Wayne Merdinger is a singer/songwriter, focused on insightful lyrics and diverse musical compositions that will resonate with those who enjoy heartfelt, classic rock-style ballads with emotional messages. Inspired by legendary artists of the 1960's and 1970's, Wayne is a consummate storyteller and an inspired composer, with a musical sound and vocal delivery that complements his repertoire.
After writing songs for more than 25 years, it was Wayne’s children that urged him to start recording professionally. His first album, "The Music Lives On," released in 2016, included a number of songs that were written in the 1990's. His next album, "Behold the Invisible Man," featured all new material written in 2017. His newest album, aptly titled, "Messages," contains 14 brand new, original tunes and depicts an evolved maturity in songwriting, orchestration and vocal performance.
Behind the Music...
As an amateur musician and aspiring singer/songwriter for most of my adult life, self-taught on both the piano and guitar, words cannot begin to describe the immense personal satisfaction in seeing an original song come to life in the studio, and develop into something that people enjoy listening to. I didn't get to really experience that until my children talked me into recording a whole album in a professional studio in 2016, at the tender age of 59. Now, with the release of my third album in as many years, I've continued my efforts to hone my abilities as a songwriter, musician and vocalist, while bringing it all together with some really talented musicians in the studio.
My own musical roots sprouted in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York, when I was in grade school. I sang in the school chorus from the 4th thru the 8th grade and took drum lessons in the 4th grade. My parents didn’t have the money to buy me a set of drums though so, after playing the bass drum for two years in the school band, I lost interest. When I was around eight years-old, I was at a friend’s house and, while waiting for him to finish his dinner, I sat down at the grand piano in their living room. There was a music book lying open to a tune I recognized and, though I couldn’t read a stitch of music, I began playing the song. My friend’s mother came running in and said, “Wayne, I didn’t t know you played the piano.” I said, “Neither did I.” I guess that’s what “playing by ear” means. I wouldn’t play piano again until I was given a hand-me-down upright in 1980. From there, I set out to master as much Elton John and Billy Joel material as I could.
Meanwhile, in 1977, I was living alone, having moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for a job. To pass the time during off-hours, I bought myself an acoustic guitar and taught myself enough chords to get by, playing songs by The Beatles, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Jackson Browne, The Eagles and many more. What I really wanted to do was sing, so the guitar served as my accompaniment until I got that hand-me-down piano. I didn’t pick up a guitar again until I started work in the studio in 2016. All my initial songwriting was done on the piano. I wrote my first song in 1988. Today, I use both instruments to craft my songs.
The soundtrack of my life began in February 1964. I was seven years-old and The Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan show left an indelible mark that would never abate. The music of the 60's and 70's remains a strong influence for many of today's artists and represents the foundation for my work. Of course, trying to sound more contemporary while being true to my roots is always a challenge but I'm hopeful that my music appeals, not only to those of my generation, but to others who appreciate the history and quality of classic rock 'n roll. The legendary songwriters and artists of my era remain the primary inspiration for all my musical endeavors, and I suspect that is evident in much of my material.
Growing up in New York in the 1960's, my radio was always tuned to WABC (or as they called it back then, "W-A-Beatle-C"), the only rock music station on the AM dial at the time. I remember listening to DJ's like Bruce Morrow (Cousin Brucie), Chuck Leonard, Dan Ingram, Harry Harrison and others as they brought the British Invasion, Motown, Folk Rock, Soul and other new and distinctive sounds onto the scene. Whenever I was at home, my radio was on. It stayed on all night every night while I slept, and likely formed its permanent imprint on my soul during those formative years.
As an avid Beatles' aficionado, one of the highlights of my adult life was in 2014 when I had an opportunity, through the connections of a dear friend, to take a private tour of Abbey Road Studios in London. Colette Barber, who served as Studio Manager there for 36 years, graciously hosted my visit and provided a comprehensive, behind-the-scenes look at this iconic landmark that remains an active recording studio to this day. Standing with her in Studio 2, where most of the Beatle songs were recorded, was both surreal and enlightening. Not much has changed since history was made and much of the equipment and decor is still there. In my song, Abbey Road, which was inspired by that visit, I make reference to Mrs. Mills and the "fabled four-tracks." Mrs. Mills was a British pianist, active in the 60's and 70's for whom a vintage 1905 Steinway piano, used on several of the Beatles' tracks, including Sgt Pepper and Lady Madonna, was named. That piano still sits against the wall in Studio 2. The famous four-track tape recorders, used to record the early Beatles' tracks up until eight track recorders became available in 1968, still sit in the hall outside Studio 2 (see photos I took below). If you listen closely to my song (or cheat by checking the lyrics on this site), you should be able to pick out eight Lennon/McCartney titles within the lyrics.
Outside Abbey Road Studios
Hanging in Studio 2 with Colette Barber
The Mrs. Mills Piano
The "Fabled Four-Tracks"
Songwriting is not for the faint of heart, especially if you're a perfectionist. I'm not saying that my songs are perfect, but I definitely am one that strives for perfection in everything I do. My wife can attest to the many sleepless nights leading up to the recording sessions, where I am constantly re-composing. Thank goodness for the NOTES app on the iPad I keep next to my bed. I am so driven to perfection that I've been known to change lyrics at the very last minute in the sound booth, just prior to laying down a lead vocal track. Aside from the glamour, glory and gratification usually associated with songwriting, it really is a lot of work, but it's definitely a labor of love.
I get asked all the time about my process for writing songs. Having never written a hit song, I am certainly not an authority on the subject, but I have written a number of compositions that people seem to enjoy, so I'm happy to tell you what works for me. There is no specific formula for how I write. Most of my ideas hit me out of the blue during periods of solitude. I could be exercising, taking a walk, sitting on an airplane or washing up in the morning and a tune, riff or lyrical phrase will just pop into my head. I may write it down or hum it into the voice recorder on my phone, or I may not. If it disappears, it was never meant to be. If it sticks with me, it has potential. People always ask whether I start with the music or the words. Usually, I write the music and lyrics together but, on occasion, I start with the music and other times, I come up with a lyric first. Quite often, I let the mood of the music take me down the path to the subject matter. That seems to work well with some pieces. For me, coming up with the topic of the song is usually the most difficult part of the process. Once I have a topic, the words usually flow pretty easily. I find it challenging to sit down at the piano or with my guitar with the intent of writing a song from scratch. It has happened but I much prefer to have the concept in my head beforehand. Most pieces I start with never see the light of day and rarely does the finished lyric resemble the earlier versions. In fact, I sometimes start with words that don't make any sense at all, just to get the proper phrasing and song structure off the ground. Something I'm working more and more on is minimizing what I call "throw-away lines.' Many songs have lines that are included for no other reason than to finish a rhyme. I much prefer to make every phrase count and have real meaning but it's much easier said than done. I've written songs in as little as 30 minutes while others have literally taken months or even years to complete. Composing my own material has given me a new found respect for all the legendary songwriters that have inspired me over the years, and as I continue to hone my own skills, I definitely find myself listening to music with a more scrutinizing, though appreciative, ear.
I can't speak of the influence of the 60's without telling this incredible story. I enjoyed most of the artists from the British Invasion and one of my vivid memories from my childhood involved a very popular group at the time - Herman's Hermits. I didn't own any Herman's Hermits records myself, but I had a buddy named Joey who had the whole collection. He brought all the LP's over one day and we took my record player out into the backyard, got a long extension cord and spent the afternoon singing along to hit after hit (they had quite a few). When it came time for my friend to head home, he generously offered to leave the records with me until the next day. I figured we would listen again when he returned so I left them in the yard for the evening. Big mistake! The next afternoon, we discovered that all the albums had melted in the sun. They were warped beyond repair. I asked my mom if she could iron them but that didn't seem to be an option. Joey, wherever you are, know that the records may be gone but the music lives on. That, however, is not the end of the story...
Fast forward to around 1992. I was traveling with my wife from NY, taking our newborn son to meet his grandparents on the West Coast, and, while waiting in the American Airlines Admirals Club in Chicago for our connecting flight, I heard a familiar voice engaged in a phone conversation, coming from just around the corner. Without seeing who was speaking, I said to my wife, "That is Peter Noone, lead singer of Herman's Hermits." He does have a distinctive voice. When he got off the phone, I confirmed my suspicion and introduced myself. He was most gracious. More about Peter Noone in a bit...
Now comes my experience at musical fantasy camp. I was living in Southern California in the late 90's and had a good friend who was a traveling salesman and would visit us from time to time. During one such visit around 1998, I played some of my new material for him and he asked if I could give him a tape so he could listen to me in his car while circumnavigating the country. It was cassette tapes in those days and I had one tape of my songs that I had compiled using a Fostex 4-track recorder. The sound quality was pretty bad, the performance and production even worse, and I truly hated listening to myself so I gladly gave him the tape. Around six months later, I received a call, seemingly out of the blue, from a British record producer in Hollywood named Calvin Hayes. Apparently he had met my friend at a party and gotten hold of the tape. I thought it was a bogus call but when he explained who he was, it certainly piqued my interest.
Calvin, a professionally educated and gifted musician in his own right, had been a band member and the producer of a group called Johnny Hates Jazz which had the number one song of 1989 (Shattered Dreams - Calvin is on keyboards in the video). He was also the son of renowned music producer, Mickie Most, who produced, among many others, The Yardbirds, The Animals, Lulu, Donovan, and Herman's Hermits. Just the thought of speaking with this guy seemed like a dream come true. I met him at his Hollywood studio where he asked me to sit down at a Fender Rhodes electric piano and play for him everything I had ever written. There were gold records on the walls and I was playing my songs to a true professional. It was intimidating. He was painfully blunt in his assessments of each piece though I do recall him saying that one of the compositions was "ready to record." It was Head of the Harbor which I did finally record years later for my first album in 2016. Ultimately, we decided to take one of my songs and rewrite it together, which we did and then things got quite surreal.
The song (I'll Never Believe You Again), which eventually made it onto my first album some 17 years later, ended up sounding like something out of the British Invasion, which I suppose was what what Calvin was aiming for. After all, he told me how he used to sit in the corner at Abbey Road Studios while his dad was working. The Beatles were recording in the next room. Pretty wild! So, when it came time for Calvin to bring in some session musicians to play on our song, things got really interesting. I call these the "Never Believe Sessions," not only because of the name of the song, but because it's hard for me to believe that the whole experience really happened. First, Calvin recruited Phil Chen, the legendary bass player known for his work with Rod Stewart, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Marley, Jackson Browne and many others. Next, he brought in Chris Spedding to play lead guitar. Also a legend, Chis had played with Elton John, Harry Nilsson, Art Garfunkel and Paul McCartney, among many others. Now, these two pros were going to play on my song and, musically, I had no business being in the same room with them. As you can imagine, I was in heaven. After I finished working on the lead vocal, I decided I wanted a backing vocalist to give the song more of a band-like feel. Calvin immediately suggested that we bring in Peter Noone. I thought he was kidding. He wasn't. He called Peter on the spot and Peter said he would do it, but he wanted to meet me first. So, we took a ride up the coast and met him for lunch. A week or two later, Peter came to Hollywood and recorded the backing vocal track for my song. You might recognize his voice in the chorus and in the outro. I find it both ironic and serendipitous that I sang along to his records when I was a youngster only to have him sing on one of mine 35 years later.
To me, nothing illustrates the role of a record producer better than this scene from the movie, Begin Again which stars Keira Knightly as a struggling artist and Mark Ruffalo as a washed up producer. I use the term, "record producer" quite intentionally because, though vinyl records are making a comeback, they have been replaced over the years by 8-tracks, then cassettes and now, digital formats, but a "record producer" is still creating a record of what should be the very best possible performance of a piece of music. Anyway, you can start with a great song and the finest musicians, but without a good producer, you might not experience the real magic that can happen in the studio.
I feel blessed to have discovered Scott Leader who has produced all three of my albums. He had the patience to work with a novice, the musical talent to complement my material, the connections to some terrific session musicians, the technical prowess to produce, engineer and mix, and the flexibility to allow my developing creativity to come to life. He is also a principal in Brick Road Studio, the world class, state-of-the-art professional recording studio where I have had the pleasure to record almost all of my music.
I've been very fortunate to have surrounded myself with a band of musicians that are able to take my compositions to a level I never imagined. Drummer, Joe Costello, Guitarist, Adam Armijo and John Hayden on Bass have been with me for all three albums and, of course, Scott Leader rounds out the group on keyboards, backing vocals and a host of other instruments.
I should point out that while music is certainly my passion, it is not my vocation. Unlike many aspiring and talented artists who depend on music as their livelihood, I am blessed to have a successful career as a business executive in an industry I've devoted over 40 years to. Some business people play golf in their spare time. I write and play music. The only connection between my professional career and my musical pursuits is something called The United States Power Soccer Association (USPSA), an amazing organization dedicated to promoting the sport of Power Wheelchair Soccer to individuals that depend on wheelchairs for their mobility. Several years ago, I spearheaded the involvement of my company as a primary corporate sponsor of this organization. Power Soccer is an incredible sport that turns severely disabled people into competitive athletes and I was asked to write and record a song for them, which I included on my first album. That song, Standing Tall, wound up being played at the 2017 World Cup of Power Soccer as the final two teams came out on the floor for the championship match. Team France prevailed over Team USA after a hard-fought contest, but watching the teams warm up to my song that afternoon was an indescribable feeling.
I am frequently asked where I want my music to take me. If I had started playing and writing 40 or 50 years ago, I would, no doubt, have had a different outlook. In fact, I did form a band and write a song with a group of friends somewhere back around 1970. As I recall, my buddies, Kevin and Wayne, both played guitar, Eric, the only real musician in the band, was our drummer and I was relegated to playing the Magnus Chord Organ. It had a standard keyboard but also a series of buttons that played only chords. They were all I used. The song was called, I Gotta Tell You Now, and you won't find a link to it here. It was undeniably horrible! It was so bad that the group disbanded (no pun intended) after our first rehearsal, never to play music together again. Anyway, I digress. Now, being a bit more "mature," my perspective is clear. I have had a very successful professional career and now, as president of a global company, I know I have some good years left in me, so music will continue to take a back seat to that. Nevertheless, I do enjoy playing to those willing to listen so occasional gigs are not beyond the realm of possibility and, as far as more studio recordings, I'll never say never. Aside from that, I do intend to continue writing and upon my retirement, whenever that may be, if I can give back to the community by bringing my music to seniors, or others who don't easily get to see live performances, that would be most rewarding for me. Of course, playing at senior centers, assisted living facilities and nursing homes would provide opportunity to appear before audiences with varying degrees of hearing impairment and, as my own hearing and vocal range may deteriorate with age, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Some might argue that it would already be of benefit.
So, as you can see, I have been addicted to music for much of my life and I certainly couldn't be living my dream now without the unyielding support of my adoring wife of almost 30 years, and our four wonderful children. Their sacrifice is not insignificant. Holding a demanding executive job commands most of my time so when much of my free time is spent on my music, other activities surely suffer. To call my wife a saint would be a colossal understatement. Listeners to my music get to hear only the finished product. She gets to hear the hours upon hours of writing, re-writing, re-hashing, rehearsing, etc. until the songs are indelibly etched into her soul, whether she likes them or not. Couple that with the financial burden associated with my addiction, and you begin to see what I mean.
Living the Dream
Music has been my passion, my outlet and my escape for as long as I can remember. I started as a connoisseur and have evolved into a creator. I know that not everybody will like or appreciate all or any of the material I deliver, but if I can bring to even a select few what so many songs have brought to me, I will have fulfilled my dream. As a child, I surely fantasized about being a rock star, as many do, but I took a different course. At this point in my life, I can at least look back knowing that I was able to experience the feel of being an artist, the thrill of seeing a musical concept become reality, the exhilaration of playing for an audience, and the satisfaction of having my art recorded so it can live on in perpetuity. It is with profound pride, pleasure and appreciation that I share my dream and bring you my music. I hope you enjoy it, I hope you share it, I hope you buy it, and remember, I am living proof that it's never too late to live your dream!