Playing it By Ear

Bill McNeal has been chronicling the human experience in song and prose for decades. Playing It By Ear is his latest installment of insights into life and living. His lyrics capture the human experience and his original, sometimes soulful, melodies provide a fitting context for the songs.

It has been ten years since my last CD of original songs, One Track Mind, was released, so I decided that I would let another one out of the pen, not for purely commercial purposes, but to share my songs with those who might be inclined to lend an ear. So Playing It By Ear is for my friends, old and new. Enjoy.

—Bill McNeal


  1. Playing It By Ear 3:48
  2. Go Ask Eve 4:51
  3. When She Makes Up Her Mind 4:10
  4. I See the Ghosts of Animals 3:05
  5. Good Lookin' Hat 2:39
  6. Something to Believe In 4:26
  7. I'll Be Coming Home 3:36
  8. Carlene 4:08
  9. Hill Hippie Heaven 2:43
  10. When Toby Sang the Dutchman 5:58
  11. She's So Weird 3:18
  12. The Sadness in Her Eyes 3:53
  13. In the Garden of Love 4:28
  14. New Orleans Redoux 4:22
  15. When All My Dreams Come True 4:02
  16. My Daddy Was the Jack of Diamonds 3:36
  17. Sleeping by the Sea 4:54
  18. The Road We're On 4:04


You were wearing a blue bandana round your head
And a skirt with yellow flowers in a sea of red
The day you came through Texas
On your way to who knows where
Looking for a place to make your bed


Carlene, you’re going on the road again
It was not so long ago, you were rollin' in
Where do you go, in the springtime of the year
When the flowers in the meadow embrace the wind

I'm so glad you came a callin' and blessed us with your smile
I only wish that you could find the way to stay awhile
Listening to your laughter and songs you had to share
Made us feel a little younger
Made us happy for awhile

(Repeat Chorus)

Oh we may have our pleasure, but we always need a friend
I always thought that you could see the doubt and fear within
I wish you happy traveling as you roll right on along
Hope your days are full of smiling
And your nights are full of song

(Repeat Chorus)

Playing It By Ear

Whatever it is that you're going through
You’ll come out the other side
No use feeling so alone and blue
No need to run and try to hide

You know they say what is done is done
And you can never take it back
You should be playin' it by ear by now
Whatever comes to pass will pass

I know sometimes you want to lay you down
When it's time to rise and shine
But there's no time for you to fool around
You’ve got to hold on to the line


It's good to have some things to hold on to
As you move on down the line
So if you find someone who really cares
You’ll have some peace of mind

The leaves that grew upon the tree of life
Are mostly scattered on the ground
So keep on movin' down that road ahead
To that place where we are bound

I know they say that what is done is done
And you can never take it back
You should be playing it by ear by now
Whatever comes to pass will pass

You should be playing it by ear by now
Whatever comes to pass will pass

Go Ask Eve

When you're bleeding
It’s hard to walk
When you're sleeping
It's hard to talk
Go ask Eve, she knows it all

When your baby
Don't care anymore
She's such a lady
You can’t ask for more
Go ask Eve, she knows the score

(Instrumental break)

And you're walking
In your sleep
It’s up to Jesus
Your soul to keep
Go ask Eve, she knows it all
Ah, go ask Eve, she knows it all

Good Looking Hat

My daddy used to talk to me when I was a kid
He was always proud of the things I did
Taught me how to get through life on my own
Taught me how to harvest the seeds I'd sown

He wore a Stetson with a big wide brim
I remember how the ladies would look at him
Oh yeah my old daddy knew where it was at
You can't look bad in a good looking hat


You can wear old clothes, worn out boots
Walk around the house in your birthday suit
You can dress up funny where your colors don’t match
But you can't look bad in a good looking hat

I went to a dance when I was fifteen
Met the prettiest girl I ever had seen
We danced and we danced 'til the music was gone
She kept a lookin' at the hat I had on
We went steady for a week or two
I was in love, I thought she was too
Then one night she dropped me flat
I made the mistake of taking off my hat

(Repeat Chorus)

Now I keep my hat on most of the time
Helps to keep the hot sun off my mind
I do all right with the ladies too
I wear my hat no matter what I do

But I gotta' tell you what's on my mind
You can't keep your hat on all of the time
'Cause late at night when you're in bed
There things you can't do with a hat on your head

(Repeat Chorus)

Hill Hippie Heaven

Jesus came to me in a dream one night
Said hey there Bill would you follow me
There's a place where some of your friends hang out
A place you just might like to see
So I got out of bed and followed him down
To the dingiest bar that I ever had seen
The air was smoky and the floor was sticky
And the guy behind the bar looked mean

And Jesus said…
I'll have a Shiner Bock and a Rolling Rock
And two shots of Cuervo Gold
And for my two friends at the end of the bar
Two Lone Stars if it's cold
And down at the table at the end of the bar
Sat two ugly dudes wearing ugly hats
They started talking and I realized
It was Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt

What's the scene, Nazarene, I said
What is this all about
Those guys can't have made it to Heaven, I said
They were never all that devout
Oh no, Bill, you got it wrong, he said
There’s a heaven for hippies, too
Where they can hang out all day and drink
And do what they've always wanted to do
They can bum cigarettes off of all their friends
And keep running a tab at the bar
And catch a ride home when they're ready to
In an air conditioned car
They can smoke in alley to their heart's content
Or take a dive in a dumpster all night long
They can baffle their friends with their bullshit
And never be told they’re in the wrong

Then I turned around and recognized the bar and the stage against the wall
Where a gray haired guy with a guitar stood
Playing it long and tall
Holy shit, Son of Man, I said, I can't believe that this is real
Well that’s Bill Neeley on that Gibson
And Jimmy Day on the pedal steel
And Kenneth Threadgill’s startin' in to yodel
Like he's always done before
And they’re three hippie dogs, wearing bandanas
Asleep in the middle of the dance floor

Then Townes stood up and staggered to the stage
Looking drunken and deranged
And it came to me in a flash of light
That not a single thing had changed
They were hanging out at the Outhouse bar
Having lots of fun
It was a Hill Hippie Heaven, sure as hell
And may the will of God be done

When She Makes Up Her Mind

She came by one day
And walked in my door
Said she dropped in to say
She don't love me no more
That's all that it takes
She'd had enough of my kind
She can’t put on the brakes
When she makes up her mind


When she makes up her mind
She’s a hard one to hold
It’ll take her some time
But soon you will know
How it feels when she's gone
It's the end of the line
She'll string you along
'Til she makes up her mind

I saw her one day
She was out on the street
She passed by my way
Just out of my reach
A rose in her hair
As she walked right on by
With a bloom on her cheek
And a tear in her eye

(Repeat chorus)

(Instrumental Break)

You may see her some day
Near the end of the line
If she stops by your way
Try to be kind
Give her a hand
And a piece of your time
Try not to be sad
When she makes up her mind

(Repeat chorus)

I See the Ghosts of Animals

I see the ghosts of animals
In the corner of my eye
They keep on passing by
They seem to know me
I think I know why
I see the ghosts of animals
In the corner of my eye

I used to be a dreamer
Who had a lot to say
But that was yesterday
I can see the way we're going
And I know where we've been
And I see the ghosts of animals now and then

I see the glaciers melting
I see the stormy skies
I see the fear of dying in their eyes
Sometimes it makes me wonder
Sometimes it makes me cry
I see the ghosts of animals in my mind

(Instrumental Break)

In a dream my soul is walking
Across the desert sky
Where the eagles used to fly
I can hear the future talking
And I can't stand the sound
And I see the ghosts of animals all around

I see the ghosts of animals
In the corner of my eye
I see them passing by
It no longer makes me wonder
It only makes me cry
I see the ghosts of animals
In the corner of my eye

I'll Be Coming Home

Some friends of mine come over in the evening
We sit around and play a song or two
Nothing ever really comes between us
We never tell each other what to do
I'm so happy every time we get together
I love my friends and know they love me too
We're thankful for the things that really matter
We talk about the things that we’ve been through


I'm no longer looking for the stars to guide me
I've walked enough along those lonesome roads
I've realized that heaven’s all around me
Now I know I’ll be coming home

We look for heaven in the strangest places
It seems that this is what we always do
And we seldom take the time to look around us
And realize it lives in me and you

(Repeat chorus)

(Instrumental Break)

Sometimes we stagger through the darkness
Love is won and lost along the way
Think of me when you go to sleep my darlin'
And I'll be with you at the break of day

(Repeat chorus with tag)

Something to Believe In

He was a good man, a family man
Went to church on Sundays
He believed that Jesus died for our sins
I wasn’t so sure about that
But we couldn’t agree on nothin'
That had to do with politics or religion
And we were friends, good friends
We hung out together
You wouldn't believe the stories that we'd tell
The day I got the word
I couldn't believe it had happened
He'd sent his immortal soul straight to hell


Maybe it's all about
Something to believe in
Some way to help you hold on to the light
Some way to keep on seein'
Things you want to be seein'
Some way to help you make it through the night

He was a soldier, a warrior
Fighting for his country
He was fighting for the right and believed he'd win
When the war was over
He didn’t believe in nothin’
I guess all those lies had done him in
And we were friends, good friends
We’d sing and play together
The music seemed to free him from within
The day there at his gravesite
A precious few had gathered
Someone who didn't know him
Sang a hymn

(Repeat Chorus)

He was a philosopher, a thinker
Well read and well respected
He believed in the power of reason to show the way
He had a way of talking
That gathered folks around him
They'd sit and listen to what he had to say
And we were friends, good friends
We’d sit and talk for hours
About the universal questions of the day
He lived his life with passion
Taut as the rope that hung him
And why he took that way out, who can say

(Repeat chorus, with tag)

When Toby Sang the Dutchman

I saw her playing in the moonlight
Her fingers moved across the frets so cleanly
And her voice was so enchanting
I stood and listened to her sing the song
She sang with such conviction
As I listened to the story she was singing
The chords of mystic memory
Were touched enough to ease my troubled soul


When Toby sang The Dutchman
I could swear I heard the angels up there singing
Like a wind across the desert
Like a river that is rushing to the sea
And the song that she was singing
Made me think that love is all that really matters
Like a poem so softly spoken
Saying don’t you know that love is all you need

As I stood there in the moonlight
I could hear their voices join her in the chorus
It sounded like a choir
A sound that makes you want to sing along
And standing right beside me
Was a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in ages
And we put our hands together
And let our voices join them in the song

(Repeat Chorus)

(Instrumental break)

As I stood there by the campfire
I could see their faces in the moonlight
Their eyes told me the story
Of the love that she was spreading with her song
And when I think about it
I think that she is up there somewhere singing
And the song that she is singing
Says don't you know that love goes on and on

(Repeat chorus, with chorus of The Dutchman, as tag((with permission)))

She’s So Weird

She likes to drink whiskey and soda when she's all alone
She likes to lie around naked when she talks on the telephone
She can be gentle, but she's not genteel
You can never tell just how she feels
I sometimes wonder if she's for real
She's so weird, and it turns me on

She never ever really says just what she means
Says she always likes to keep cocaine in her jeans
Says it kind of makes her feel secure
She acts a lot like it that’s for sure
She's a terminal disease without a cure
She's so weird, and it turns me on


I keep on thinking that she's playing hard to get
She may not be my baby, but I swear I'll get her yet
I sometimes wonder why she makes me feel so good
I think I'd like to try to love her, if I could

She can talk and act real straight, but she lacks control
But she can really shuck and jive when she's on a roll
Although she spends a lot of time alone
She always seems to know what's going on
Gives me a chill right to the bone
She's so weird, and it turns me on

(Instrumental break in refrain chord progression, then repeat refrain)

I could take her out sometimes, but we just stay home
I don't go to work, 'cause I can't leave her alone
She seems to have lovin' on the brain
I can feel my mind going down the drain
It's a real good way to go insane
She's so weird, and it turns me on
I'd like to know, what's going on
Feel like a dog, looking for a bone
Yeah, she's so weird, and it turns me on

The Sadness in Her Eyes

You can always tell a lonely woman
By the look of sadness in her eyes
And it makes you think you want to hold her
And protect her from the world outside
But it seems she's always laughing
At all the strangers passing by

And someday you think you'll see her
In just the place she wants to be
And perhaps you'll get to know her
And be the man she wants to see
But you know you can't console her
Or find a way to set her free

And you take the time to realize
That you like the sadness in her eyes

(Instrumental break)

Just when you think you've found the answer
You turn around and she is gone
And it seems like you've been dancing
Around a dance floor all alone
And you wish that you had held her
And found a way to take her home

And you take the time to realize
That you like the sadness in her eyes
And you take the time to realize
That you like the sadness in her eyes

In the Garden of Love

As softly the rain falls, I feel your heartbeat
I feel your soul fly, closer to mine
And as the sun sets, I feel you near me
I want to hold you, all of the time


The stars and the moon know
Which way the wind blows
And when the weeds grow
In the garden of love
So look to the star light
And when the moon's bright
Pass through the dark night
In the light from above

There was a time when, all of the star light
Fell on the dark side, and clouded my mind
But now my heart knows, which way the wind blows
And that our love grows, 'til the end of our time

(Repeat Chorus)

And when the night bird, sings in the darkness
She sings a sad song, like the cry of a dove
But then I see you, bathed in the moonlight
And all the dark night, is lit by your love

(Repeat Chorus, with tag)

New Orleans Redoux

I gotta get back to the Crescent City
I remember they told me, come back soon
I saw the whole damned thing on television
The pictures kept on coming to my room
The price of gas is getting high and higher
But I can get there, I know the way
Voices call me from the heart of Dixie
And say, laissez les bon temps rouler


I want to ride with the krewes
Down St. Charles Avenue
Get back to where the blues began
Be there with the ghost of Louis Armstrong
When the saints go marching in
When the saints go marching in

As for the children, don't you know they're singing
If you listen, you can hear their song
The lines are open and the pot is boiling
It's time to get our people on back home

(Repeat Chorus)

Sometimes I wonder if we know where we're going
Sometimes I wonder why it's taking so long
It's up to us is what I keep on thinking
It's up to us to keep on keeping on

(Repeat Chorus)

When All My Dreams Come True

If I could hold you in my arms
The way you used to want me to
I'd keep you safe and warm
I'd take good care of you
And there would never come a day
When I would leave you all alone
And I know we'll find the way
To write our names upon the stone


When all my dreams come true
And we're together once again
I will stay with you
And our love will never end

Behind the mountains of the moon
The starlight shines on through the night
You can see it from your room
All you have to do is try
You will find the way
If you can only wait 'til then
And there will surely come a day
That you will find my love again

(Repeat Chorus)

(Instrumental break)

If you can find no place to hide
And there are times you lose your way
Come and lie down by my side
I'll kiss all your tears away
And you will not regret the time
That we spend together then
And I hope you change your mind
And come back to my arms again

(Repeat Chorus, with tag)

My Daddy Was the Jack of Diamonds

Met him on a freight train in the middle of the night
I could see his bearded face in the pale moonlight
He sang of Amarillo and he sang of Tennessee
And he sang…


My daddy was the jack of diamonds
My mama was the queen of spades
Seems like all my life I've had it made
I've seen a lot of lonesome highways
Heard a lot of lonesome songs
I've always had the urge to move along

He said my daddy was a private hauler
With a beat up flatbed truck
Seems like all his life he was out of luck
My mama was a handsome woman
Longing to be free
She left with a gambling man when I was three

(Repeat Chorus)

He said son I've known some women
And I've had my share of fun
And I've known what life is like when you're on the run
The man wants to keep you working
Wants to keep you on your knees
And take away the time for being free

(Repeat Chorus)

You know that man up in the White House
Wants to keep us on the run
But a working man is tired when the day is done
So we sit there by the TV
He says everything's okay
I think he’d tell us anything to get his way

They ought to take those politicians
And make 'em work a long, hard day
Make 'em learn to sweat and strain to earn their pay
Then I bet they'd take a gamble
On living loose and free
And stop just playing games with you and me

(Repeat Chorus)

Sleeping By the Sea

I saw an old friend on the beach
But she was just beyond my reach
And the sand was shifting quick
Things were really getting thick
And do I dare to eat a peach
She said things are seldom what they seem
You may be living in a dream
And it’s very hard to tell
When things are going well
You may be sleeping by the sea
It's hard to know what's coming down
As we ride up to the town
Your voice may wake us, we might drown

And it's so easy just to be
I think of negativity
The grains of sand beneath my feet
And all the faces I will meet
Oh do not leave me here she cried
And go back to the other side
The other side where things are real
And you're never sure just how you feel
If you'll only stay with me
By the shore of the silent sea
Your mind will never go away
Your mind will never go away

And things are seldom what they seem
You may be living in a dream
You may be sleeping by the sea
You may be sleeping by the sea

(Instrumental break)

Though the sand may shift and move
We're only sitting in the groove
Listening to the music play
Waiting for the break of day
But do not think that this is all
If you can hear her waking call
Then you are really here with me
And the siren of the sea

And things are seldom what they seem
You may be living in a dream
You may be sleeping by the sea
You may be sleeping by the sea

The Road We're On

Seems like the road we're on
Is winding down, down, down
We go round and round
On down the line
And we keep on movin'
Though it goes so slowly
No matter how it goes
Don't matter why

Millions and millions of throwaway people
Grind em up slowly and lead em on longer
Find out you're losing a bit of the ticket
See who they follow and choose your path wisely

But we're here together
Welcome to the party
We'll make the night go slowly
And take our time
It's there for the taking
Oh it goes so slowly
It's been there forever
For us to find

(Instrumental break)

How can I tell you, you may not believe me
You can say hold me, I'll be here forever
All of the people are staring so sadly
Come along slowly, I need you so badly

We can see the future
It's all around us
It's moving by so slowly
All down the line
We should keep on moving
And stay together
And we can live forever
If we take the time

One Track Mind

Bill McNeal's songs range from bittersweet and ironic ballads to tongue-in-cheek country talkin blues. Texas singer/songwriter, Bill follows a long established tradition along his own unique path. "One Track Mind" presents twelve of Bill's originals in his first CD release. Produced by Paul Pearcy and engineered by the Eastside Flash at Flashpoint Studios in Austin, the CD contains outstanding performances by some of Austin's most respected studio musicians, including Kenny Grimes, Glenn Fukunaga, Billy Bright, Richard Bowden and Cindy Cashdollar, which showcase Bill's relaxed lead vocals.