My friend and fellow writer Kenton Kilgore recently posted a blog about listening to music while writing such Young Adult novels as Dragontamer’s Daughters, Lost Dogs and his current work This Wasted Land. Though I share Kenton’s love of music, I find music with lyrics distracting when I write, so if I’m listening to music while tapping away at the keyboard, its usually light classical or instrumental covers of the adult contemporary, classic rock ,or Americana that I usually listen to.

It’s elevator music, basically.

I do, however, use popular music in my writing.

Almost every character I ever write about has a playlist.

Organizing a playlist for my characters gives me insight into who they are. The music someone listens to can tell you as much about them as what they look like or how they talk. Musical preferences help define a character’s tastes, which in turn helps a writer understand that character’s interior emotions and thoughts, as well as their outlook on the world that’s being created around them.

Music is a type of setting. Think about the difference in the music played at a ballgame, in a ballroom, or in a barroom.

Even lack of interest in music, having no playlist at all,  says a lot about a character.

For my novel Bloody Point 1976, a story about a young Chesapeake Bay waterman hired to return a local big wheel’s daughter from The Block, Baltimore’s notorious red light district, all the major characters except Clacker Herbertson, who couldn’t care less about what’s playing on the radio, has a playlist.

Tooey Walter is the book’s protagonist. Tooey’s twenty years old and works on the water catching crabs and oysters. He lives with his grandparents and is a bit of a loner. Until Bloody Point 1976 begins, his life is not very exciting at all.  Tooey listens to 8-track tapes in his secondhand pickup truck and prefers southern rock and mainstream rock music.

Tooey’s playlist includes artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, and Steve Miller.  The first time in the book that music is associated with Tooey is when he pops Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic into his tape player when he leaves Harris Bradnox’s Bloody Point Estate for the first time.

The Toys in the Attic album provided me not only character development points but also hit on some of the darker themes that would run throughout the book. Not only that, but the name of the character Salt Wade, the obvious and primary villain of the story, started with a track off this album called Uncle Salty.

Later, as Tooey starts off on his big city adventure, he pops in Heart’s Dreamboat Annie.  He compares listening singer Ann Wilson’s voice to attending church, and finds no over-the-top sex symbol nearly as hot as Anne’s sister Nancy when she’s wailing away on her guitar. Despite including hits like Magic Man and Crazy on You,  the song that Tooey is listening to as he drives across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is White Lightning and Wine.

And towards the end, Tooey has a Stevie Wonder moment. Boogie on Reggae Woman is the song buzzing in Tooey’s head as he tries to recover from a Salt Wade beatdown.

Delores ‘Dee’ Bradnox is the wayward daughter Tooey is sent to retrieve. Working as a stripper called Heaven, and trying to resist Salt’s pressures to take her involvement in the sex worker trade to the next level, Dee is not a discriminate music lover. Whatever’s playing on the jukebox at Club Harem or Nick’s Mousetrap is good enough for her.

In Bloody Point 1976 Disco hits like Thelma Houston’s Don’t Leave Me This Way, Fire by the Ohio Players, Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing, and former porn star Andrea True’s More, More, More all bring the ladies to the stage, as do such funky classics as the Commodore’s Slippery When Wet and party anthems like Rock and Roll All Nite by Kiss and Foghat’s Slow Ride.

And it wouldn’t be the 70’s without big hunks of AM radio cheese like Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band),  Let Her In (up-and-comer John Travolta), and Moonlight Feels Right (Starbuck) with it’s Chesapeake Bay theme and references

When Tooey hits The Block for the first time, he’s treated to a surprise striptease by a beautiful bartender who not only gives him a lead on finding Dee, she also provides a moment of major discomfort for our young hero. The song that’s playing is the infinitely sexy Tell Me Something Good by Chaka Khan and Rufus.

The final main character, Salt Wade, more than any of the others, is driven by music. He listens to the bluesmen of the early 20th century almost to exclusivity. More specifically, he’s obsessed with the music of a harmonica master named Howlin’ Lobo, an obvious nod to the great and powerful Howlin’ Wolf.

So that’s how music influenced the characters in my novel Bloody Point 1976.

If you’re a writer, I’m curious if and how you use music in your writing.

If you’re not a writer, I’m curious if music helps define who you are.

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BLOODY POINT 1976  is available at Amazon and at various local retail outlets, as are my nonfiction books, REMEMBERING KENT ISLAND – STORIES FROM THE CHESAPEAKE and A HISTORY OF THE KENT ISLAND FIRE DEPARTMENT.


MUSIC, Pop Culture, TRAVEL


Paris. London. Dublin. Barcelona. New York. We could have gone to any of the world’s great cities to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We chose Cleveland, and let me tell you Cleveland Rocks! The city was friendly. The food was great. And The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a must-see for music fans of every generation and taste.


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see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at this link:

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The story that’s told by a visit to the Hall of Fame starts off with Rock and Roll’s roots in the Country, Gospel, and Blues of the early 20th Century. Furry Lewis was a 1920’s Memphis bluesman who reemerged in the 1960’s during the Blues Revival advanced by the popularity of such blue-based bands like The Rolling Stones, who Furry later opened for twice, and included such other musical luminaries as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker.3 - Copy

Elvis Presley was the bridge between the old ways and the new, and the template for all rock and roll stars of the future. An American original, influenced by all of the Southern culture that surrounded him, Elvis combined the currencies of his time – the rise of mass media, changing race relations, and an yearning to break from conformity – and became something no one else had ever really become before. Elvis Presley was one of the first famous people to not really need a last name. There was only one of him. Elvis was, of course, a first year inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.4 - Copy

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In an exhibit featuring the Radio Deejays who brought the new sounds of the 1950’s to the world, there’s a small tribute to Buddy Deane. The Buddy Deane Show was a teen dance show similar to American Bandstand broadcast on Baltimore, Maryland’s WJZ-TV from 1957 until 1964. The racial integration story-line of The Corny Collins’ Show in Baltimorean John Water’s Hairspray  is based on Deane’s trailblazing music program.6 - CopyBuddy-Deane1


Collections of memorabilia at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame spotlight items from such trendsetters as Motown and the English Invasion of the 1960s:20170819_102339 - Copy20170819_102448 - CopyIncluding the flip sides of the lovable/dangerous Rock and Roll coin, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones:9 - Copy20170819_101146 - Copy

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Other displays of pioneers from the Viet Nam – Civil Rights era of music include Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepplin:20170819_104845 - Copy20170819_104443 - Copy

New musical genres, like Punk and Rap, that challenge the status quo are well – represented at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As to any controversy as to whether hip-hop should be included, Ice Cube best summed it up when N.W.A. was inducted in 2016:

“Now, the question is, are we rock and roll? And I say to you goddamn right we rock and roll. Rock and roll is not an instrument, rock and roll is not even a style of music. Rock and roll is a spirit. It’s a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock and roll, heavy metal, punk rock and yes, hip-hop. And what connects us all is that spirit. That’s what connects us all, that spirit. Rock and roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life.

“That is rock and roll, and that is us.

“So rock and roll is not conforming. Rock and roll is outside the box. And rock and roll is N.W.A. I want to thank everybody who helped induct us into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I just want to tell the world, “Damn, that shit was dope.”

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Tributes to the greats are located throughout the museum:8 - Copy20170819_105558 - Copy20170819_105821

One of the most intriguing collections are the various stage costumes from Hall inductees:20170819_105610 - Copy20170819_105653 - Copy22 - Copy20170819_105839 (1)20170819_11001420170819_11131720170819_105413 - Copy

2017 Hall of Fame inductees include: Joan Baez, Pearl Jam, Nile Rodgers, Tupac Shakur, Journey, and Electric Light Orchestra, and each artist or band currently has a featured exhibit running.



Another cool exhibit features modern artists of every musical genre:00000rhrn-2017_6heroStage gear from Kesha, Bruno Mars, The Black Keys, & Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” outfitbuddy


Another current exhibit features artifacts from one particular long lost era including psychedelic concert posters, art, instruments, and the sound board Jimi Hendrix used that summer of 1967. 5 - Copy01

A favorite part of our visit was the Rolling Stone Magazine’s 50th Anniversary exhibit. There is a recreation of the counter culture periodical’s early San Francisco office space, and displays of the beautiful art and photographs that have graced the magazine’s pages, along with important issues of the day Rolling Stone has addressed over the decades, as well as explorations into Rolling Stone’s impact on both the creators and consumers of pop culture, but the crowning glory is the massive cover gallery located way up there on the museum’s top floor. The cover of The Rolling Stone is a who’s who of the important touchstone personalities of each generation that has come along since in its inception.23 - Copy

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As part of our visit to Cleveland, we caught one of the best rock concerts we’ve ever attended. 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Green Day provided two+ hours of a massively entertaining high-energy sing-along-with-the-hits and how-about-dem-deep cuts show, plus a medley of covers that included Shout, Satisfaction, and Hey Jude. They pulled three fans  up on stage at different times, including a 13-year old guitar player named Noah, who owned his moment in the spotlight like a boss and got himself a signed guitar to prove it. One local newspaper review said the venue should either cancel all upcoming shows or just face the fact that the show of the year has already happened.

Any fan of Rock and Roll should take any opportunity ever offered to see Green Day live.

Most of the photos below are courtesy of the fan pics attached to The Cleveland Plain Dealer article about the Green Day Concert at Ohio’s Blossom Music Center on 08/21/17.


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20170819_105747 - CopyHandwritten lyrics to Life’s Been Good by Joe Walsh at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame2 - Copy