Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ken Fischer

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Ken Fischer. My friend Bobby Salomone called this afternoon to wish me a Happy New Year and during the course of the conversation, he asked me if I had heard about Ken. The details of Ken's passing are not as important as the contributions that he made, and the legacy he left to the world of guitar amplification.

Ken designed and built guitar amplifiers that have "Holy Grail" status among the tone-freak upper echelon of players fortunate enough to have plugged into one of his creations. His Train Wreck and Komet amps have already achieved iconic status.

I learned to love one of Ken's creations during the time that Mark Knopfler was at Shangri La recording his album of the same name. The studio was almost obscenely outfitted with an array of vintage tube amplifiers. Mark could choose from multiple tweed Fenders, Vox AC30s or AC15s, Marshall 45s or 100s, and other rare units made by Watkins, Magnatone, you name it.

One day, A package arrived and Mark had me unwrap what turned out to be a Ken Fischer Komet 60. It was beautifully done up in red so we paired it with a vintage red Marshall basket weave 4x12 cabinet. When I first saw the Komet, I thought, "Gosh, that sure looks lets plug in one of these real amps and go to work." Then Mark Spent the morning putting the Komet through its paces while graciously showing me how full of shit I was.

The red Komet responded to every nuance of Mark's exceptional technique and played a big role in the recording of the "Shangri la" album. The greatest guitar amp, sitting in the middle of a room, doesn't sound like anything until someone plugs in. I was lucky enough to witness a great amp being played by a guitarist who was able to coax everything out of that box of metal and glass.

Ken Fischer built amplifiers that respond to the abilities of great players and his passing puts into focus the finite number of units that are to come from his hand. I am grateful to have experienced Ken's fine work first hand and I very respectfully wish him eternal peace.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

James Brown and Gerald Ford

James Brown...Look at those two words...James Brown. I know a lot of words, but I don't know any that can be added to the words, James Brown. You can say that Bootsy is funky, or that Aretha is soulful. You can say that Prince can dance and that Tina works hard. But you can't say shit about James Brown that can make the image any clearer.

James Motherfucking Brown, man! I wonder if he ever scribbled his ambitions into a notebook when he was a kid. It must have said something like:

1. Sing my ass off

2. Write my ass off

3. Dance my ass completely off! Could you imagine James at the Jr. Prom? Glad I wasn't there, I might've run home for the last time and just hacked my feet off.

4. Reap the rewards of 1,2 and 3 and get laid...alot!

5. Get real high and shoot my truck, along with a lot of other shit.

6. Spend my entire career scaring the shit out of anyone with the balls to front a band.

James WAS the word "hard." James was any verb followed by "hard." Live hard, play hard, dance hard, party hard, laugh hard, cry hard, walk hard, talk hard, you name it, James was hard.

I'd love to describe what it was like to see James Brown live...but I can't. I really and truly can't. I don't write well enough. When I close my eyes and remember how it felt to be in the second row booth at the Vegas Hilton when "Livin' in America" was his comeback release, all that I come up with is "Fuck, man" and that's not good enough, so I won't even try. James Brown live was the ultimate "you had to be there" moment. I'll let someone else try to describe what it was like, I don't have the chops.

James left us Christmas morning. I think it should be a law that everyone...EVERYONE listen to 30 minutes of James Brown per day and watch 30 minutes of James Brown concert footage every Sunday. The world would be a better place...guaranteed!

Oh yeah, and did you hear about Gerald Ford?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


After driving home on Christmas night, I have come to the conclusion that courtesy cannot be legislated. It seems that the diversity of the population in California has so many differing concepts of what are good manners, or if in fact, manners are even to be given a place in everyday behavior, that driving on the freeways has become an ordeal governed by Darwinian laws rather than vehicular codes.

I have always thought of the turn signal as an expression of courtesy. Signaling one's intention to change lanes at potentially lethal speeds seems to be a nice thing to do. If you are nearing your exit, it makes good sense to let drivers around you know that you intend to move over. It is also the law that you do so. But for some unknown(to me) reason, a turn signal has become a red rag waved in the face of a bull. Everytime I use my turn signal, the driver in the lane I wish to enter is stimulated by the blinking light to speed up and so impede my entry to "his" lane. As a result, I have found that the only way to make a safe lane change is to ignore the law and go while the gettin's good, so to speak.

Doesn't it seem silly that a driver, moving along the highway at sixty-plus miles per hour, would have such ownership anxiety over a chunk of asphalt that he would risk the safety of his passengers as well as those in the cars around him by speeding up to prevent another driver from safely going where he wants to go?Why is that? What gives drivers that level of nerve?

I think that it is because driving is an anonymous activity. We don't know who is in the car next to us and we will probably never meet face to face, so it seems safe to tell a BMW to "fuck off!" or an SUV to "eat shit, motherfucker!" Maybe there is a sense of power associated with hemming in a more expensive car. We feel safe in our cars. When we are behind the wheel, we can say anything to anybody without being held accountable. We can hurl the pent up hatred felt for our boss or our mother-in-law indiscriminately at strangers...strangers who are trying to change lanes.

I wonder what would happen if we behaved with the same vehemence when we weren't in the safety of our armored cars. How many times have you accidentally bumped someone's shopping cart and profusely apologized? You wouldn't think of screaming "Get out of the fucking way, asshole!" at the top of your lungs. If someone is weighing carrots, we don't give them the death glare and lay on the horn. If someone were to drop their ATM card, we pick it up and say, "excuse me, did you drop this?" Or when an elevator stops and opens its doors, do we intentionally stand in the doorway until they close again, preventing fellow passengers from getting off on their floor? Of course we don't.

So what is the difference? Why do we find it so easy to be nice when we can see the other person's eyes? I don't think that the threat of retribution is a factor. I wouldn't expect a grandmother to bounce a can of creamed corn off of my head if I rammed her shopping cart. And I don't think that anyone would kick me in the balls for cutting in line at the bank. It's just nice to be nice, isn't it? But just let us get behind the wheel and we become the commander of a Panzer division, hell-bent on the destruction of all that crosses our path. The frightening thing is that we achieve our most destructive state of mind when we are most heavily armed. A car is, after all, a most effective weapon at highway speed.

Laws attempt to make us behave. But we do as we like according to how much we think we can get away with. We speed until we get caught. We roll through stop sign unless we see a police car. And we always look for a black-and-white before we throw a soda can out the car window.I look forward to a time when driving under the influence of being an asshole becomes an infraction on the same scale as littering, which carries a hefty fine.

So let's be nice, just to be nice. When someone signals a lane change, don't get possessive about cement that doesn't belong to you. Say "after you" and realize that the split second added to your drive home made life a little easier for a fellow human. Let's start the new year by having some manners.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Nasal Singing...or Is It?

What does it mean to sing with a "nasal" placement? I've taught a few students who have come to me with the question, "How can I sing less nasal?" In each case, careful analysis of the mechanics involved in phonation and resonance proved to the students that what they characterized as "nasal" singing was, in fact, exactly opposite to what they had thought.

To illustrate, I'll introduce a hypothetical student...let's call him "Hypo" for short. Hypo sings with a pronounced twang and he has been told by his school choir teacher that he sings nasal. I am of the opinion that a musician, whether a singer or instrumentalist, will be more successful if he knows "what" he is doing, "how" he is doing it, and if he is doing it with "intent". So I begin by asking a few questions.

Me: Why do you want singing lessons?

Hypo: My teacher says I sing nasal.

Me: Do you know what your teacher means when he says that you sing nasal?

Hypo: I guess it means that I sing in my nose.

Me: How do you sing in your nose?

Hypo: I don't know.

Me: Did your teacher ever use the words "septum" or "palatine uvula" when he told you that you sing nasal?

Hypo: ...Um...huh?

Me: Hypo, sing this note for me...AAAh...

Hypo: Honk...

Me: OK Hypo, now hold your nose like you're going to dive into a pool and sing the note again.

Hypo: Honk !

Me: Sounds the same, doesn't it? So, can you tell me how you can be singing in your nose if you can plug it up and make exactly the same awful sound?

Hypo: Nope, But that's what my choir teacher said.

Me: OK Hypo, Today, you are going to learn two , THREE things. One, Your choir teacher is either full of shit, lazy or both. Two, If you want to get a good grade, you'll keep that to yourself and pretend to listen to what he has to say. Three, before you walk out that door, your going to learn how to sing "Aaah" instead of "Honk!"

What is mistakenly described as singing nasal is actually singing without the benefit of the resonance available in the sinus and nasal cavities. The first thing to be determined is if there is a physical abnormality that would cause this condition. Does the singer have a deviated septum? Has the nose been broken? If not, then it becomes a matter of mechanics, placement and resonance. Using the proper mechanics will place, or focus the voice in a way that optimum resonance can be achieved.

There are two ways to illustrate the resonance of the facial cavities. First, I have the student hum a musical exercise or melody. This proves to the student that there is a substantial amount of sound produced which does not come out of the mouth. Then I use the sound "ng" as in the word "sing". I have "Hypo" sing the word sing and sustain the final ng, or perhaps sing the word "singaah". From a mechanical standpoint, the sound "ng" is produced by closing the back of the mouth. The base of the tongue raises to meet the descending uvula which is the tip of the soft palate. This valve-like closure causes all of the sound to be focused up the back of the throat and into the cavities of the face, including the nasal sinus cavities. I call it "humming with an open mouth". Opening the ng sound to the aah sound will train the mechanism to maintain the same resonance for the open vowel as that accomplished by closing the back of the mouth.

Pete's rule number two states that "It's always simpler than it seems." The remedy for what is mistakenly called nasality proves that rule. It really is just that simple, but like everything worth doing, it takes repetition and lots of practice. Come see me and I'll prove it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Music Theory

The study of Music Theory as it concerns the young musician in what I call the “pop-rock” area of music has been reduced in large part to articles in magazines dedicated to the selling of cosmetically redesigned instruments and equipment by massive chain and mail-order stores to the next generation of hopeful rock stars. Armed with the latest in phrase-sampling, pitch-shifting, tempo-slowing technology, this army of tablature junkies is learning less and less about more and more with every double-picking, speed -drilling issue of their favorite rock rag.

Personally, I read as many music magazines as I can get my hands on. And periodicals serve a great purpose in introducing young musicians to a world of ideas which most probably would remain undiscovered given the dismal state of artistic education in our school systems. The responsibility shifts then, to the student. The young musician who has found an area of interest by mastering a lesson found in a magazine must not stop as if a new continent has been discovered. For every door opened represents a long hallway of unopened doors behind which waits the information so intrinsic to a well-rounded musical experience.

Even a cursory musical education should include studies in traditional harmony, simple counterpoint, ear-training and dictation in melody, rhythm and harmony, and basic music history. Literacy results in freedom of expression and opens the doors of meaningful dialog between like-minded people. This can be said of any area of endeavor dependent upon cooperation and interaction. The more inclusive education becomes, the broader the horizons will open to the young musician.

There are two methods whereby musical education can be acquired with efficiency. The traditional method is to seek out a respected mentor or expert in a chosen field who will provide a structured course of study. Additionally, we now have available a huge body of information via the internet where the ocean of knowledge is limited only by the curiosity of the seeker. In combination, these two methods offer the opportunity of combining a well grounded, traditional education in music with the most up-to-the-minute research materials available.

Curiosity is a key element in the study of the arts. The young student must be determined in seeking out a good mentor who will teach in such a way that the student’s hunger leads him on a quest for further knowledge. Young musicians have a tendency to champion certain styles, artists or factions before they have learned enough to formulate educated opinions. Students should be encouraged to experience as many genre as possible. This will ensure a broad palette of musical ideas as well as a much higher level of pure enjoyment.

The following is a list of what I would consider to be important elements in the basic education of a young musician. A complete list being impossible, these are suggestions which, if investigated with a curious mind, will result in an fruitful search of further knowledge.

1. Rhythmic Notation. Learn how to read and write rhythms properly. This is a language you should know inside and out, no matter what instrument you choose.
2. The Musical Alphabet. Learn the names of the notes on the Grand Staff. Don’t be afraid or intimidated. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet of which only 7 are used in musical notation.
3. Intervals. Learn how notes relate to each other. This is the basis of Melody and the foundation of Harmony. Memorize how each interval looks as well as sounds.
4. Harmony. Take a beginning Harmony class at a community college. It won’t cost much and after two semesters of structured education, you will amaze yourself at how simple it is and how much more you understand.
5. Music History. Read about the lives of great composers and the times in which they lived and worked. You may find that what you thought were stodgy old stiff-necked squares were actually living, breathing, fun-loving pranksters much like yourself.
6. Analysis. When you have the fundamentals of rhythm, melody and harmony under some control, work on analysis. Listen to a favorite song and use your ears and the knowledge between them to write down the notes, rhythms, harmonies and how they interact to form a piece of music.
7. Listen. Listen to everything you can get your ears around. Don’t get caught up in listening only to what you think you like. Growing as a musician requires that you abandon some of the musical prejudices which may have drawn you to study music in the beginning. Embrace flexibility. Listen without judgement.

Some Final Bits of Advice

1. Don’t hesitate to make mistakes. That’s how you will learn to do it right.
2. Your progress is directly related to the hours spent on learning your subject. Ever wonder why some of your pals are such experts at video games?
3. No matter how much you practice or how hard you study, someone is practicing more and studying harder. Music has nothing to do with peer pressure so don’t try to compare yourself with others. If you put it all in, if you put forth maximum effort and work to your potential, you can be satisfied that you will be the musician you deserve to be.

Each and every musician brings his heart and soul to the musical table. How deeply a musician’s intentions are perceived by his audience is directly related to the level of musical skills mastered by the musician. If an author wants to report a conflagration, the flames of which destroyed half the village as the townspeople, tears streaming in rivulets down soot-stained faces stood transfixed by terror…and all he knows how to spell are the words “hot” and “bad”, his report may be somewhat disappointing in terms of impact and emotion. Great musicians possess large musical vocabularies as the result of curiosity, study and hard work. Not everyone is cut out to be a great musician. But by doing the work, you are guaranteed the opportunity to try.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Santa Claus, Jesus Christ and Lee Harvey Oswald

Today is November 22, another day closer to the holidays and a date which seemingly diminishes in importance in the eyes of Americans with each passing year. This date, however, marks the birth of the great American myth, the magnitude and belief of which rivals those of the nativity of Jesus Christ and the midnight appearance in living rooms the world over by a jolly, fat philanthropist, ostensibly by way of the chimney flue. The difference between these three fairy tales is that, of the three, only one can be, and has been, proven to be entirely based on fiction.

The great American myth is, that on November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald, hidden in a sixth floor window above Dealey Plaza single-handedly changed the face of American politics and policy.

Belief in the American myth relies on the same human traits which foster belief in all things supernatural. When we are afraid of the unknown, we make things up that allow us to feel good, or we gladly adopt theories that have been made up for us. We humans are an exceptionally lazy species. Facing the truth requires not only courage, that rarest of all human traits, but also thought. It is infinitely less taxing to accept propaganda as truth, than to think with discernment and to arrive at a logical conclusion based on facts. Facts can be unpleasant and contrary to a world view that allows us to sleep soundly. The truth is that the world is round and, as we sleep, somewhere on this ever-shrinking planet, there are forces hard at work trying to kill us. There are also forces hard at work trying to bring about the ultimate success and survival of mankind. But either scenario is too much to bear for most humans and so we sleep through the night, having said our prayers and clinging to whatever faith gives us comfort.

The American myth of Lee Harvey Oswald differs from the myths of Santa Claus and Jesus Christ in a most compelling way. The existence of Lee Harvey Oswald as a real person can be proven by facts. Those facts give us a detailed history of the man and his actions which is an impossibility where it concerns the other two personages. If we examine a number of items in the lives of the three myths we would find the following:

Legal proof of birth...

Lee Harvey Oswald, yes

Santa Claus, questionable at best

Jesus Christ, entirely a matter of blind faith in virgin birth.

Proof of attendance at an accredited school...

Lee Harvey Oswald, has the records to prove it.

Santa Claus, no records on file.

Jesus Christ, no schools in the area and busing had not yet become fashionable.

Records of military service...

Lee Harvey Oswald, Records exist reflecting service in the United States Marine Corps.

Santa Claus, no records but was rumored to have been a conscientious objector.

Jesus Christ, military experience was limited to turning over a few money tables with twelve unemployed homeless men in tow. Very small scale gang activities, really.

Known place of residence...

Lee Harvey Oswald, a list of his addresses exists in the files of the FBI, the CIA, the IRS and a host of alphabetized government organizations.

Santa Claus, reportedly resides at the north pole although satellite photography does not bear this out.

Jesus Christ, According to legend, lived with his parents at an unknown locale and spent the last three years of his life "sponging".


Lee Harvey Oswald, records of employment exist.

Santa Claus, professional gift giver. Also thought to keep herds of reindeer and elves.

Jesus Christ, unsuccessful carpenter who turned to the pulpit for his daily bread. Proof still outstanding.

Proof of death...

Lee Harvey Oswald, documented on national television and witnessed by millions as it happened.

Santa Claus, spuriously reported to still be hard at work although this would be in violation of mandatory age-related retirement laws.

Jesus Christ, No body has ever been found. There are eye-witness statements that he took it to heaven with him but none of these eye-witnesses have come forward for questioning, nor could their current whereabouts be established.

There we have a brief summary of the available statistical evidence. Isn't it curious that every detail in the life of the central character of the American myth is substantiated by facts notably absent in the biographical statistics furnished on behalf of Santa and Jesus. Now let us examine the acts of the subjects of these three myths and see if there is a pattern of deception.

Once a year, on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus loads his bag of toys onto a sleigh which is drawn, through the sky mind you, by flying reindeer. Through some sort of time-suspension mechanism, he manages to visit every single household on the planet and leaves gifts for the good little children. For the bad children he leaves a stick and a lump of coal. None of this has been proven. There have been ashy footprints evidenced leading from fireplace to Christmas tree but in every case these were found to match shoes hidden in the master bedroom closet. Forensic studies should also reveal red fibers clinging to fireplace walls or reindeer dung on rooftops. None have been found. We can only conclude that the vast majority believe in Santa Claus because they simply choose to do so. It just feels good.

Jesus Christ was supposed to have fed thousands of hungry devotees with three fish and five loaves of bread...or was it five fish and three loaves of bread. Either way, the ratio of hungry devotees to food would indicate that the fish were actually sperm whales or that the devotees were well-fed circus midgets devoid of appetite. He also was reported to have turned water to wine. Any self-respecting frat-boy has transformed his share of beer into water so it doesn't seem to be a miracle of world-changing proportions to accomplish the reverse. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead...of course he did!Where is he? Why won't he show himself? Any pictures? Jesus got into some trouble with the wrong people and they crucified him. Here is the punch line to the entire myth of Jesus. After being dead for three days, he paraded around showing his wounds to the members of his gang and then casually floated up to heaven saying, "I'll be Back." Savior?...or decide.

Lee Harvey Oswald shot John Kennedy. This is what is believed by many rational people. People who have cars, use cel phones and don't bark at vacuum cleaners. People who in all other respects act like sane, thinking human beings. Analyzing all or even a portion of the evidence to the contrary would be far beyond the scope of my argument. There is so much evidence and there are so many volumes written on the subject that a seeker of the truth will find all the truth he is willing to seek. In asking the question of whether Oswald did indeed shoot kennedy, I will focus on only two items which, when taken together, prove beyond doubt that the myth of the kennedy assassination is just as factual as the existence of Santa Claus and the immortality of Jesus Christ.

Item one, on the evening of his arrest and interrogation by the Dallas Police, Oswald's face and hands were examined and tested for the presence of gun powder residue. None was found. Oswald had not fired a gun that day and yet he stood accused of killing Dallas Police officer Tippet at close range as well as shooting the President in a still to be duplicated feat of marksmanship.

Item two, the rifle identified as the murder weapon was virtually "un-aimable" as it was found. The sights were out of adjustment to the point that it would have been impossible to shoot with any degree of accuracy much less for it to have been the actual murder weapon.

These are only two items, and yet these two items stand alone as proof that the fairy tale of Lee Harvey Oswald is a sham. No-one can prove that Santa Claus exists, but the relatively harmless story lives on because no-one can prove that he doesn't. There is not a shred of proof in the existence of the man called Jesus. But because of the dearth of proof to the contrary, the story of his life has inspired peace, love, death and destruction in relatively equal measure for two thousand years.

But the myth that was born forty-three years ago today is not fogged by the mist of time or the inaccuracies of ancient translations. The truth is the truth regardless of our belief. Some of us sleep easier knowing that Rudolph will soon land on the roof. Some of us sleep in the arms of a belief in an afterlife walking hand-in-hand with Jesus. Some of us wish that Lee Harvey Oswald really was what they say he was, if only to cling to a theory that provides a neat and tidy resolution to the ugliest of nationally televised episodes. But anyone who thinks...anyone who thinks long and hard... anyone with the courage to face the logical conclusions of that thought may not sleep so well tonight.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Technique, Part 1

A teenager went to his parents seeking permission to get a tattoo. After pleading his case, the parents promised to discuss the matter before rendering a final decision.

"Why do you suppose Johnny wants a tattoo?" the mother asks.

"Gosh, I don't know" dad says, "Maybe he just feels the need to express himself."

"Yes" answers mom,"He is probably at that stage of development where he feels the urge to show his budding individuality."

"Why don't we put the question to him?" says dad, "Let's ask him why he wants to show his individuality in this irreversible manner."

And so the Parents summoned Johnny. In answer to their question, Johnny rolled his eyes and groaned, "Aw jeez, everybody's getting a tattoo, It's no big deal."

And therein lies the dichotomy of today's entry. How can a person in the arts, a person whose wherewithal depends on popular success, express his individuality while conforming to the fiscal requirements of the "flavor of the day" distribution machine that makes that "individuality" a marketable commodity?

Entertainment company executives are ever vigilant for the next new thing. But the next new thing had better be instantly popular. The search is peppered with comments such as "we need something fresh" and "something totally new" and "something nobody has ever heard before" and then the creativity crusher, "Yeah, something just exactly like..." well, you can fill in the blank with any star of the moment.

I wrestle with this question on a much smaller scale. My concern as a teacher of music is, how does one acquire the proper technical skills to maintain a long career, while still allowing freedom of individual expression? I firmly believe that only an intimate knowledge of the rules gives one the right to break them. I also believe that it is infinitely more valuable to learn to feed one's self than merely to be fed. A friend of mine who is a drummer had the opportunity to spend some time with the great Shelly Manne. He asked him if it would be possible to take a few lessons, to which Shelly answered, "Well kid, I can show you how to hold your knife and fork, but you'll have to learn how to eat on your own."

If a bass or guitar student comes to me and asks that I teach them a solo or a particularly difficult passage, my answer is a simple one...No. What I will teach are the knowledge and skills which will allow that person to fend for himself and never have the need to ask to be spoon fed. If a musician spends time, and a great deal of it, with his ears and mind open and his hands on his instrument, copying a solo passage will be no large accomplishment.

The study of singing is a different matter altogether. A guitarist could conceivably play his guitar with a baseball bat or a claw hammer for dramatic effect, and then simply sweep up the pieces and get a new guitar. But a singer's instrument is his body and damage done through poor technique can be irreversible. But, and this is a big but,(heh heh, I said big but) what if this singer is someone with a measure of success, and what if that success is predicated on a style of singing that compromises technique to the point that some measure of damage to the instrument occurs? What if the popularity of this singer's work would be diminished if he were to adopt a style of singing in line with strict proper technique?

My services were once endorsed to a singer of some renown. This person had a great deal of success in terms of record sales and awards. While he was preparing to go on tour he was suffering from vocal fatigue during rehearsals and had fears of losing his voice. He was swallowing all sorts of curatives, using atomizers, and had been frantically seeking advice from Doctors, colleagues and Tarot readers. I was virtually a last resort. I told him to forget anything that he had been taught or told, and to allow me an absolutely clean pallet. I asked him not to think, not to try to figure out what we were doing and not to read anything into the exercises I prescribed, but just to do them religiously twice daily. And then we did the simplest of exercises, never straining and never approaching the range limit of his voice. I just had him phonate using vowels, voiced consonants and proper singing technique without explanations. We recorded a twenty minute workout and he promised to sing to the tape twice daily for a week. I must add that he thought I was a bit nuts in taking such an elementary approach so I didn't charge him for my time but promised, with all confidence in my approach, that if he followed my instructions he would get positive results. I also instructed him never to think about the exercises or my approach or even that we had met, while he was rehearsing. It was of extreme importance that my influence on his technique not affect his style in any way. The exercises had to do their work subliminally and behind the scenes.

I never expected to hear from him again because I didn't think that he bought into my approach. I thought that he was looking for something much more complicated and mysterious. Four days later he shouted through the telephone that I was a genius and had saved the day. It seems that he was ready for simplicity. He followed my instructions to the letter and found that he was still singing in his well known style, but with more power and less strain. The exercises were "massaging" his vocal mechanism much as a trainer would do for a football player's strained muscles

And so, we achieved somewhat of a balance. We applied elements of proper technique to a successful style that absolutely could not be tampered with, and had positive results. Self-expression and popularity can coexist with a bit of creative thought. Don't be afraid to look under the same old rocks, and don't be afraid to let simplicity be your guide.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Inspiration...or Ignorance

As my dear old grandmother liked to say, "Life can be hard, but it's a lot harder when you're stupid." Well, maybe it wasn't my grandmother that said it, but someone did and it makes plenty of sense to me. My grandmother used to say a lot of things, some wiser than others, but she usually said those things in German unless she was particularly angry. Then she would speak in a polyglot of serbo-croation-hungarian-german and the best thing to do would be to seek cover until some of the words were again familiar enough to be recognizable as language. But, I digress.

Things can be much more difficult when stupidity is brought to the table. In my experience, this holds true in almost every endeavor. I describe stupidity as ignorance left unattended. Ignorance is innocent in and of itself. Ignorance is, in actual fact, required if learning is to be accomplished. Ignorance is the checkered tablecloth in the pizzeria of knowledge, for without ignorance, we would be ignorant of what toppings are missing from the pizza of our dreams.

In music as in all the arts, endeavors can be divided into two groups, those works which arise out of inspiration, and those which are achieved only after long and conscientious bouts of hand to hand combat with the tools of the trade.

When I was a child making sand castles on the beach, there were two methods of which I was aware to build a beautiful sandcastle. The "inspirational" method was to pick up a handful of very wet sand and let it drip through the fingers. The result would be controlled primarily by gravity as the wet sand would build up in blobs that loosely resembled turrets and towers. These castles were beautiful, graceful and fairy-like in appearance, and required no architectural premeditation. The world is full of natural wonders created by the elements over the millennia in just such a fashion. They are beautiful to look at and some believe that they are proof of the existence of a god who apparently sits in the heavens dropping handfuls of wet sand for the amazement of man. Those who believe this are not ignorant, they are stupid. There is ample information available to explain the formation of such "wonders", but they choose to think that some supernatural power is hard at work whose only rewards are the oohing and aahing of the herd.

The second method of sandcastle construction involved a combination of thinking and physical manipulation of materials. There was planning to be done, foundations to be laid, stress loads to be adhered to, tools to be invented, and esthetics to be considered. Buckets and paper cups were filled with wet sand and used as molds for the structure. This would allow for smooth surfaces on which windows or the outline of masonry could be carved with a used popsicle stick or plastic spoon. Once the structure was stable, tunnels could be excavated and there could be banners waving over the ramparts. The finished castle represented thought, intent and premeditation. or, perhaps better said, Arts and Crafts.

I worked for a time with a songwriter who was once simply and innocently ignorant. He just didn't know certain things. By things, I refer to facts like what to call certain notes and chords and how to reference rhythmic concepts. This songwriter was very creative however and there was no shortage of ideas flowing from his handful of wet sand. But the blobs would fall without structure or any sort of consistent motive. He would ask me what sort of blob would likely follow the last blob and I would try to make some sense of it all. During the process, I would try to influence his blob-dropping by calling attention to such things as the importance of remembering the esthetic quality or the emotional response to certain choices made in the structure, size or texture of the sand blobs, or chords. I would make attempts at generating in him a sense of intent. But try as I would, every chord was a newly discovered continent. He would ooh and aah and say, "Wow, that's cool, what chord is that?" and I would bite my tongue to prevent myself from blurting that it was the same one we used at a point in the song eight seconds previous to the current sand blob.

I envied his ignorance to a point because his process, or lack of one, furnished a myriad of opportunities for amazement. He was experiencing newness at every turn. It was as if he were a passenger on an electric train set and everytime he rounded the Christmas tree he would see the fireplace as something new and awe-inspiring. But as time wore on, I realized that he was just lazy and would not avail himself of the information at his disposal which would allow him to predict and furnish his own ooh and aah moments.

Ignorance can be thought of as the starting blocks from which we launch our race toward knowledge, while inspiration is the kernel from which beautiful art can grow. But it must be watered and fed with the love of education and hard work. Dream your dreams, but work hard. Because when Mr. Ignorance falls in love with Miss Lazy, they are sure to birth a child known as Stupid. And little baby Stupid will have a hard life indeed.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Fool and the Boat

Seven year old little Nell came into the kitchen in tears. "Daddy" she cried, "Sally is mean to me."

"Come and tell your father what happened" I said, as she crawled up on my lap nearly up-ending my mid-morning coffee.

"Sally said that if I would, sob, ride with her on her bike that we could go, sob, to the playground by the school and watch them put up the rides for the, sob, carnival and they had animals and we could look at them and, sob, and everything and she got tired so I pedaled the bike and I pedaled as, sob, hard as I could 'cause I wanted to see the animals, you know how much I love, sob, animals, don't you Daddy? sob, and when we got there she, sob, jumped off the bike and told me to watch it so nobody takes it and, sob, she's older so I remembered that I'm supposed to obey older people and I was,sob, so good and watched the bike and she was gone a long time and came, sob, back and said we had to go home 'cause she had to go to a, sob, party and she saw everything and I pedaled so hard and I never, sob, get to see anything and she saw the animals Daddy, sob, sob, sob."

"Consolidate yourself Nell" I told her, trying rather unsuccessfully to hide my amusement at her righteous indignation. "let me tell you a little story and you'll forget all about it." Little Nell said that would be allright but that she hoped it wouldn't be one of my "lesson" stories because she didn't want to learn anything right now. I told her that I know a story about a boat and that it would be exciting and full of adventures. And then I told her my "lesson" story about the Fool and the Boat.

Once upon about half-past three in the afternoon,(Nell insisted that I be specific as to time. She said that "once upon a time" is for babies and besides, it always means that it's a "lesson" story) there was a boy who lived near the sea. Everyday he looked out at the big boats in the water and dreamed that one day, if he played his cards right...

"What's played his cards right mean Daddy?"

"Uh, you know, was a good boy and didn't screw things up."


Now where was I...oh, well he thought that he would be a great sea captain and have his own ship. Well, after his parents died, he was taken in to live with a very rich uncle who gave him his very own boat when he turned eighteen years old.

" How did they die daddy?"


"The boy's parents!"

"Oh God! I don't... um, the three bears ate them I guess!"



"But the three bears are good and wouldn't eat anybody's parents!"

"Oh, well, uh, this was way before they got into show business, I mean, books. They had a pretty checkered background you know."

"What's checkered, Daddy?"

"Things aren't always as they seem, Nell, now no more interruptions and let me tell the story."

And so the boy became old enough to be a man and he became a sea captain with his own ship and everything. He had only one problem. He had never bothered to learn anything about sailing a ship. He had a shiny telescope, a captain's hat and a uniform covered in bright medals, but he didn't know a porthole from a keel. And so he sat in the tavern on the wharf and bought everyone food and rum with the money that the rich uncle had given him until he found a poor sailor who had been at sea all of his life and knew the ocean and everything in it.

"Come sail my ship for me." he said to the poor sailor.

"And what will you give me in return?" asked the poor sailor.

"Ah, you will share my dream of sailing all over the world and we will have adventures and riches." replied the captain.

And so they set off on a journey of adventure on the seven seas. The poor sailor was happy because the captain gave him new clothes, a warm bunk and plenty to eat and drink. They became friends and had many adventures together. The captain wanted to learn how to sail his boat and asked the sailor to teach him. But when he realized how much there was to learn and how hard he would have to work, he decided to let the sailor do the sailing and he would do the captaining. "Think of this ship as your own" said the captain, "because as long as I have this ship, we are in this together." And so the years passed.

One day, They saw a sail on the horizon. As the ship drew closer, her captain called over, " Ahoy! My, that is a beautiful ship you have, captain."

"Thank you, will you join us for lunch?" the captain answered. And so the two captains had lunch...which was served by the crew, which of course, consisted of the once poor sailor, who stood dutifully by as the two captains became friends.

"Who is this sailor you have here sailing your ship for you?" the second captain asked. "He doesn't seem to know what he is doing."

"But he is my friend," the first captain replied. "And we have had many adventures together."

"That will never do." said the second captain. "You can't be friends with your crew. You should throw him overboard. I think that I saw him sneak some of your best wine. Yes, you would be wise to get rid of him before he causes you any further trouble. I'm a captain like you and only captains know about these things."

And so the first captain allowed the crew of the second ship to throw the sailor overboard. But now that he was all alone, the captain did not know the first thing of how to sail his own ship. "What shall I do now?" he asked the second captain.

"Don't worry, you are with friends" the second captain said. "Let me have one of my men sail your ship for you and everything will be alright."

That night, the captain was himself thrown overboard and the two ships sailed away over the horizon. The captain had just enough strength to swim to a small island and was glad to see that his old friend, the poor sailor had washed ashore there in the night. And there they lived out the rest of their days, never saying another word to each other.

But the question is...which one was the fool?

"Oh Daddy! It was a lesson story wasn't it?"

"Well, yes. I guess it is Nell."

"But what does it mean daddy?"

"It means that when Sally tells you she will give you a ride to see the animals and you do all the work and then she expects you to watch her bike for her, and then dumps you for a party, you should have walked straight home."

"But daddy, what if someone had stolen her bike?"

"Oh Christ Nell! Fuck the bike! It wasn't yours anyway!"

"Mommy, Daddy said 'fuck' again."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Memory, Part 2

Recently, a small circle of friends and I were solving the problems of the world over champagne when the topic of discussion drifted to memory. After going around the table, we found that there existed a wide disparity in the area of memories related to childhood experiences. One of the group claimed that her memories of early childhood were vague at best and did not reach back much further than her early teens. My personal memories are of tastes, smells, sensations and impressions which occurred as early as the age of one and a half years. Although I constantly need to play games with myself to remember day to day things, my long term memory is prodigious.

I have vivid memories of sitting in the sandbox in the hof or the enclosed yard of my family's apartment house in Salzburg and gagging as my playmate, Wolfgang, shovelled sand into his mouth with an old dinner spoon. And I remember the smell of peppermint tea. My mother would take my brother and I to a lake in the summer. She would pack a picnic lunch and she would lay a wine bottle full of peppermint tea in the shallow water to cool. When I smell a peppermint tea bag even now I am right back at the shore of that lake. I was not yet two years old.

It seems that everyone has a large capacity for the storage of memory. I believe that the gift of a good memory or the curse of forgetfulness are not at all related to intelligence but are more symptomatic of our processing power. If something is tasted, smelled, seen, heard or felt, then it follows that the information was entered into our hard drive. The retrieval of that information is a processing issue unless, of course, a softball to the temple or a quick trip through the windshield has somehow caused a major data dump.

Some years ago, I embarked on a search to find out just exactly who the fuck I was. I called this search " Just exactly who the fuck am I?" In the early stages of this fact finding mission I developed an exercise that served as a sort of de-fragging mechanism. The early stages of Disk Warrior for want of a better description. I decided that to find out who I thought I am, it may be important to ascertain who I had been, or perhaps better stated, who I thought I had been.

My living room had a large window facing the street and I was in the habit of staring out at nothing in particular when I noticed that there were twelve panes in that window. It was three panes high and four across. For some unknown reason, the number twelve suddenly represented the twelve years I had spent in the hands of the educational system prepatory to higher education. Each pane represented a grade in school and I began to play a game in which the rules were very simple. Every morning, as I prayed at the altar of the caffeine gods, I would require myself to look through the twelve panes, one at a time, and remember a single impression, occurance or sensation related to that particular grade in school. In other words, I forced myself to remember. Watch, I'll do it right now.

First grade: Walking to school in the snow, I picked up a round mass the size of a football and took it to school. Somehow, the heat of the classroom turned it into a hornet's nest overnight.

Second grade: Because I was tall, I got to stand on the desks and put up the holiday decorations that went above the blackboard.

Third grade: Ate school food for the first time...Jesus!

fourth grade:Thought I saw a picture of a girl's thing. Actually, the kid sitting next to me drew a line and said that that's really all there was to it.

Fifth grade: My teacher, Miss Sherzer, had long, strawberry blond hair and after she married the seventh grade science teacher I almost failed to pass fifth grade.

Sixth Grade: Saw my first dirty movie at Karl Reitenbach's house on New year's Eve when our parents were out to a party.

Seventh grade:First became aware of basketball.

Eighth grade: Had Italian pizza for the first time.

Ninth grade: Pulled down twenty-five rebounds in a tournament game.

Tenth grade: Was invited to the senior prom by my friend Barbara whose boyfriend was in Viet Nam.

Eleventh grade: Broke into school with stolen keys and turned a window in the music department into an aquarium...really!

Twelfth grade: Realized that my father was dying.

You see? Its really simple and fun. If you do it often, amazing shit will percolate to the surface. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's tragic. But those memories are in there, they belong to you, and where they may take you is so much better than cable...because it's your life that you are living and you have an inalienable right to reap the rewards of syndication.

Enjoy the reruns.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Picture yourself at a holiday party, a wedding reception or a funeral. You're talking with a relative or an old friend when another friend approaches. You are aware that friend number one does not know friend number two so you invite friend number two into the conversation with an introduction in mind. "Hey Bob" you say to friend number two, " I'd like you to favorite cousin...ah...mmm..." Ever happen to you? I call it short term memory meltdown. When it happens to you alone, without an audience, it just makes you feel stupid in a private sort of way. But when there are other people involved, people with whom you grew up, or see on a regular basis, it is the nut-buster of all nut-busters.

I'll deal with longterm memory in a moment, but the annoying lapse of memory that looms its ugly head, forcing me into behavior changing rituals, is usually of the short term variety. I have gone into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and rummaged around the leftovers for minutes before realizing that what I really wanted was a pencil. I have left rhe room in a rush to get something very specific from the closet and then stood staring at my clothes with no idea why I was even there. Consequently, I have come up with ways to remind myself of things. I wish that I could remember what they were now...

Oh yeah, that's right, memory. Lost my train of thought for a moment. None of my reminder methods work but one. I used to write notes and leave them around the house. Invariably, as I walked by the table or dresser, I would grab these memos to myself, look at them and say, "oh yeah, can't forget about this" and put the note in my pocket where it would live until laundry day when I would try to decode the crumpled little bastards after pulling them out of the lint screen.

When I absolutely had to bring a certain item with me to work or on a trip, I thought it would be good to place the item directly in front of the door and in my path. Most of the time, I would kick whatever it was out of the way cursing as I bolted out the door in a rush not aware that I had just left a tuna sandwich and yogurt to marinate my rug. I finally swore off this method after driving halfway to the airport having thrown my carry-on across the room because I had tripped over it.

The only thing that really works for me is a combination of the two failed methods. I write myself a note and hang it at eye level in the middle of the doorway with blue masking tape. There is still the initial "what the fuck is this" moment, but the combination of a written note and a physical impediment to leaving my house just seems to do the trick.

Oddly enough, my long term memory is quite good. I'll have some interesting thoughts and experiences on that subject in my next entry. So tie a string on your finger and remember to read me in the next day or so.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Guitar Stringing

A good guitar will be your friend for life, and it pays to be nice to your friends. I am a bit obsessive on the subject of properly stringing a guitar. When I play, or when I hand someone a guitar that I have re-strung, I expect that guitar to feel good, play in tune and, most importantly, to stay in tune. "well, it's got new strings" is the lamest, albeit the most uttered, excuse for tuning instability. When I hand a guitar to a player, I want to hear the words, "goddamn, this thing sounds great!" And then "well, it's got new strings" takes on a completely different meaning. This is how I do it.

First of all, regardless of the funk factor, I clean the guitar, the whole guitar. I despise dirty instruments, and I won't put strings on a dirty guitar. It's like putting clean underwear on a dirty ass. Doesn't make sense. So, first things first. In this example, let's assume we are changing strings on a Gibson with three tuners per side and a tunamatic bridge and stop-bar tail piece. I like to work with the guitar on it's back and I put a small pillow under the neck. Unwind the tuners until all the strings are loose. Put a cloth under the strings at the area of the bridge and cut the strings one by one with a string cutter. As you cut the last string, the tail piece will pop off so keep a finger on it to prevent it from scratching the finish. Remove the tail piece and bridge and put them aside, well clear of the work space.Remove each string from it's tuning machine and throw them away.

Every string change is an opportunity to be nice to the fingerboard. Using a terry cloth towel, clean the wood between each fret. I don't use chemical cleaners for this, a little elbow grease works best. Then, run a pencil eraser up and down each fret four or five times. If you've never done this, you will be shocked to see the difference before and after. And you will definately feel the difference in playability. After a thorough cleaning, apply a bit of regular lemon oil to the wood with a Q-tip. Don't worry about getting the lemon oil on the frets. Let the oil get happy for a few minutes, then wipe the finger board down from end to end with a relatively clean cloth. When the strings are off, it is also nice to give the entire guitar a good wipe down. Just a clean cloth will do. I don't use chemicals unless there is a specific reason to do so.

After cleaning the headstock, turn the tuning keys so that each post is positioned with the hole pointing 90 degrees to the string direction. With a stop bar tail piece, I like to load all six strings into the holes before stringing. then I caefully replace the bridge, making sure that it was put back the same way it was taken off. Sometimes it is helpful to wedge a small sponge under the tail piece to keep it in place until the string tension holds it properly.

I always install the 'D' and 'G' strings first for two reasons. First, it wil prevent undue lateral torque on the neck and second, it will hold the tail piece immediately in place. So, pass the 'D' string up and over the tuning post, and put the index finger of your right hand between the string and the post. with your left hand, put the end of the string through the hole on the outside of the headstock. Now, pull the string through with your index finger still in place, and bend the string sharply toward the body of the guitar. pass the end of the string back under the post and under the hole where you first inserted the string. Then pull it up and over the inserted string, between the string and the post bending it sharply. Now, and this takes practice, hold the string in your left hand and at about the fourth fret and put tension on the string as you remove the first finger of your right hand. Try to maintain tension as you do this. Now, hold the string in the nut slot with your right first finger and keep the tension with the remaining fingers and thumb of the right hand while winding the string with your left. If all of this is done correctly, the string will be locked into place and when you wind it to tension, you should have three wraps of string on the string post. This not only looks nice, it wil help the string stay in tune. Wind it up to pitch.

Now do the 'G' string in the same way but realize that you have to think in a mirror image as to direction. Wind each string to pitch as you install. Cut the excess string length as close to the post as possible. Now for a little stretching. If you have a capo handy, install it directly over the nut. pull each string at least three times at the fourth fret, the seventh fret, the twelfth fret and over the pick-ups. Re-tune the guitar to pitch and repeat. Now tune the guitar and play a bit. Doesn't it feel nice? Don't the frets feel a bit smoother when you bend notes?

At this point, it may be necessary to make some intonation adjustments at the bridge but that is another subject. This method takes a bit of time and practice but if it is done properly, your guitar will feel better, stay in tune with a greater degree of reliability and you will have had some fun being good to your guitar.

Remember, a good guitar will be your friend for life. And it pays to be nice to your friends.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Weird Gigs: Part 2...Tough-Man Karaoke

Here's another installment from the "weird gigs" file. When I came home from this one I realized how spoiled we are in Southern California. There are so many ways to be entertained here, most of them more sophisticated than what happens in the hinterlands of the Midwest. But as necessity is the mother of invention, so is extreme boredom the mother of creating stupid shit to do. This is one example that proves the rule.

Saginaw, Michigan is situated in the center of the state. Michigan is shaped roughly like a boxing glove and if you live in Saginaw, you live just about at the second knuckle of the fist. We were in town to play some sort of outdoor street fest. Lots of sweat, huge bugs, beer, brats(wurst, that is), and a typical midwestern crowd. Always appreciative and ready to rock and have a good time. I always loved to play these gigs because the locals loved to show us a good time after the gig. Most of the band would be into twisting one and ordering pizza at the hotel, but I always made it a point to find out just what the people of Saginaw or Moline or Terre Haute could invent for late night entertainment.

On this particular night, the gig proved to be of secondary importance. The rep from the hosting radio station had been with us since we had arrived at the airport. She was blond, hip, and best of all, had a white corvette. White corvettes are the perfect car to drive drunk least that's what the blond radio rep tried to sell me. She said that she was going to take me to a club out in the sticks that I was going to love. I talked her out of the drivers seat and we roared off into the woods.

In a clearing on the country highway, there stood a garishly lit roadhouse. It was big enough for a crowd of five or six hundred so the thousand or so that were in the place made for a snug fit. We passed through the bar grabbing handfuls of pitchers en route to what I thought was a small back room. I was surprised to find that as we passed through the swinging doors, the "small back room" was actually a huge dancehall and it was ramming like a beer commercial in there.

And here was where the fun started. In the middle of the hall was a dance floor and in the center of the floor was a boxing ring...a real fucking boxing ring, complete with a couple of exhausted shit-kickers sitting on stools in opposing corners, pouring sweat, gasping for air, and waiting for the bell. A girl with a microphone slipped through the ropes, the bell rang and out they came. They wore street clothes without shirts and went after each other throwing wild haymakers. Since the gloves were huge, they were totally done in thirty seconds and spent the rest of the two minute round swinging their bodies from side to side in hopes that the centrifical force might lift their fist high enough to look like a punch.

The bell rang and the heaving shit-kickers fell backwards onto their stools. From the side of the ring, there was a rush of activity. A TV screen had been put into the ring and someone announced that Todd was up. "Let's make some noise for Todd!!" Out of the speakers came the intro of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" and into the ring leaped Todd...with wireless mic and an Elvis suit! This was...this was absolute genius in entertaiment. Beer, controlled fighting and Kara-fucking-oke! All under one roof, and under that one roof, along with the beer, the fighting and the Karaoke, were tons of drunken chicks!

This madness went on all night long. I don't know which sign-up line was longer, the one to get beat up, or the "I'm so fucked up I sing like Johnnie Mathis" line. This was something I had never seen before. Two minutes of watching guys trying not to get hit alternating with three minutes of homegrown, drunken versions of everything from Tom Jones to Pat Benatar. Most fun I had in months.

I don't remember how or when, but at some point, I found myself back at the hotel just in time to brush my teeth and get down to the car taking us to the airport. Ah Saginaw...another night could have been dangerous.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Boyd Gumm

Boyd Gumm and I had three fights. My record against Boyd gumm stands at 1 and 2. I won the last fight by decision in the winter of my seventh grade year at Crestview School. Winning our last fight meant more to me than any scholastic or athletic accomplishments that I may have had under my belt by that time.

Boyd Gumm had a moustache and rode a motorcycle to the SEVENTH GRADE! Boyd was a seventeen year old hillbilly who terrorized all of the students at Crestview School. He was the guy voted "least desirable to make eye contact with." Your lunch money was his lunch money. And when we played basketball, no matter who was fouled, he took the free throws. Boyd was a bully and needed to be put in his place...but none of the teachers had the balls to stand up to him, and he ran rampant. I was crazy enough to think that I was the chosen one who would lead us out of the clutches of this miscreant. I was wrong twice but the third time proved that he was not invincible.

My first meeting with Boyd occured during the summer before sixth grade. I had gone to the corner store and bought one of those magnetic tablets that has a face under a plastic cavity full of metal shavings which you could form into hair and beard with a magnetic stylus. On the way home, I had stopped to play with this thing under a shade tree. A guy I later learned was Boyd road by and quite roughly slapped the thing out of my hands and into the ditch.

About a month later, I was walking my dog in the woods close by the neighborhood. I felt something hit me in the back and turned to see Boyd with a dirt clod held in his hand ready to fire. Without a word, we fell on each other, wrestled to the ground and began to swing wildly. At least I swung wildly. Boyd knew how to fight and was not wild with his swings. He got me a few good punches and dragged me by my feet into the creek. Before I could get up, he ran away laughing and calling me "sissy" over his shoulder. That was twice that he had attacked me without provocation...and kicked my ass!

Now, boys will be boys, and sometimes they just fight for no reason, but this was getting on my nerves. Later that fall, after school had started, I was in the vacant lot behind our house hitting baseballs. The neighborhood guys had all pulled together and turned this lot into a baseball field complete with dugouts. The only drawback to the field was that the infield was gravel. Well, here came Boyd on his motorbike and I thought it would be a great idea to redistribute some gravel in his direction. Boyd ran me down with the bike, jumped off and proceeded to kick my ass again. As he sat on my chest, the gravel poking throught my sweatshirt, my older brother ran out of the house and cracked Boyd across the head with his catcher's mitt, knocking him off. Then I got to watch as Boyd got his ass good and kicked. Sadly, it was a pyrrhic victory. My brother went to a different school and Boyd terrorized me and everyone in that school mercilessly for the next year.

Ah, but by the winter of seventh grade I had grown. I was always tall for my age, but now I had grown a bit bulkier and was at least two inches taller than the now seventeen and moustached bully. In front of the school there was a round driveway where the school bus picked up the students. In winter when it snowed, the snow plow would clean the driveway and plow the snow into the center of the circle forming a mountain of snow on which we would play. One morning we were playing "King of the Mountain" and Boyd decided that he would be king. He made his way to the top of the hill tossing the smaller kids aside. Soon, it was Boyd and me, alone at the top of the snow mound and facing off like a pair of rams. We sized each other up, circled, and fell on each other viciously. This time it was different. After I knocked him down, I sat on his chest and held him as all the little kids stuffed dirty snow in his face. The teachers finally pulled me off of Boyd but I can't help but think that they stood by a bit longer than they would have had the fight involved someone other than Boyd.

As we sat in the office awaiting punishment, Boyd was the image of defeat. The chastisement of the little kids had humiliated him beyond all repair. The reign of terror had come to an end. Oh sure, Boyd still threw an occasional punch and tried to bogart free throws at recess. But the fear had left us and his bullying was no longer effective.

And so I look back on my 1 and 2 record knowing that a valuable lesson had been learned by both of us. I learned that bullies are really pussies...and Boyd? Well, I don't know if Boyd learned any real lesson. But he did learn that if you fuck with enough people, eventually they will get together and kick your ass.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Shangri La, Where to Start

When we first walked into Shangri La, it became painfully obvious to all of us that writing or recording music was at least six months down the road. Before any assessment could be made as to what might be done to turn the place back into a studio, there would need to be a massive clean-up.

The main studio room, which was originally built as a large, covered patio, is about thirty feet square. The floor was a concrete slab, the walls were tongue and groove cedar, and the roof started at ten feet and lofted to sixteen. There were four sky-lights and two big windows facing west. There was a "vocal booth" with an uneven plywood floor and no real walls to speak of, and another room with a washer and dryer which ultimately became our shop and mic locker. As you went out into the back yard, there were also two more rooms, the walls of which were half inch sheet-rock hanging on studs by a few nails. The floor plan had wonderful potential, but a great deal of work and materials would be needed to make it all work.

The control room was equally as difficult a proposition. The ceiling rose from six and a half feet at the back to just under eight up front where the main speakers would be installed. The wall where Jim intended to install the Big Red monitors was a joke. Someone had tacked up a few sheets of sheet-rock and cut holes into them for speakers. This room would have to be completely gutted in order for us to ascertain which walls and how much of them would work.

As to the technical aspects of the studio, The electric service was archaic and would require up-grading not only to insure relatively quiet operation of recording equipment, but also to insure that we wouldn't have to sweep what was left of a musician under the console when the big zap hit. The entire building was grossly under-powered and there were serious grounding issues. There was no air conditioning, and the lighting would have to be redone.

Other than that, this was going to be a snap...

Monday, October 02, 2006


Dexter is dead. Long live Dexter in the hearts of those who knew him. I heard the news two days ago that Dexter had gone the way of all flesh and now a tribute is in order.

Dexter was the truest, most loyal, and most courageous of all the gang up at Shangri La. He did his job with a minimum of supervision and I never once heard him complain. He was the first to arrive in the morning and usually the last to bed at night. I can say without question, that he was probably the only motherfucker in that studio who never, ever pushed his ideas just to get some writing credit on a song. And Dexter had manners. He only pissed in one corner of the yard...which was not at all in keeping with the habits of the rest of us.

I guess you could say that Dexter was a bouncer of sorts. He was cool about it though. He didn't flex his muscles or show off. I don't think he ever threw a punch. He had a unique way of dealing with interlopers and unwanted visitors to the studio. He would watch as they stepped out of their car, and then he would sprint at them, usually on all fours, put his nose an inch away from their balls and bark...really loud! Nobody, but nobody ever got past Dexter.

Dexter was a German Shepherd/ Labrador mix and he looked just like a dog. But when he stared you down with those deep brown eyes, there was the distinct feeling that someone was in there. Fourteen years ago, Jim Nipar called me from his Jeep while he was driving home from a ski trip. He had stopped at the animal shelter in Mammoth because someone had told him that there was a batch of good dogs here and he was looking for a dog for his daughter. Some years before, Jim had lost a good friend when his Irish Setter had died. I was surprised when he called to tell me that he had adopted a new puppy, after swearing never to have another dog.

Dexter grew up around horses...horses and the teen-aged girls who rode them. Jim's daughter went away to college soon after we moved the Beejtar operation from the Bunker out to Malibu, so Dexter graduated from horses to musicians.

On one occasion, we busted Dexter trying to act like a dog. He wasn't very good at it. Our pal, guitarist Jamie Shane had given him a giant butcher bone. When we took a break from recording, Dexter met us at the back door with mud all over his muzzle. In the planter behind him was the bone half-covered with dirt. He had an embarassed look on his face but we couldn't help laughing out loud. He tried to hide that bone over and over. Sometimes he would half-bury it, lie in front of it, and if anyone looked, he would look off into the distance vacantly as if to say, " there is nothing here to look at, human."

Good old Dexter. He was a true bro. All of us will miss him.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The "Oh, My Fucking God" Cafe

The "Oh, My Fucking God" Cafe was established in 2004 in the kitchen of Shangri La studio, Malibu, California. After Mark Knopfler chose Shangri La as the studio for his album of the same name, the next logical concern was of course, the food. Mics, guitars, amps...those are minor concerns when it comes to producing a musical masterpiece of the first order. The issue that overloaded email inboxes on both sides of the Atlantic was, "Who is cooking?"

Studio owner Beej Chaney, after diligent research, found someone. As I re-read the last sentence, I must apologize for the poverty of the statement. I might just as well say that Michaelangelo painted some things, or that Edison figured some stuff out. Yes, Beej found someone to cook for the sessions. And that someone was named Myriam...and Myriam, like Michaelangelo and Edison, is very special indeed.

I first met Myriam and her husband, Manuel, about a month before the sessions were to begin. She had agreed to fix lunch for us at the studio in order that we might get an idea of her culinary skills. Ultimately it proved to be a total waste of time. As far as anyone within nostril range was concerned, she was hired before the napkins were folded!

Now, as to the naming of the "Oh, My Fucking God" Cafe, credit must be given to the musicians in Mark's band. Engineer/producer Chuck Ainlay had arrived on the scene a few days early and the band members were all finally assembled the night before recording was to begin. That dinner was the first meal that Myriam put on the table. It was a typical re-assembling of old veterans and comrades. There was much catching up to do and the kitchen was a hive of excited conversation. There were some comments about how good it smelled in there, but by and large, it was a bunch of guys with a job in front of them catching up on the latest news.

Then, the soup landed as if in flying saucers from another planet. I think it was a Carrot and ginger puree. Now, one thing about these guys that must be said, they are all gentlemen and no-one lifted a spoon until all had been served. The conversation continued until the first spoonful found it's target and then, one voice after another intoned the words, "Oh, my fucking God..." softly, almost religiously. The sound of it resembled the muttered prayers of monks in a monastery. And then everyone, empty spoon half-raised, looked up at Myriam as if she was a vision of the Vigin Mary appearing in a cloud and repeated, "Oh, my fucking God..."

In the five weeks that the band ate Myriam's food, it was always the same. The impact of her menu rivalled any religious experience I had ever personally witnessed. I had seen people pray before, but never with this level of commitment and gratitude. This was, for all purposes a true conversion to a higher power. At one sitting, Chuck begged that the first course be the last because it was so good, and he was afraid that anything better might kill him. There was talk of shooting ourselves in the head to prevent ourselves from profaning our palates with what we had regarded as food during the course our lives before Myriam.

The curious thing was, that everyone said it. It was a prayer uttered by all, and completely involuntary. When someone new was at the table, the initiates would wait and watch as the guest took his first bite. And every time, bar none, it was as if John the Baptist himself was hard at work. The words would come out, "Oh, my fucking God...", and the conversion completed. Rudy Pensa visited for a few day. Now Rudy not only knows food, Rudy loves food. Converting Rudy would be like putting a turban on the Pope. But when Rudy took that first bite...he leaped out of his chair and, at the top of his lungs, screamed, "Myriam... Oh my fucking God... Myriam... I want to kill myself! Jesus Christ! Myriam!" Our Lady of Fatima was child's play in comparison!

I ate better during those five weeks than I ever had, before or since. And Myriam's food became a catalyst bonding everyone with the good fortune of having partaken of it into a special sort of brotherhood. There would be knowing glances of an almost occult nature. Someone might say, "Man, remember that fish yesterday?" and the others would murmer a reponse as if to say "et cum spiri tu tuo".

Ah yes...the wistful memories that are the "Oh, My Fucking God" Cafe. I have only one regret, and that is that Mother Teresa has passed on from this world. I truly wish that she could have experienced Myriam's God-like talent. Not that I care if she ever got a good meal...I just would have given anything to hear her solemnly intone those magic words.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Bus

We didn't know it at the time, but our days at the Bunker were soon to come to an end. Before Shangri La however, we were spending much time and effort making the bunker a comfortable recording room. One day, a surfing buddy of Beej's told him that he knew of a bus that was parked in a field in Malibu that supposedly was equipped with a pile of analog recording equipment. Jim went with Beej to look at it and sure enough, in the middle of a vacant field, there she stood. A 1950 GMC bus with about two hundred feet of extension cord connecting it to an outlet in a nearby plant nursery. The inside was paved in beer cans and apparently some surf band had been jamming. When Jim pulled up the sheets covering some equipment, he discovered an MCI 500 mixing console and a Studer A80 24 track tape machine! There was also a Studer 2 track. the interior had been built as an acoustic environment and the bus was divided into two rooms with a double glass door separating the small control room from the rear section which was big enough for a full drumset. It was amazing.

Needless to say, Beej acquired the bus and as it hadn't been registered in years, we had it flat-bedded to the bunker. I'll never forget following that big bastard as the truck driver took it through the Malibu canyon tunnels. It was so high on the flatbed that he had to take it right up the middle with the air horn blasting.When we got it to the Bunker, we parked it in the alley and ran a snake in to the studio. Voila! Instant control room. It was great man. A great sounding room and now, a separate control room with great gear. We recorded a version of "Goggles On" in the bus soon after.

Also soon after, Beej walked in as Jim was putting the very last screws into a speaker soffit and said, "How do you guys feel about moving to Malibu?" Jim and I looked at each other, then at the board we were screwing down, then back to Beej. "Uh, this is the last screw man, and this place is finished." Jim said. Well, it seemed that beej had finally had it with the drive and had been looking at the old Shangri La studio which was way out on the far side of Malibu. Fuck. The Bunker was so cool, we finally had a great recording rig. Man we were about to get some great work done.

Shangri la was a pipedream. Apparently, the guy who owned the place was about to level the building, build a new mansion and then sell out. The place was far from being a viable place to make music. The control room needed to be completely rebuilt. Someone had walked with the glass separating it from the studio. It was funky, man. Not cool funky, but "oh christ, where do we throw this shit" funky. It looked like a six month job before we ever rolled tape. And that was a hard pill to swallow, being as close to wetness as we were in the Bunker.

But...we were moving to Malibu. That was that. It took about two months to dismantle all the work we had done at the Bunker. Then we started the daily trips from the valley out to Shangri La. I'd meet Jim at the Bunker at six am, we'd beat the traffic, grab a McMuffin and spend the day either tearing shit down or building shit up. We took out whole walls in some places. I dragged every bit of carpet down the hill to the trash...and anyone who knows anything about the history of Shangri La can attest to how funky that carpet had to be. The yard had to be leveled and concrete pads poured for the bus to have a stable home. And finally we rented a huge moving truck, loaded up our shit, and hit the highway

It sounds so simple in hind-sight, but it was a huge undertaking. And Jim and I did it pretty much on our own. My back aches just thinking about it, But here we were, in Malibu, at Shangri La.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

My 1962 Precision Bass

In the mid to late 70's, Fender basses built previous to the CBS buyout of the Fender company were beginning to appreciate in value. At that time, a new P bass could be had for about $300.00. For about twice that amount, you could find a "pre-CBS" in reasonable condition and you might find a beater for quite a bit less. I owned a Pre-CBS Jazz bass and a '72 Precision, but I just couldn't be hip unless I got my hands on an old P now, could I?

I had a friend named Ward who was just a hell of a guitar player. He had a power trio that relly cooked, and it was all him, man. Well, to be fair, the whole band was really good, but he MADE them better. Doug, the bass player had a '62 P bass that just looked like absolute shit. The only thing valuable about it was the serial number. It was pre-CBS, and that made it worth something.

Functionally, this bass was a disaster. The original pick-up was intact, but a second split pick-up had been installed in the bridge a cro-magnon, using a flint hatchet instead of a router. The hole had literally been dug out of the alder wood body with a knife or a screwdriver, and the wires were taped into a channel cut into the top of the body!! And if that wasn't bad enough, there was a humbucking style guitar pick-up installed with the same mincing attention to detail demonstrated by the brigde unit. This one was placed butt-up against the end of the neck. What a fucking mess that instrument was.

BUT...there were two things about that bass that made me want it. Doug got the bass from an english guy named Derrick, and Derrick was given the bass by Klaus Voorman. Three degrees from the Beatles, man! This was a big deal to me. Who knew who's hands had turned those knobs? Who had those tuners between their thumb and first finger? I mean, Klaus Knew the Beatles in Hamburg and played with John on "Imagine" for god's sake! Who might have fingered that neck? Which brings me to the absolute deal maker on that bass.

The fucking neck on this bass is bloody insane. First of all, it's bird's-eye maple. I've seen moderately figured maple used on Fender necks, but I've never seen another like this. A big, wide, flat hunk of bird's-eye maple capped with rosewood the color of french roast coffee beans. I played this thing every two weeks for six months while I wrestled with the $300.00 price tag that Doug had put on it. Finally, I came to my senses and decided that the neck alone was worth that amount, and we made the deal.

The bass sounded great as it was. The original pick-up was all that worked so on tape and in your hands, it was a monster. But it was so fucking ugly that I had to do something. I got hold of a tortoise shell pick-guard and took the bass apart. The first step was to get rid of all the holes and wire channels cut into the body. Idiot that I was, I filled it with Bondo. Then I painted it black and re-assembled it. It looked great...sounded like shit! So I tried all the hip bolt-on solutions of the era. This consisted of a solid brass bridge and nut...sounded like shit!

In addition to the bridge getting rid of the Fender characteristic sound, it seemed that the bondo didn't like the vibrations and it began to desintigrate and rattle. I made the decision to do major surgery. what did I have to lose? the body was a mess anyway, and I could always use the neck.

I took a router to the pick-up holes and cleaned the cavities. then I took 3/8ths of an inch off the entire face of the body. Then I found a nice piece of 3/4 inch birds-eye, cut it in half and bookmatched it. I marked the seam with the center line of the body and glued it to the face. Glueing to the surface of the upper contour was tricky, but a couple of clamps did the trick and the maple bent enough to follow the body shape. After trimming and rounding the edges, I cut pick-up holes for two Jazz Bass pick-ups. I cut the control access into the rear in order to keep the top clean looking. Then I made a pick-guard out of clear plexi-glass. I finished the body with clear nitrocellulose lacquer, waited two weeks, and rubbed the shit out of it. I installed a pair of old Jazz pick-ups with the appropriate potentiometers. Then came the bridge. The original bridge on old Fenders are engineered for cheapness. You get the feeling that Fender used whatever the hardware store happened to have in stock. BUT...that's the sound man. I put the original bridge with those threaded barrels back on, and from the first note I decided never to question anything that happened in the old Fullerton factory. It just sounded exactly like it was supposed to sound.

So my '62 isn't "all original", hell, even the case fell to bits. But anyone and everyone that has had their hands on it have a hell of a time putting it down. This bass fought hard to be here and its character shines through all the changes in appearence, pick-ups, hardware and owners. And as far as owners go, I will be the last.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Bunker

After a few left turns for the sake of some laughs, I'll get back to the activities at Browne's Feat, or as we had begun to refer to the place, The Bunker. After dis-banding dis band (forgive me, but I think that's pretty friggin' funny) we decided to turn the rehearsal space into a recording studio, at least enough of a recording studio for us to write and demo our own work. The room sounded great already and could take the sound pressure of SVT's and Marshalls. All we had to do was create an area that would serve as a make-shift control room.

Jim carved this out of a storage area that was originally the store-front of the building. Two or three times a night, you could hear bums on the Lankershim sidewalk pissing on the other side of the wall, or the dull thud as one collapsed against the boarded-up window and oozed down to a well-deserved night's rest in our doorway. Beej bought a second-hand Tascam 16-track recorder and in combination with a Yamaha PA board and Jim's rack of mic-pre's, we had a decent little set up.

The next step was finding a drummer. I had been talking with Jim and Beej about David Raven for months. David was just crazy enough for this gig. Remember, Beej was fucking crazy in front of an audience. As calm a guy as he was off-stage, when he fronted a band, he was PLUGGED-IN. That's the only words that describe it. The last time I saw Dave, he was in a crouch position, schushing down Mt. Rose in jeans and a black leather trench coat. Yeah, Dave would be just perfect, if only I could find him. I had lost touch, and just as we were talking about the guy, he appeared. We were going into the door of the Eagle coffee shop in the NoHo district and I literally bumped into him as he was coming out! We looked at each other for a few seconds as it registered, and I practically shouted, "This is the motherfucker man...Jim, this is fucking Dave man," and "Dave, goddammit, we were talking about you right now...RIGHT NOW! do you understand! where have you been? what's your number? what're you doing?" I mean, I had not seen Dave in a few years, had no way of contacting him, and I was basically just making the point that we had to find someone just like Dave...and the guy actually walks right into me!

So, long story short, we got him and his drums down to the Bunker and had a play. Both Beej and Jim were knocked out right from the jump. Dave could get nuts, but he could do it on a consistent basis. We started cutting tracks right away and stashing them for future development. Some of these fragments became songs and found their way onto the "Windows" album that we finished at Shangri La years later. Others are still on some piece of tape in a closet, waiting to be put on a machine and turned up...loud.

We were all optimistic about our prospects. The J.R.S. deal had been a rough kick in the nards, but we felt like we were finally getting somewhere. We were making music again.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Toilet Humor

I just talked with an old road warrior pal of mine and as a result of that conversation, I feel "moved" to say a few things about the benefits of toilet humor. First of all, everyone thinks that farts are funny. PERIOD. And anyone who doesn't admit it is a goddamn liar. I would give anything to be granted an interview with the Pope. Could you just picture tearing canvas in the presence of his holiness and watching him try to look...well, holy? And I contend that it is beyond the realm of reasonable belief to think that the presidential cabinet, any presidential cabinet, hasn't been punctuated by high fives and comments like, "Nice one, George!" (Washington or Bush, take your pick).

I just thought that I would thin out the crowd and get rid of the potty humor pussies before I get into my story. Some years ago, I was doing a few "Oldies" type gigs. Four or five blasts from the past, a backstage deli tray, and a a bunch of liars telling each other about all the "original" music that they are recording back home and how they are all just about to get signed. The truth is that it was good work, good fun and decent dough. One of my favorite things was when the acts would argue about who was opening for who...(whom? ah, who cares). What was left of The Association were the worst, man. They (the two-and-a-half remaining guys) thought that they were too fucking famous to open for anyone else now that The Beatles had broken up. Seeing these self-possessed midgets in their white suits taking on Mitch Ryder's leather and bandana clad gang was a special moment.

Well, back to the point. Sometimes there would be a celebrity DJ serving as emcee on these shows. Once, on a steaming summer day in North Carolina, I was sitting on the can getting rid of two days and three flights worth of road food induced bowel kinks. I heard the next door creak open and shut. Then I heard the unmistakable growl of Wolfman Jack as he lowered himself into the throne of life. "Owww baaby!" I had to laugh out loud and at the same time I thought, Fuck man, I'm shitting two feet away from Wolfman Jack! Then I heard a noise that sounded like bowling balls being dropped into a pool from a helicopter. I answered with a scatter-shot butt-splasher of my own and we both laughed uncontrollably.

As we washed our hands, Wolf told me a hilarious story. It seems that he was doing an all day gig and wearing an Elvis type jump suit. As he introduced the first act, he went to fart...and shit his pants! Picture it, outside gig, all day, no change of clothes...and porta-potties for facilities. I asked him what he did, and he said "what do you think, baby. I walked around in shitty pants all day long!" Christ, I smile at the thought.

So , if you're not into toilet humor, fuck ya, I think its funny... and so do you, you just won't admit it. More Shangri La next time.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Good News!

As I've been writing the Prelude to what happened to Shangri La, some new and exciting developments have been taking place. My last Five months at Shangri La were consumed with starting a new production company which was to be built on relationships between writers, producers and artists. We were well on our way to realizing an environment in which we had control over all of the artistic issues so often fucked up by the "suits" of the industry. We had a perfect facility for songwriters to come and be inspired, and were developing a state of the art techical facility in which to produce great music. Some of the best musicians in the business were coming around and producers like Gary Miller, John Porter and John Hanlon were on deck with artists and projects lined up. All of the necessary relationships with labels and A&R people were in our grasp. And then, as you'll read in my ongoing saga, it all turned to shit.

Well, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a facility appeared and the owners of that facility have expressed desires to take on the activities we had worked so hard to bring to fruition. In other words...we're back in the saddle!

The new production company is still in the baby stages but all of our old relationships being intact, I anticipate a very successful outcome. We are starting by building a production suite for Gary Miller who brings so very much to the table. There is a threat that John Porter will be bringing projects to the new place as well. The new hideout is full of great writing areas and is beautifully situated close by the same ocean as Shangri La.

As we get up a head of steam in the writing and production end, a large part of my energies will be spent in turning a big room on the property into a worthy live recording room. It's a bit daunting and there is much to build on a low budget. But goddammit! This is going to be fun!

Everytime musicians came into the main room at Shangri la, they would say things like, "Damn, it sure sounds good in here" or "listen to this room, it just wants to make some music". Well, I was there when that room was just a big square full of air. I know what went into it. A lot of thought, tons of intuition, and years of blood and sweat (no tears). And I'll be damned if we can't do it again. I'll keep you posted as we progress.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Reckless Heart

Things developed quickly at Browne's Feat and we decided to begin work on a record. Beej had some songs that he had been working on along with a pile of fragments that we began to sift through to see if anything could be developed. Beej had a real talent for riffing. He couldn't begin to jam with musicians, but he could riff like a bastard on his own ideas. The problem was that all the musicians that he'd played with in the past didn't respect his playing. Consequently, his ideas would be co-opted and rewritten by players who thought that they knew better. For some reason, I wasn't as threatening to him as others had been and I am a very patient collaborator. I just let him riff on for hours and then guided him into directions that had form and some semblence of commerciality. After all, you do ultimately have to sell records.

I had always loved the old Captain Beefheart records and this seemed an excellent opportunity to do something of that nature but a bit more mainstream.As Beej wasn't comfortable playing with others, we needed a band. We needed a band that was raw, that could pull off sophisticated ideas, and that could interpret his guitar ramblings without being jaded. We wanted guys that played like they meant it.

Enter Glen Doty, Kenny Harris and Craig Burdg. These three were in a band that played with real fire but didn't have the songs. I brought in a tape and both Beej and Jim were impressed with their aggressive honesty, so we talked them into giving their bass player the "Pete Best" treatment and they hooked up with us. The first rehearsal was a great indication of the attitude we were looking for. On the way in to the studio, Craig got a ticket for making a non emergency stop on the freeway. The non emergency was Glen's bladder which was being emptied on Interstate 10 during rush hour resulting in a citation being issued to Glen for "Freeway Urination" swear to god! I had never seen that written on a ticket before.

My job was to play bass and work with these guys to make them sound the way Beej would sound if he could play. Glen turned out to be a motherfucker. He loved volume, and he knew how to use it in very dynamic and musical ways. It was to be an exciting band and Beej fronted the shit out of us. We recorded a five song CD with a remote truck parked outside of a place called the Alley. There was a great sounding rehearsal stage there that suited us much better than a proper recording studio could have.

The record was called "Reckless Heart" and was released on J.R.S. records. We did a short bus tour and found that no-one knew who we were, we weren't getting airplay, and our records weren't in the shops. Our success had supposedly been arranged by virtue of a suitcase full of money being put into the proper hands. As it turned out, it was the right money but the wrong hands...and we, or I should say, Beej got rat-fucked...big. Shame, I still like the sound of that record. Jim recorded the shit out of a bunch of guys who really tried to capture what Beej was about. It was honest, and it was a shame that our own company wasn't. well...what the fuck is new...right?

When we got back into LA, Jim and Beej decided that having a band was going to be too expensive. It was a big disappointment to the guys to know that it was over before it started. On the bright side, Beej had been fair and they had been paid. They also got a taste of the road life, and afterall, there was that drunken banker's wife in Salt Lake City that had her Goth on and insisted we all sign her massive hogans. I still wonder how she explained away the Mercedes insignia on her left one...sharpie is forever man. Nuff said. The point is, we had some laughs, got paid for it and it didn't work out.

What next?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Shangri La, How It All Started

It was a dark and windy night. the full moon, partially swathed in billowy clouds, hovered overhead and a lonely dog bayed in the distance...umm...sorry, wrong time and place...this story starts in North Hollywood.

It was August of 1990, hot as hell, and the corner of Lankershim and Burbank Blvd. smelled like stale tortillas and fresh piss. The pan-handlers at the 76 station could be heard accosting customers with the usual "my car is out of gas just around the corner" spiel, and the moon was a dim ghost in the polluted sky. There, that's more like it.

I had a friend named Jim Nipar who was a well-respected recording engineer. He had recorded Donald Byrd, Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr, a shitload of great musicians. Jim had asked me if I would come down to a rehearsal studio to record a bass track on a demo he was producing. He and I had become brothers-in-arms on the road and my attitude was that if he was in, then I was in. He was doing a sort of development deal with a guy named Beej who had been a member of the Suburbs, a pop-punk-party band from Minneapolis. Beej had left the band and was in LA with eyes to do a solo act. They had leased "Browne's Feat", a funky rehearsal space in North Hollywood that was a favorite hang of Lowell George and Jackson Brown, hence the name. And when I say funky...the place had hippie murals painted on every flat surface, funky velvet furniture, fake gold-framed mirrors, clouds painted on the ceiling, lava lamps plugged into every outlet...funky...but cool.

Jim had a Yamaha PA mixer on a big box that looked like it was made out of orange crates plugged into a four-track cassette recorder.The epitome of simplicity.

Jim plugged me in, we got a sound, and he played me the track. It was a cover of "Pushin' too Hard" by Skye Saxon and the Seeds. A perfect cover for Beej's style. I actually remembered the song because my neighborhood band played the damn thing back when it was a hit. I played the shit out of the tune, we all kissed each other's asses for a while, I got fifty bucks and I went home. They both liked the fact that I could play as if I was still in eighth grade (which is not easy to do for a lot of players) so I was told that I would be invited back to do some things on Beej's original stuff. Well, cool. Some fun, a little extra do-re-mi and who knows, this might turn into something interesting.

As it happened, the next two years turned into a record deal, a short tour, and a rat-fuck by the label, all accompanied by characters and stories to be told in due time. But that was how it started. Six years later we would start to rebuild Shangri La. And not one of us in the room that night had the faintest clue that in fifteen years we would be at each other, involved in bullshit legal issues that had nothing to do with what we were really about. All we knew then was that we liked making music, we didn't like being fucked with, and we were bro's. Who knew?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Strange Prophecy of Keb' Mo's Album, "Suitcase"

In December of 2005, my friend, John Porter approached me about the availability of Shangri La Studio for the recording of a new album by Keb' Mo'. John had produced two albums for Keb', whose full name is Kevin Moore and I was happy to offer them the hospitality of the studio for the project, which was to begin recording in January, 2006. The album would ultimately be released under the title, "Suitcase". The title proved to be strangely prophetic.

As we walked out of the studio on March 30, John, Kevin and I shook hands and talked about how perfect the studio had been for this project. They weren't aware of the cancerous rumblings of ruin taking place just under the surface of the studio, but I couldn't help telling them of my feeling that this could very well be the last session at Shangri La.

The very next day, March 31, 2006, I found myself reluctantly packing my own suitcase and saying goodbye to Shangri La, my musical home for eight years and my residential home for three. The details of the degeneration of what could have been a musical paradise are not available for discussion at the moment. I've chosen to take the high road until the legal dust clears. However, the story of how I came to be the resident manager of the studio is interesting, and one which bears telling.

This story will be a recurring theme in upcoming blog entries. I'll jump from one event to another, from one decade to another as the writing mood suits me. As I look back, I can say that I've never worked harder than I did at Shangri La, I've never had more laughs than I did at Shangri La, and I've never received more nor been screwed worse than I was at Shangri La. This... is going to be a long story.

I'll see you next time when I begin the journey at a converted store-front rehearsal space in North Hollywood, California.