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Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008 09:48 am

Three songwriters romp through Springfield

John Walter, Bill Mallonee and Otis Gibbs bring their talents to town

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Otis Gibbs perfroms Friday, Oct. 10, on Bedrock 66 Live.

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Here is a striking example of the incredible and profound talent floating around the universe that occasionally ends up on our doorstep, as three good songwriters stop by Springfield in one weekend.

First let's discuss our local product, a legend-in-the-making, and all-around swell fellow, John Walter. Known as Walty to his national fan base outside of Springfield, Walter grew up in Colony West, a subdivision near White Oaks Mall and played with several local bands in the eighties. His weekend visit revolves around performances with founding members of two of these groups: yours truly for Condition 90 and Mike Burnett for the Suns of Circumstance. Locals may also remember Johnny as vocalist and bassist in Ya-Ya Littleman, a trio of Springfieldians who reconnected in San Francisco in the '90s and made a good national showing for a time. Walter now resides in San Francisco performing regularly with his group, Walty, and as a solo artist. He's released a couple of very fine CDs available online at www.waltymusic.com. Catch him at 9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 10, at the Alamo with Mike Burnett and at 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 12, at the Brewhaus with Tom Irwin and Joe Dawkins.

Next on our songwriters' romp is Bill Mallonee, a veteran of the Athens, Ga., scene that produced one superstar group in REM and many other talented and active music artists. Mallonee, prolific and good, gets credit from many critics and fans as one of the real deal songwriters we have in our generation. Compared to the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and John Prine, Mallonee recently garnered a mention in a Paste magazine poll listing of the top 100 greatest living songwriters. He's pursued a solo career since the demise of the Vigilantes of Love, his popular indie band of the eighties, and includes eight of his twenty-some CD releases as solo endeavors. Reviews of his music come from Rolling Stone, Billboard, USA Today, and other major publications. He's toured across the US and Europe many times. The impressive list of those he's performed with includes REM, Bruce Cockburn, John Mayer, Dwight Yoakum and many others.

The local connection is Mallonee's friend and fan David Harmon, who first connected with the songwriter nearly 15 years ago. He stayed in touch with Mallonee through the Internet and recently noticed concert dates near St. Louis and Kansas City with an open spot in between. After first considering a house concert, Harmon arranged a date at the Caddyshack (in the south Sixth Street County Market complex) at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 12, with Mallonee performing an intimate acoustic show on guitar and voice, accompanied by his wife, Muriah Rose, on keyboard and vocals.

One more to go in our songwriter run, and Otis Gibbs is our man. Gibbs is rough and gruff, hard-hitting and sincere, singing about things most folks would rather pretend don't exist. It's not grotesque or sickening, but Gibbs concentrates on stories of struggling humanity not popular in our current society of glistening and glorious tales of success. A quote written by himself, about himself, explains his place in life as a man "trying to live decently in an indecent world." Upcoming dates with the modern working man's singing champion, Billy Bragg, gives you a good idea of Gibbs' commitment to the workers and downtrodden of the world. Promotions of his recent record, Grandpa Walked a Picket Line, present Gibbs as a genuine iconoclast, a planter of 7,000 trees, and a proud owner of an FBI file as well as the creator of his earthy and gritty songs. Gibbs performs in town as part of the continuing WUIS-sponsored, Bedrock 66 Live! concert series on Friday, Oct. 10, along with the Boulder Acoustic Society, at 8 p.m. in the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

Well that does it for the stories of the three songwriters. Now for the tough part — scheduling your time to see them.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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