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The Write Conviction of Bryan Dickenson

I’ve been listening to this gem of a tenor for several years now. We hang in some of the same places. We’ve borrowed each other’s guitars a few times at open jams and such. Songwriter pals.

I’m here to tell you about my friend Bryan Dickenson. He represents music that leans on the principles of well-written, mindful songwriting. He writes the kind of songs that get inside your head and start talking to you. Equipped with an acoustic guitar, a seasoned voice and – and often times his musical partner Ron Kadey, Dickenson’s sound comes primarily from the traditions of folk rock. Dickenson, himself is a man who has things he wants to talk about and thus has songs that have something to say. I’ve also heard him drop the entire room into a collective emotionally wrenching, weeping, speechless rendering “gulp.” with a love song.

He recently released a new EP – a live recording from the “Fair Haven Porch Concert Festival” performance. “Fine By Me” is a killer track complete with earworm hook and a catchy practicality in its message.

The main thing that I think about Bryan are two things. The first is his understanding of editing in the writing process.

The other thing is that he’s a real, accessible and practical man. He’s not the least bit interested in being slick and all that. He’s real, and his music represents that. Since I think a lot of music could use a good shot of ‘real-ness,” I’m a fan of the sort of truth that is a hallmark of Bryan’s music.

Chuck Schiele: How did you get started in music?

Bryan Dickenson: My mother told me she always knew when I woke from my nap, because she could hear me singing in my crib, so I guess I started at birth. My first public performance was for my aunt’s and uncle at age 3, singing the “Speedy Alka Seltzer” song and; “Tandin on the torner watching all the girls go by.” I got my first guitar at age 14, and spent my school years in various choruses and musicals.

CS: How would you characterize your music?

BD: I write a wide variety. I have blues, country, pop, ballads, some social commentary and a couple of funny songs. My cover sets are all over the map.

CS: You’re a songwriter. How did you find that out, and what drives you to be a songwriter? What do you like to write about?

BD: I wrote my first song in my 20s. The title is “Why Do I Go On,” which gives you a clue to the angst that drove it out of me. After that I was quite prolific for a spell. I tend to write in binges with substantial gaps between groups of songs. My first CD was called “I Sing” and the title track was “I Sing of My Life.” So, I’d say I write about personal experiences and lessons I’ve learned, or philosophies I like to promote.

CS: Philosophies I like to promote. I like that. Who are the writers who influence you most?

BD: Jimmy Webb through Glen Campbell, and John Denver. I write a lot of story songs and I think those guys influence my lyrical style the most.

CS: What are your thoughts on the Syracuse music scene?

BD: While there’s obviously competition since there are so many talented artists in this area, there is also a camaraderie that I haven’t found as much in the other places that I’ve played. The artists here seem to really bolster their fellow performers and want them to be heard and succeed. While playing for other performers can be nerve wracking, they are also the most supportive because of understanding performance pressures.

CS: Please share any insights you have with aspiring writers.

BD: I can’t really explain how I do what I do. I have a process but I’ve found these very greatly between writers. I say, learn at least a little music theory. It will inform your melody and chord choices. Read everything! A wide vocabulary opens many ways to express yourself lyrically. Editing is your friend. Edit for content and form. A relative hook may give your listener a place to hang their hat but repetitious ideas will bore the listener. Don’t be afraid to change whole sections to improve the lyrical flow and rhyme. Clumsy lyrics are a death blow.

Mainly just write! Write everything and then refine. Write your truth. Harlan Howard coined the phrase in the 1950s, “3 chords and the truth.” Write what you think is true and you can write with conviction and perform with feeling and intent.

CS: What are some of your career highlights?

BD: I have played with a big band called “Not For Profit” for an audience of a few thousand and for dear friend’s weddings. I see these as highlights for different reasons. I was a guest many years ago on Joe Galusky’s radio show, and my originals have received airplay on both Larry Hoyt’s “Common Threads” and Dave Frisina’s “Soundcheck.” Hearing your music on the radio is always a highlight. Being involved in local tribute concerts with my fellow musicians is great also!

CS: Got any funny stories from the stage?

BD: I think every performer has the stories of people trying to converse with you while you’re performing or worse join you in drunken harmony.

CS: uhhhhhhhhhhhh, No. No. No, that never happened to me…

BD: Right. I once played a talent show very early on where my borrowed 12 string was untuned by a competitor, while I wasn’t vigilant and I didn’t know until I strummed the first chord. This was before the age of Snark tuners. I turned and left the stage. I didn’t die so that was a worst case lesson.

CS: Lol. How do we stay in touch with you and your music?

BD: Drop in at any local open mic and chances are good I’ll be there dropping a tune or three. I have a singer/songwriter night with Mark Wahl and Lou Kaplan at 443 Lounge on Thursday Nov 18th. I have a Facebook music page or you can contact me at dickenson32@gmail.com. I also have duo “O-ryon” with Ron Kadey, performing around the area. Stop and say hi! But not in the middle of a song.

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member of SaltCityChill.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.