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Don White Gives the Life Advice You Need in 2024

I sat down and reunited with my longtime friend, Don White, a prolific songwriter, storyteller, humorist, teacher and author.

There is no one-word description for what Don White does. He’s an award-winning singer/songwriter, a comedian, an author, and a storyteller. He’s been bringing audiences to laughter and tears for thirty years, released nine CDs, three live DVDs, and a book, Memoirs of a C Student. His latest album is Live from the Guthrie Center. In 2011, he won the Jerri Christen Memorial Award, given out by Boston Area Coffeehouse Association, for his work with the community and that same year was given a key to the city in his hometown of Lynn.

White has opened for Arlo Guthrie, Ritchie Havens. Louden Wainwright III, and Taj Mahal, shared a bill with David Bromberg, Janis Ian, and Lyle Lovett. White has been featured in storytelling festivals around the country including the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee.  Since 2015, he has joined master storytellers Bil Lepp and Bill Harley in Father’s Daze, a hilarious three-man storytelling show about the triumphs and tribulations of fatherhood. He toured North America for nine years with folk songwriting legend Christine Lavin, with whom he still plays the occasional show.

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Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors

Jimmy Tingle 0:00
Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of the Jimmy tinkle show today. The greatest thing about doing this show is I get to reunite with friends, old friends, new friends, and I have the most fun conversations when I’m talking to people that I’ve known for a long time. This next gentleman I’ve known for a long time, Mr. Don white, legendary folk singer, a storyteller, entrepreneur, hustler. Open Mic, MC. Always, always breaking down a path for other performers over the pandemic. We did a ton of shows on Zoom. He turned me on to Brandon, our crack tech person today, Brandon O’Sullivan. And so Don, I love you. Welcome to the show.

Speaker 1 0:48
I love you too. Jimmy. Thanks for Thanks for having me. I appreciate you so much. Of course, Don

Jimmy Tingle 0:53
is, let’s get this out of the ways. I asked you four times what the date was. Saturday night, March 9, the bull run and surely Massachusetts, folks, Dawn is doing his annual birthday show. His birthday is on March 6. On Saturday, March 9, he’ll be celebrating his 35th straight year at the beautiful Bull Run. And surely, Massachusetts, you can get tickets at Don And you can get tickets there. So Don, how are you?

don white 1:24
I’m doing really well. Jimmy? How about you family? Good, everybody. All right.

Jimmy Tingle 1:28
Everybody’s good. Everybody’s good. Brandon, I’ve been doing this show for about a year and a half now. And it’s going really well. And it’s always great when we have people like yourself on to talk about what you’re up to your music, your new CD should DVDs your books. I can’t believe how prolific you are. Don, how many books do you have? Now

Speaker 1 1:48
I have two books. And then 1010 CDs, I think but I’m not making CDs no more you have to be nobody under the age of 100 biases these anymore. So just keep writing books, like digital has been tons of books what it did to music, people still buy a book. So

Jimmy Tingle 2:06
how long does it take you to write a book longer

Speaker 1 2:09
than I then I want to spend on it? It’s hard. I’m really hard actually. Yeah, this this last one. I want to rent a house a friend of mine has a house in New in the White Mountains. We go up there three or four days a week and just write with nobody bothering me because unlike jokes or, or songs, if you get interrupted in the middle of a chapter, it’s hard to get back. Like even somebody just saying what do you want for lunch? And you’re like, Okay, where was I? Like, you know, trying to try to connect something that I’m seeing now with something that happened 25 pages ago. So yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to do it and not hate it, you know, and do it and feel like it’s good. But if there’s money in it, you people will still buy them, you know? So,

Jimmy Tingle 3:01
right. We just had Colin Quinn on last week, comedian Colin Quinn, he has, he said something very similar about the the effort that required this required to, to actually sit down and write a book and the commitment. He’s done a couple. And then before that we had Gary Gulman on a few weeks ago. And he just got through with his book his books. He I think he said three years, three or four years it took him to do it. And Colin the same thing, a lot, a lot of big commitment. And I guess there is money in it. Now. What do you self publish the books?

Speaker 1 3:33
Yes, well, so I was in a publishing deal with my music. And I learned a lot about how it’s, you know, it can be not that great because the publisher really takes the money. And so I was wasn’t interested in with my either of my books. And so I have a fan base like you do, and I have a mailing list, and I’m connected to them. And so I wanted to make sure that all the money from them came to me, you know, after that, like now now that all my fans have bought in and I’m, you know, in my second printing and all that I would consider letting the publisher habit, but I didn’t want to give them my fans money. I feel like they should go find me an audience. They shouldn’t just take the audience the money from the audience that I found. And that’s what I learned in the music business.

Jimmy Tingle 4:27
Right. Right. You’ve always been in the folk world, you’ve always been a you have to be very entrepreneurial to be successful. Would you agree?

Speaker 1 4:36
Yes. Actually, maybe when I write again, I might write about that, like the way that I was able to carve out a career not doing anything that you’re supposed to do or you know what I mean? Like just doing it thinking out of the box. I was blessed by Marian McDermott the same way you were actually and she’s my wife sat me down early and said you I’ll tell tolerate this, you know, you being gone, and me shoveling and raising these kids and you know, doing your day job and then running out and doing music. But as soon as you see $1 get it and bring it here and put it on this kitchen table. I felt like that was been my part of the deal. And, and so I always was thinking about how can this next thing that I’m doing? Bring some money home? At least grocery money, you know? Something, right? Sure.

Jimmy Tingle 5:28
So when you say you were thinking out of the box, Don, give me an example of that. How does? How does a folk singer think, Oh, how did you think out of the box and able to carve out a career in an unconventional way?

Speaker 1 5:41
Well, the first thing is that I just made a list of all the things I had no control over and eliminated them. And that was what a record company thinks what a radio station thinks what people who don’t know me, I just I just stopped putting energy into trying to put myself into places where nobody knew me. And I just thought, What do I have control of. And the only thing I could think of was I have control over what happens between me and who’s ever in the audience. So I just concentrated on making fans, and making fans and keeping in touch with them getting their mailing your emails and all that. And then I just thought this is where I have control. I didn’t ignore the other things. But I put my primary focus on building a fan base. And once I had that, then other things were available to me venues were more interested in me because I had a fan base. I could bring people Oh, no, record companies were interested in me because I could show that I sold so many CDs, you know, I just felt like, I didn’t have unlimited energy. I had two kids and working two jobs at the time I so I had to make the most out of what I did. And dedicating the energy to toward building fans turned out in the long term to be the thing that helped me have a sustaining career. Right?

Jimmy Tingle 7:03
It’s a very smart business move. Because I mean, that’s what companies do. They’re trying to get a customer that stays with them not just for one purchase, but for the next 10 years. Next 20 years for life.

Speaker 1 7:14
That’s right. Yeah. You know, the no fans no career No, in music. Yeah. No, in comedy, you can have like a sort of club career, you know, because they just put the word comedy on the door. And, and people will come and take a gamble on it. But it’s true. But, but in music, that’s not going to you put folk music on the door. Some guy walking down the street and you’re not going to be you’re not going to be turning them away.

Jimmy Tingle 7:42
Right. I love the joke that you said it’s an old joke. But how do you make a million dollars and folk music?

Speaker 1 7:50
German answer? Yeah. You start out with 2 million. Yeah, that’s the guy. That joke I think is attributable to Utah Phillips actually the late great, Utah. Oh,

Jimmy Tingle 8:01
really? Yeah, I’ve heard it in theater too. But I think it’s the same kind of thing. You know, people make all these investments in. And there’s my new play going anywhere, and no one sees your new play, they should marry

Speaker 1 8:18
a woman from who grew up in the project who’s not going to tolerate you not being gone and not bringing back money. Right. That’s the answer that for that problem. I have to deal with that. You know, there’s somebody with their hand on her hip, tapping her foot when you come in the door with no money. You know.

Jimmy Tingle 8:37
That’s the truth on. So in terms of, and I love what you did. Well, let’s just talk about a little bit about so you, you concentrated on creating fans, getting email lists, mailing addresses, did you book yourself as well? Did you ever rent out theaters? Club? Yeah, right. I

Speaker 1 8:56
really knew that I couldn’t wait around for the clubs to, to discover me it was too I’d never work at the beginning. You know, and I also knew this was I think is good advice for young young people, is that you can push a venue into booking, you know, if you bother passim enough, they’ll hire you. But then when only 20 people come, you can never get back in the room. They just print out a piece of paper and hand it to you later and say this is what you did last time. You know, this is a business we can’t. So I thought, Wait till I can fill the rooms to do it. So yeah, I would I bought a sound system. I told my fans that I would play wherever they were, you know, you know, they wouldn’t think of it if they see me at a big venue. Like I used to play the Somerville theatre every year and that’s 1000 seats and somebody in that audience wouldn’t think that I’d play in their barn or their living room or their backyard, especially back then before house concerts. But but but but that’s how I filled it in. I filled in then raising money to something that you do. You know, if you can collaborate with some group that’s trying to raise money, then some percentage of the people come to support the cause. And some people come because they know you. So it’s a good for everybody. And you get a fresh audience to bring in, you get people in the crowd that don’t know you, that you can make fans of, if you if you don’t

Jimmy Tingle 10:20
know, if you deliver it, is deliver and they have a good time, and it’s for a good cause. It’s a great way to do it. You know, you talked about the comedy scene. And sometimes they’ll come to the comedy venue, that’s true. But more and more because of the social media. And because of all the digital tools that we have, you can really create an enormous career. If you’re, you know, pretty good and hustle at it and get the right people and you have the right clips and things like that you can it’s much more of the artist. We have much more control than we ever did before. Both comments in and musicians.

Speaker 1 10:58
You know, I agree with that. And people say that it’s a harder now. And maybe it is in some ways, but it’s better in a lot of ways too. But it all comes down to how hard are you going to work? And How smart are you going to work? You know, one of the other things I thought about was, I can’t be good at everything. I can’t be the best guitar player and the best singer and the best storyteller and all that. So I just thought where is the most where’s the least competition. And I thought, you know, guitar player is Berklee School of Music is churning them out by the hundreds. You know, so there’s a lot of competition there. But I thought maybe if I was funny, you know, if I find my comedy chops were up. And, and that if I wrote songs that didn’t sound like everybody else make let me put my energy there. So that when people finally come to me, that it’ll be something that they can’t find somewhere else. Like, if they like what I’m doing, it will be different. You won’t, you know, yeah. So it was a slow burn, you know, it takes takes a decade for that to, to amount to anything, but once it does, they stay with you.

Jimmy Tingle 12:09
Yeah, folks, if you haven’t seen done shows, I highly recommend that it’s, they’re funny, they’re very moving. His songs are really funny. They can be they can be really moving, which they are. They’re up importante. You know, he’s, he usually has a point to what he’s doing. He’s got a huge heart. That’s why he’s always so has been so successful with working with nonprofits and fundraisers and things like that food pantries and all of that. And it’s all at dawn, you can get in touch with them. He’s got, like he said, many, many CDs, are they all digital digitally available, as well done?

Speaker 1 12:49
You know, it’s a bit less and less now. There’s three that are still available out there. Probably far half of them, when you can still find out there and a few you can buy in a hardcopy, but to me, I want to talk about something that you just brought up if that’s okay. Sure. Yeah, I, I love the idea. And this is something that when I first met you, I catch a rising star, and that probably was 91 or something like that. We talked about the idea of not having to be funny every minute, and finding an audience that will let you go someplace other than joke. Yeah, Joe, you know, like that. And so my feeling is that the compartmentalizing of like poets over here, and folk singers over here and comedians over here, that that was a business decision. Like I think in Greenwich Village in the 60s, as I understand it, you could go see a show, and it would have a poet and a folk singer and a convenience. Theoretically, you could have seen Lenny Bruce and Ferlinghetti. And you know, Bob Dylan on one leg, and the audience was okay with that. But then somebody from businessman said, a club owner said, you know, if we get rid of this poet, and these, you know, we can have a comedy club and make more money. But I don’t think that, that people as long as the quality of what you’re doing is good, then they like to go back and forth between being funny and and being emotional. Nobody ever told Charlie Chaplin that he couldn’t be serious and funny in the movie. You know, have you ever seen that movie? The kid with Jackie Cooper as a little kid in that thing is Will is funny. So, so funny. Will you make you fall off the chair and then it will rip your heart out? You know? And so if I stick to that I stick to the idea that a complete evening for someone who comes to see me is mostly funny, mostly, you know, we want to have a nice time out. But strategically, there should be things to think about, you know, there should be things that move you make you think about your mom something right. Yeah, you know, not just that just the quality can’t fall off. You can’t have great comedy and weak serious things. You know that that’s kind of the trick there. Right?

Jimmy Tingle 14:58
And I would say There’s a lot more latitude for that mixing it up serious and funny in music than there is in, quote, comedy, because comedy is comedy. And if it’s not, if the sentence is not ending in a laugh if you’re not eliciting laughter, then it’s not really comedy. But what we, you were so helpful with me is that I was, I really was attracted to the one person show format, as well, I was talking to Colin about this last week, I just liked the whole, up and down the rollercoaster of emotions, the commentary combining with the humor, combining it with making points or trying to, and, and combining it with, you know, the serious, the seriousness of life, but also the humor, and the spirituality of life and, and the activism, of getting involved and trying to do something and not just talking about things, but trying to actually, you know, affect change where you can and simple way of how you can so and you agree with that, because when I first met Don was at catch a rising star, and he was doing the open mic nights, or they had a different they had a an eclectic night, didn’t they? They had Robin Hood and was trying to make it music and comedy. And he was trying to do the Greenwich Village thing there, right?

Speaker 1 16:25
Yeah. And I was in the comedy, like I learned comedy chops, I would be on the bill with people, you know, so I had to be funny. Yeah. And I learned, but just what you said that these people aren’t going to tolerate me not being funny, it says comedy above the door here. Right? I took, you know, I learned a lot. But I like now what you said that where I where I can be free to go as many places as possible. The other thing I would add to what you said the list of things, you know, that you can do in a show that I think the the one that that’s the most powerful, which, which is it’s not obvious, but But it it stays with people the most in these times, especially. And I see you do this a lot. And I do it. And that is hope. You know, if the underlying message is hope, you know, we you know, other people have had harder times than this and and things things turned around for them. They don’t they don’t understand it. Like they don’t they don’t come away thinking that it just kind of slips in. If you’re if you’re hopeful artists, you’re a hopeful person. You know, if you’re, you know, if you’re looking toward the positive, then then that people are drawn to that, whether they know it or not.

Jimmy Tingle 17:47
Yeah, I agree and people need it. Because, I mean, if you’re doing political satire, which is one of my stronger suits, but I just over the last couple of years, the country is so divided, I don’t want to make it worse. You know, I just did a show at the Wimberley theater in Boston over the holidays. And the name of it was humor and hope for the holidays. And my personal, unspoken mantra. operating principle was number one first, like a doctor first, do no harm. Don’t make to do no harm. And number two, don’t make it worse. Everybody’s bummed out every put between the election and the was and not this and that and the COVID and the climate. Everybody is on edge, make it worse. Just just make him laugh, and bring some hope and some and some joy. And that’s what really what I tried to do and that’s what I’ve been trying to do in my shows. I

Speaker 1 18:48
love that about you. Something that you know, it’s why we’re still friends is that you’re always doing things for the right reason and cause no cause no harm. That’s the That’s a great, great thing to bring over from the medical industry into the exactly

Jimmy Tingle 19:03
the Hippocratic Oath the comedian do no harm. And don’t be a hypocrite. And the other thing that I loved and you were so gracious with your generosity of advice about venues to go to that were not quote comedy clubs and small venues. In the folk scene, I was really able to play like a jazz club and you can play a folk club or you can play a rock club, or you can play a comedy club, you know, or a theater where you can play different different types of venues. And so when I when I met you and we used to go to brother blues, open mic nights, the great poet, street performer, brother blue, and Tim Mason and the old Vienna coffee house and all those folk clubs that I was going to I was able to I was able to get into and play because they wanted things that were both funny but also had a serious element to it. So it opened up a whole new, a whole nother dimension to me. So, just on

Speaker 1 20:07
a business level, I remember thinking about the being happy that I was funny. Even I was funny. And I was just thinking in a business sense, like, how do I make the most fans? You know, and people will say, I don’t think that’s funny. I’m sure you’ve heard it in your life. I’ve heard it. But they won’t, nobody will say I don’t like to laugh. Right? So if if what you’re doing especially early in the show, when you’re trying to make friends with people, when you’re trying to make them relax, you know, if if that material doesn’t anger them or make them tight, or you know, what if that material is, is friendly, I guess, you know, and then then the audience for it is every living person. Right? So nobody will say I don’t like to laugh. They will say I don’t like jazz, but I like folk music. They will say I don’t like that kind of humor. But everybody if you can figure out how to be funny in a way that doesn’t tighten them up. The audience is unlimited. It’s every living person. And I thought about that a great deal when I was thinking about how, how to present my show, you know, if, if your grandmother and the grandson are all laughing at it, that’s that’s a that’s a you know, that’s a lot of audience there.

Jimmy Tingle 21:26
Yes, definitely. And you’ll have people that come to your shows that I’ve been with you 2030 years and they’ll bring their kids right.

Speaker 1 21:34
I know. Parents are the wheel of this beautiful 25 year old woman come up to me turn away my father used to sing me to sleep what your songs when I was five years old.

Unknown Speaker 21:52
Thursday’s Joe day

Jimmy Tingle 22:00
I had a woman I used to go into the comedy Studio, you know, and they’re a younger crowd. It’s like dogs. 20s. And one woman came up to me she goes Jimmy tingle. I have to tell you, my grandmother loves you. She was dead serious. wasn’t trying to be sarcastic. My grandmother just loves you.

Unknown Speaker 22:22
She should have told me you could be her grandfather. She loved me. What’s her name? Nevermind. Don’t tell me.

Jimmy Tingle 22:33
Yeah, it is pretty funny. But it’s, it’s also great to be able to do it what we’re doing for 20 3040 years, you know, if I wanted to ask you, what is the name of the first book and what is the name of the second book.

Speaker 1 22:49
So the first book is called Memoirs of a C student. Okay. And that’s been around a long time. The second book is called The hitchhiking years. And, and four other stories. And that it’s a it’s a book about half of this book is about the fact that my wife and I left home in Lynn, Massachusetts, when we graduated high school and hitchhiked for three years. And it shaped us and changed us and, and it was really fun to write about. And it’s like a time that was like, We hitchhiked to Alaska, we estimate around 60,000 miles, we hit tight. And we and we our brains were formed. We were young, on the kindness of strangers. We couldn’t move an inch without a stranger being kind to us. And so now when people tell me that there is no kindness in the world, I can’t I don’t buy it. I always think like my dad, my dad would say, what’s the math on this? So let’s say somebody does something. Murderous out in the western part of the state kills your family some horrible thing like that? My dad would say they send the camera crew from from Boston to film, the horrible thing that happened in the western part of the state, how many houses did they pass that nobody did anything bad? No. 1,000,005 million. But so far, no two one is what the math is on. That doesn’t mean the bad thing didn’t happen. It just means that if you’re just looking at it on TV or on your scroll, it will make you think that that’s all that’s happening. And the math is the opposite of that. Right. And there’s a ton of kindness out there in the world and strangers, you can’t be naive. But so it’s an interesting it was interesting to write and a lot of people are responding to it. Young people and all kinds of old hippies who hitchhiked and all that stuff.

Jimmy Tingle 24:44
That’s great. Don, what year was that that you went? What years were you hit? It was between

Speaker 1 24:49
1975 and 1979. So we go for a year at a time and come home and save money and go again. Yeah,

Jimmy Tingle 24:57
so a three year deal. Did you actually make it to Alaska?

Speaker 1 25:01
Yeah, we hit like the Alcan highway when it was all dirt, the whole shit 1400 miles of dirt road.

Jimmy Tingle 25:07
I was done. I was I hitchhiked I tried. I wanted to hitchhike to Alaska. I was telling my friends I want to find Bigfoot. And I was convinced that I would get big for maybe work on the pipeline up there. The last compiler 75 Yeah. So this was 77. And I saw I said, I’m hit check into Alaska. And I left from some of all right, I was across the street from the My brother bought and I was also trying to quit drinkin and quit using products. I can’t get out of Cambridge. There’s too much alcohol. There’s too much pot. I gotta get out of here. So I said, I’m going to hitchhike to Alaska. So my brother Bobby drops me off across the street from the Mr. Gam housing projects with the on ramp to 93 North. Right. I got a big backpack. I got a fishing rod. I got one of those hats with the mosquito net over the head. And he gives me an on support for the road. I couldn’t turn it down. I couldn’t get I got the stone on before I started smoking.

Unknown Speaker 26:19
Fire did you go stone?

Jimmy Tingle 26:25
No, we eventually. I mean, I went up. I got all the way to Prince Rupert. Prince. Oh, really? Yeah. Now I don’t. Prince Rupert, I think is Vancouver. I don’t think it’s Alaska that’s in, in British Columbia, British Columbia. The ferries were on strike. That’s why I didn’t get up to Alaska, I had a choice. I could go to take the ferry up to Alaska, or go that 1600 mile dirt highway, right. And I said, I don’t know how many people are going to be out on a dirt road to pick me up. But I elected to go to the ferries. And when I got up there, they were on strike. So I could never technically get in into Alaska. But but it was an interesting time. And it was a safer time. And I think what screwed it up is like your father’s philosophy, you know, like, okay, all of a sudden, people started hitchhiking and started disappearing. Right. And when that happened, you know, not I mean, talking in the late 70s, you know, and then started, people were afraid and people wouldn’t pick people up. And that’s what, that’s what wrecked it.

Speaker 1 27:29
I don’t know about that. I mean, I’ve, you know, I’ve had to do a ton of research on this. I get emails from kids now who do it. In Alaska and Hawaii, places like that. Yeah, funny. It’s interesting. They take a photograph of the license plate, and they send it to their mother. So every car that they’re in, somebody knows where they are, technology will have none of that. I think you shouldn’t do it if you don’t have to. And I wouldn’t recommend anyone did it. But I, I think you could do it and be okay. You can’t be naive. That’s all you can, like, you know, I send you a copy of the book you can like we had like these, like little rules about who got in first and who not to get in with and just stuff that you weren’t grown up in Lynn about, you know, being careful about who you are. That’s mostly just kindness. That’s the thing. But

Jimmy Tingle 28:20
it was at the time, it was very socially acceptable.

Unknown Speaker 28:25
Yeah, they’re off on a ramp and it’d be 20 other people there.

Jimmy Tingle 28:27
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah, but anyway, that that was, those are some good times those so I gotta get the book. I gotta get the book. We can people get the book. Don white on it, Don Excellent. So Don, let’s see anything else you want to say?

Speaker 1 28:46
No. March 9 at the Bull Run already? 100 tickets sold. So gonna be a really good fun night. My son’s gonna be there much of my friends sitting in with me. It’s like a party.

Jimmy Tingle 28:56
All right, march 9, the bull run and surely Don White’s annual birthday bash. You check them out, folks. It’s gonna be a blast. There’ll be family and friends. If you’ve never seen dawn, I highly recommend them. You will laugh you will. You will feel better. You really will. And you’ll feel better about humanity. And you’ll feel better about being in surely Massachusetts. At the bull run. I’m telling you, it’s a great place. They got great food, you can get there early, have dinner. It’s a super place. The people are wonderful, very friendly. It’s great place. And surely maths is awesome as well. Let me just put a plug in for surely as well. And it’s not that far from Boston. What’s it about 30 miles?

Unknown Speaker 29:38
I think maybe? I don’t know. Yeah. Yeah, it’s

Jimmy Tingle 29:41
a great place. Don You can get his book. You can get tickets to all his shows, his CDs, his DVDs, you get on his mailing list and stay in touch with them. He’s one of the best. And he’s one of a kind and I’m proud to call him my friend. He really helped me a lot in a lot of ways and I so appreciate it. All right back at June

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