork. Even if it doesn’t appeal to me, I feel obliged to say something nice, and I don’t really like doing that. But I accepted. A few days later, Wheel of Fortune arrived in the mail. I put it on and immediately felt pulled into the first track, the title track, “Wheel of Fortune.” This is not to say that I liked it. (I seldom like any song the first time I hear it—especially the ones that end up meaning the most to me. The best songs usually have a density that requires repeated listenings.) But it did grab my attention. The CD was completely different from what I’d been expecting. It wasn’t some folksinger’s simple demos of his songs; rather, it was a completed work, with acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, several different types of keyboard instruments, saxophone, trombone, violin, mandolin, background vocals, and harmonica. Each song was throughly worked-out and richly textured. The lyrics were dense, smart, wise, amusing. His singing was fantastic. He tackled each song with real verve. There was nothing tentative about him. The first songs grew on me quickly, and I liked them so much that I started playing them for Judy. In no time, we were both fans and, as we discovered them, talked obsessively about the nuances of each number. I would say that there isn’t a bad song on the disk, and there are many great ones. As I got deeper in, my favorite song kept changing—that is, until I landed on the CD’s true center, a song called “Raindrops on the Page.” When I was in my teens, I was fanatical about good songs. I would force friends to sit down and listen to them. I don’t do that anymore, but if I did, I’d force everyone I know to listen to “Raindrops on the Page.” In Part II—coming in a few days—I’ll write more about this amazing song.

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14 Responses to “The Magnificent Return of Lane Tietgen, Part I”

  1. dave westerbeke Says:

    More background on Wheel of Fortune: I’ve known Lane for some thirty years having met my wife through his former girlfriend. I always had some kind of recording gear and Lane and I played together in several bands and recorded his and my songs mostly in the 80’s and in the early 90’s. Then came a long break so it was all kind of fresh when about 3 years ago we decided to record again.I had just gone digital and was trying to figure out the 1 inch thick manual that goes with that and asked Lane to be part of the learning curve.

    Originally Lane was going to do the songs solo with just acoustic guitar and voice on one track and we started out that way. But since we were only getting together once every month I got restless and started adding other parts to the mix. Lane would hear it and a month later he’d either like it or reject it or get used to it. Then he’d add something. Since we were in no rush the songs had plenty of time to mature. For example on “Wheel of Fortune” it started with reggae electric drums and Lane on bass. Then he put mandolin on it and we added Terry Gillette on fiddle. Then I added the multiple background vocals, a lead guitar, organ and a whole different hip hop drum part which spun the song another way completely. Other songs like “Sweet Alchemy” started with Lane on vocal and acoustic guitar. I added bass and multiple background vocals and organ. Terry Gillette on violin. Adam Bagle Berkowitz added drums. Anyway that’s a look at the inner workings of the CD of one of the great unknown songwriters of our day, Lane Tietgen .

  2. markbittner Says:

    I told you this when I met you, but I liked your playing a lot, especially your part on “My Heart’s One Desire.” I hope this CD gets out there. It would be weird if it didn’t.

  3. Henry Buchenberger Says:

    Lane Tietgen was a major influence in my life. I met him in the late sixties while serving in the USAF at McConnell AFB Kansas . He was working with the Serfs in a funky bar called the Stage Door where my friends and I would go every night to hear them play. We sat with the wives and girlfriends of band members and got to know the band well. During this time the band recorded an album in New York and some members were invited to play with Jimi Hendricks on the Electric Ladyland album . Their album “The Early Bird Cafe” was not a commercial success but other better known artists picked up on Lane’s song writing and recorded versions on their Albums. John Melencamp featured Lane’s song “The Early Bird Cafe” during a recent NPR interview. His music still resonates forty years later. I have been telling every one interested in music about his very clever lyrics and musical genius for years. I wish him the best with his new CD and can’t wait to hear it.

  4. Henry Buchenberger Says:

    I got the download today. Nothing here to disappoint. Brought back a lot of great memories of my personal changes of long ago. Great Music !!!

  5. Steve Strickland Says:

    Wheel likewise knocked me out. I’m not sophisticated enough to do it here, but I wrote a word document essay/review. Please feel free to e-mail me and I’ll pass it along.

  6. Bill Collins Says:

    I heard and loved his song, “Captain Bobby Stout” from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s 1972 debut album. It’s a powerful tale of a man busted for drug-possession and imprisoned. The chorus asks “Brother, why are you here? / Captain Bobby Stout done found me out / Now I owe that man one more year…”

  7. Riggy Rackin Says:

    Nice tribute, Mark. I was there with you & Judy at Murphy’s in Sonoma, but hadn’t realized the significance of your meeting. I love Lane and his music a lot, too !!

  8. bill Says:

    Lane is a midwestern boy and his structured tunes amplify that…..not musical in the sense yet poetic………………..

  9. Louie Seven Says:

    I have witnessed Lane in the songwriting and transcribing process.
    I’ve jammed with him, and I’ve played his songs in my own bands.
    There is no question about his musicality. The guy is/was very professional. His songs are clever and fun to play.

    He lost his best girl to Bill Graham, and sort of disappeared after that. Finnigan and Wood were fabulous too…. but failed to chart.

  10. Sammie Ketcher Says:

    While performing at a little or unknown rock festival in se Kansas in 1970 — we called it “Corn Stalk” — I heard a band called the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood. They were fantastic and we all bought their album. On the album were tunes of depth, soul, poetry, beauty, that spoke so well that they have always stuck in my mind. Those tunes by Lane are works of art. Timeless statements that still speak to me. The band and tunes were way above the norm. They enhanced my life and I really appreciate them. I hope one day Lane receives the accolades he deserves.

  11. Jim Gilkeson Says:

    I had a strange moment with Lane: I come from a place where Lane, MIke Finnegan and Jerry Hahn all intersect (Wichita, KS); I met Lane in Sonoma when he was playing solo and, yes, playing everybody else’s music but his own (!). Some years later, I was playing at an open mic at Harbin Hot Springs and in walks Lane. On the spur of the moment I decided, what the hell, and change what I had planned to do, and played one of his songs instead, “Time’s Caught Up with You.” It was a bit surreal for me and, I think, interesting for Lane. He got up and sang “Runaway, by Del Shannon.” Oh, well, . . .

    (This is a re-post because I got tangled up in the WordPress password maze.)

  12. Joan Dewar Spangler Says:

    Sitting in my Union Square office writing thank you notes to favorite people and “It is Thursday in my life… Friday is pay day…”popped into my head and I felt a curiosity about Lane so looked him up on the internet (grateful) and found this page. I was Larry Sharp’s girlfriend (one of how many?) during the days and nights of recording the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood album. Lane would be the one sitting quietly in the corner at listening parties at Larry’s house on Belvedere. Probably writing the next song. Thanks for flipping the switch on memories of those incredible times.

    • Dave Westerbeke Says:

      Glad you liked it
      lanes a great song composer
      By the way I sang the ohs and played guitar

  13. Lane Tietgen Says:

    Thanks to all! Book, man, I can’t believe you’ve heard this stuff. Wishing you all the best! You’d be surprised how often I think about you and Buggsy, and all the Wichita crew. The Captain Bobby thing has a bit of you guys in it….

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