The Willits News, Friday, March 5, 1999
Train Singer's Latest Release Brings Back Fond Memories
by Claudia Smith Hill
Its a mutual love affair between local folk singer Greg Schindel and the California Western Skunk Train and Gregs latest music CD is his Valentine to the famous little train that winds through the canyons and redwoods from Fort Bragg to Willits and back.
Aptly called "Train Singer", the music reflects the personality of the singer upbeat and folksy, at times sentimental and gentle, always enthusiastic about the task at hand, and as friendly as his infectious grin. No wonder the tourists on the train love him and sing along with his ballads as if they were in a cabaret.
He was recently profiled in the "American Harmonica Newsmagazine" which said, "Greg Schindel is like an unadvertised special on the California Western Railroads Skunk Train, At the end of the line you have to ask yourself what was more funbeing pulled by a steam engine or being drawn into a sing-a-long by the harmonica playing Train Singer®."
And of course, his talents arent limited to the train. Greg is always in demand at weddings, funerals and parties of all kinds, he is the heart of the congregation at St. Francis in the Redwoods Episcopal Church where his music every Sunday is as devout as his own faith, he teaches school kids to love to sing and play the guitar, and he loves getting a "gig" on the Mendocino coast or down in the big city of San Francisco.
On his newest CD, Greg plays songs that represent the history of the railroads in America. The haunting stories of engineers and conductors in the early days of rail are told like folk stories in "Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy", "Five Hundred Miles", "Wreck of Ol 97" and "Railroad Bill".
In "Chattanooga Choo Choo" Greg not only plays the guitar and harmonica, he also sings and whistles, as well. His harmonica makes train sounds in many of his songs and his voice ranges from baritone to treble and all the other notes in between. He makes you smile just to hear his renditions of the old time, traditional train songs like "Casey Jones," "Orange Blossom Special" where his harmonica really takes off, "Wabash Cannon Ball," and "Freight Train".
Some of the most poignant songs are the ones in which he sings a duet with his daughter Heidi whose clear bell-like soprano contrasts with her fathers voice to send shivers down the spine of the listener. Hes a family man and admits that some of his most pleasurable appearances have been at festivals done with his two kids, Heidi and Malakai. Malakai plays didgeridoo and silver flute and sings, and Heidi plays percussion and sings. They perform their own music, which they call Northern California Transcendental Folk Jazz, a far cry from Train Singer music, but evidence of Gregs range and flexibility.
Gregs wife Donna is his greatest support. She does all the layout of the CD production, takes all the photographs, checks to make sure there are no mistakes in the copy and generally keeps everything running smoothly. The whole Greg Schindel phenomenon is a family affair.
On his "Train Singer" CD Greg brings in a group of his friends to back him up as a chorus in the old timer, "Ive Been Working On The Railroad" including Doreen and Nicole Gillespie, Marlene Brown, Susan and Rowan and Eli Byers, Kirin Riddell, Sarah Senff, Harriet and Bob Tjepkes, Evelyn and Bob Hurt, Jennifer Guyette, Jane and Megan Barron, Bill and Betsy Bruneau, Esther Siegel, and Donna and Malakai Schindel.
Greg has been playing on the Skunk Train for the past ten years and has earned his own distinctive uniform, the highlight of which is his special conductors hat. When he started on the train in 1988 he wore coveralls and a striped engineers cap, the standard look of the engineers and firemen and all the others who really work the engines and maintain the machinery.
Now he is totally in black with a crisp white shirt and one of the old-time bow ties. His 1890s style vest is equipped with a silver pocket watch on a chain and he comes on board with six harmonicas, a Martin guitar and a big grin under his real handlebar mustache.
His new CD is a broad collection of popular and traditional train tunes which also contains four original Schindel compositions that reflect the sights, sounds and history unique to Cal Westerns excursion ride through the beautiful scenery of the North Coast.
One of my Schindel original favorites is "Engineer Brooks", a ballad based on a true-life experience of Jerry Brooks, an engineer on CWR for over 30 years. It was inspired by a poem written by Brooks and Gregs song not only recalls Brooks calamity "comin off the summit of the Mendocino main line", but also reveals his humorous nature.
The last song on the CD is especially poignant. "Hobos Lullaby" is sentimental, haunting, and accented by wonderful train sounds produced by John Azarro.
Through it all is the lyrical strumming and up-beat finger picking of Gregs guitar, the difficult harmonica sounds, and the nice modulations, especially in the great old song, "Ive Been Everywhere". It is music that recalls memories of other days and a different time and place, but resonates with the soul of anyone who has ever loved a train.
"Train Singer", which was produced by Spencer Brewer and recorded in his Redwood Valley Laughing Coyote Studio, can be obtained in Willits at Leaves of Grass Bookstore and Goods Stamps, or by calling the Schindels at (707) 459-3739 or e-mailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 1999, The Willits News
P.O. Box 628
77W. Commercial St.
Willits, CA 95490