Horseshoe Crabs

The Oldest Living Fossils You Know

Peter Jackson on the pedal steel. There’s sparks, smoke, and steam coming out of those strings.

When I was a kid, Pa told me to “learn to play something – it’s just a good thing to do. When things are bothering you, you can go bang out a tune; it’s better than hitting your head against the wall.” Pa knew what he was talking about: he could play anything – guitar, mando, fiddle, handsaw … you name it. My brother Stevie was my first musical hero: I’d sit on the bed alongside of him while he played his guitar, my job being to turn the page of the Johnny Cash songbook at the right moment.

The first thing I grabbed ahold of for myself was a guitar (from Sears & Roebuck, of course). Mr. Dylan was my main inspiration at that point, closely followed by Mr. Richards. When I heard Neil Young play that harp on “Heart Of Gold” I wanted to do that, too. Years later, I picked up Pa’s mandolin after he passed away in 1995; when I tried some chords, it was just like I could feel his arms around me, showing me what to do. The bouzouki came after seeing Steve Earle play one live, thinking, “Man … I wanna do that.”

Some of the great memories of my life have to do with music, from playing an acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing” with daughters Jessica and Cassie at Jess’ high school baccalaureate service to Stevie and I sharing the stage with John McEuen of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame at the Collins Center For The Performing Arts in Orono.

Paul Sherman, mad scientist and bass monster – a combination of Thomas Edison and Charles Mingus.

For the last few years I’ve been incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to play in The Horseshoe Crabs with Peter Jackson and Paul Sherman – two very talented players who also happen to be sweet, sweet souls. I first met Peter in 2004; he’d been a picker all of his life, but he was just starting to teach himself the pedal steel guitar. Peter would never tell you this, but I feel I should: the pedal steel – knee levers, foot pedals, 10 strings and all – would be a very complicated instrument for anyone to tackle. The fact that Peter didn’t start playing pedal steel until after he lost his vision to retinitis pigmentosa speaks volumes of his talent, patience, and soul. He is a great, great musician, period.

Peter introduced me to Paul Sherman, a multi-instrumentalist who showed up at Peter’s one afternoon toting a 1965 Hofner violin-style bass. I soon found out that Paul could play anything from porch stomp to space jam – and do it all with the most easy-going manner in the world. I remember the three of us launching into the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and then drifting off into a zone that morphed from jazzy sou’west breeze to roaring locomotive before turning into “I Know You Rider”. Twenty minutes or so later, we skidded to a halt, caught our breaths, and then began laughing like crazy men. Something special had just happened: The Horseshoe Crabs were born.

Yours truly Crabbing at the 2012 AlewiveFest in Damariscotta Mills, ME.

Since our first gig in 2008, our song list has grown to include covers of everything from Dylan to The Dead; Ronnie Lane to Levon Helm; Van The Man to Buddy Holly – all Crabbed-up with our own special spices. Originals? Yeah, we have some of those, too – beyond the never-to-be-repeated jams that just seem to happen on a regular basis.

As much fun as it is to play live, simply having weekly musical sessions together is a great gift.

I’m a lucky lad and I know it.

Check out the calendar page for the latest dates of the Horseshoe Crabs’ Never-Ending World Tour!

Band photos courtesy of official Crab videographer
Kernan Cross
AKA “The Lens”
AKA “Ansel Kodachrome”


Our sound is ever-evolving as we go along – part of the reason being that Paul keeps inventing stuff for us to try, such as the electrified porch plank that he pieced together after a spree at the local solid waste transfer station. (Whizzo-bango: my right foot was transformed into a rhythm section!)

Anyhow, here are some samples of the Crab sound at particular points in time, never to be played the same way again.

Government Cheese (Live)

The great Steve Earle once said something to the effect of, “If you wrote it yourself, nobody can say you’re playing it wrong.” Works for us. Here’s a Horseshoe Crab original, “Government Cheese” – live, ragged, and rougher than a corn cob … but we were having fun:

If your browser does not support the audio player, then click this link to listen: Government Cheese (Live)

Friend Of The Devil (Live at AlewifeFest 2012)

The Grateful Dead’s “Friend Of The Devil” is always a fun tune to play live. We usually take our time getting to it; sometimes it’ll be a gentle little drift; sometimes it might be a bit raucous. This time we had us a bit of a stomp alongside the fish ladder at the 2012 AlewifeFest in Damariscotta Mills, ME. Listen close and you might hear the gulls squawking:

If your browser does not support the audio player, then click this link to listen: Friend Of The Devil (Live at AlewifeFest 2012)

Emperor Of Wyoming (Live)

Believe me, nobody loves ol’ Neil Young any more than we do. And far be it for us to be second-guessing one of our heroes … but the question has to asked: why do you suppose Neil didn’t use a pedal steel on the original “Emperor Of Wyoming”? Neil’s version (the first cut on his very first solo album, Neil Young) made use of some lovely strings, but we really think Peter’s pedal steel gives it that “ridin’ off into the sunset” feel:

If your browser does not support the audio player, then click this link to listen: Emperor Of Wyoming (Live)