Sunday, April 30, 2006


I have have had the enormous fortune of making my living in music for my entire adult life... well, up to this point anyway. In that time, i've worn many hats and one that I enjoy very much is teaching vocal production both privately and in group settings. I started my education by taking traditional approach but accross the years, I've drawn information and inspiration from a wide variety of sources, some coming from quite unexpected areas not normally associated with music in general or vocal culture in particular. Some of these "influences" will have to remain nameless for reasons which will become evident as this entry progresses.

When I was seventeen, I studied with a pompous ass with a big name and as much business teaching voice as an organ grinder's monkey. his "technical exercises" screwed up my technique so badly I couldn't make a sound for nearly three months. Looking back, I am thankful because that experience started me on the path of true skepticism. From that day forward, I made a vow to myself to assume nothing, ask questions, demand answers that I could understand and never to think that my education had been completed.

After my throat had recovered, I began a journey of vocal discovery with a teacher who had a genius for building the singing voice as well as the confidence to use it. He introduced me to a little book by Anthony Frissel entitled simply, "Tenor Voice." I loaned my copy to a student years ago and it was never returned but that student has since become a teacher himself so it went to a good cause. The book explains the "lift" and "break" and how to properly train the voice as one seamless register from top to bottom. An absolute must read for any student of vocal culture.

Some of my more off-the-wall inspirations come from the writings of Buckminster Fuller, from which i adopted the concept that inspiration is every bit as valid as data. Everyone is different and using your mind instead of your brain can be a key process in problem solving. Sometimes a student comes to a teacher wih a vocal problem and many teachers can only teach what they know. Being willing to think outside the traditional pedagogy is extremely vital when working with singers, especially professionals in the music business today. A teacher or vocal coach can't possibly think they are acting in the best interests of an established professional by attempting to change the singer's technique into something the teacher can understand.

I do have two criticisms of the way singing is taught or in many cases, not taught today. The first is a question of relevance. Singing is or should be communication. A singer could have the most cultured, flawless technique, and still communicate nothing to an audience on an emotional level. Peter Pears and John McCormack were amazing technicians. Joe Cocker and Van Morrison are not. All four are great singers. It would be a grave error to press the technique of the former on a singer who seeks a career in the arena of the latter.

My second peeve has to do with co-dependance. My first words to a new student are usually "Someday, you won't need old Pete anymore. And when that day arrives, we will know that we've been successful." Too many times I find that before coming to me, a singer may have been studying with another perhaps much more reputable teacher for six months to a year, and have no clue as to the mechanics of their instrument. That's just not right. If a singer has no talent, a teacher should recognize that and steer the poor thing toward a career in auto repair. And if the student isn't motivated to practice, that is the teacher's fault as well. A teacher should inspire and instill a hunger for learning in a student. But in many cases, a teacher may be dependent on the income from teaching and this can easily generate a co-dependent relationship which results in less than successful results.

I love to teach. And I love to learn. I'll never stop doing either.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

"If you know I was there, I did a shitty job"

Some years ago, I played bass on a blues project led by a guitar player and songwriter named Jamie. As Jamie and I were both complete guitar junkies, we became friends right off jump street. We don't see one another or play together nearly as much as we would like, but we stay in touch and consider each other brother-in-arms. Now brother Jamie is a bad motherfucker in a lot of ways, which is to say that he is a multi-talented, multi-faceted individual.

Jamie Plays with more pure heart than anyone I've ever personally witnessed. He'll strap on that red 355 (the one that played the single note tremolo part on " For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield) and get up on his hind legs and just let you HAVE it right between the eyes with that one note that pokes you dead center in your third eye. But that's how Jamie does everything, all heart man, all heart.

One thing that Jamie does the absolute shit out of is fix guitars, I mean, the man can make or fix nearly anything, but guitars...forget about it. He's pulled my nuts from the anvil plenty of times with just a phone call. I'll get him on the phone and start stressing out about some '54 Strat with a noisy whammy bar or a neck that just won't sit right and in that Yosemite Sam voice of his he'll laugh and tell me what kind of chewing gum or rubber band to use and he's always got the cure.

I saw a neck repair of his once that was IN-Friggin-VISIBLE! It was a mahogany neck Les Paul that had been stepped on or fell out of a car or something, and the headstock off. It was a nasty, ragged break too. Well, Jamie, smart bastard that he is, took his ass to the library and studied up on orthapaedic surgury. He went to a machine shop and milled himself some stainless steel splints and chiseled extremely precise channels in the area to be spliced.The killer though was the way he comouflaged the repair. First he matched and mated every wood fiber possible on that ragged break. With the steel splints in place, he glued and clamped the pieces together. There were still little mahogany fibers sticking out everywhere so there was going to be some woodwork to do. After sanding the glue joint and cleaning up the area, Jamie carved slivers of mahogany to do the fill-ins, carefully lining up the tiny wood grains. After color matching the stain and before shooting a final coat of lacquer, Jamie put a piece of wax paper on some mahogany and heated it with a hair dryer which transferred the grain to the paper. Then, using the paper as a pattern, he used a cat whisker as a brush and painted each grain marking on to the neck repair. It was amazing! absolutely seamless, invisible and structurally sound.

Now I know this might be a boring blog entry for some of you, but this kind of stuff really blows up my dress. Sometime I'll have to write about what happened when Jamie took David Lindley's lap steel pick-up out and it disintegrated. It was insane but that's for another time. But now you know why Jamie's motto is "If you know I was there, then I did a shitty job."

Friday, April 28, 2006


Monday, May 1st 2006 will be a day of...what? Protest? Celebration? Boycott? Will it be a day to be remembered for strides made in the brotherhood of the many cultures who dream the American dream? Or will all hell break loose as a primarily Latino throng takes to the streets of cities across the country, seeking recognition for the contributions made by immigrants to society. These are not simple questions, and there are no simple answers. The reason that simplicity can find no foothold in this discussion is quite simple however. RHETORIC, spelled o-b-f-u-s-c-a-t-i-n-g-b-u-l-l-s-h-i-t.

I... am an immigrant. My parents are Immigrants, my aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and most of their friends who had any sense were also immigrants. Now what could have been the cause of my family's mass migration to America? Well, as far as I've been able to find out in my research, as much as everybody loved the "homeland" on an emotional level, there weren't any jobs, there wasn't any food, and life had reached a level of intolerability that made immigration the only viable option. And I believe that any human being faced with such dire circumstances, and deciding NOT to do everything possible to ensure that their children and old ones have a roof, a bed, food and a future, is a coward. PERIOD. And personally, I could give a damn about "legal" or "illegal" when it comes to immigration. I happen to be legal, but if my family needed what they got "over there", than goddammit, that's where I'd go. And so would you. Let's never forget that we are talking about people.

The rhetoric, which comes at us from all sides, intends to take our focus off of the real issues. The real "illegal" immigrants are the huge multi-national corporations that take as much as they can, from whomever they can, wherever they can. The governments of the world powers want us to think that things such as borders, passports and visas are real and necessary. They whip us into an emotional frenzy by equating patriotism with belief in a god who has no place in the boardroom. Do you seriously think, even for one second, that Exxon-Mobile, Halliburton or Cargill gives a rats ass about patriotism? Shit! I would guess you could populate a small Central American country with all the so-called "illegal" immigrants working as domestics in the households that make up the bulk of those companies.

Let me set the record straight. Am I in favor of over-crowded schools? NO. Do I think it's a good idea to give instant health benefits away to recent immigrants while the elderly are completely fucked by their bullshit healthcare providers? NO. Am I in favor of foreign criminals finding fertile ground for their activities in this country? Of course not. But schools are overcrowded, under-staffed and under-equipped for well-documented reasons other than immigration, legal or otherwise. Healthcare in this country is in an appalling state of affairs independent of immigration. And criminals do what they do because those we pay to protect us from them aren't doing a very good job. Muhammad Atta wasn't some disenchanted loner who found himself suddenly behind the wheel of a jet liner. He was convicted for blowing up an Israeli bus in 1986, was serving time and with U.S. intervention, set free. Again, the people we pay to protect us didn't do their job. Personally, I don't lay awake at night, worried that a disenchanted Salvadoran will crash a Cessna into stack of strawberry palettes up in Oxnard.

Yes, there are major issues concerning immigration and documentation in this country. But I am a skeptic when the rhetoric requires waders. When I remember what my father did for us in bringing us here, and why, I can't help feeling that these issues have faces, real human faces, with the same hopes and dreams we all share. an immigrant.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

American Idle, or Fame Means Never Saying You're Sorry

Training is everything. To paraphrase Mark Twain, "A cauliflower is just a cabbage with an education." Last night, I watched "American Idol". The title of this entry is mis-spelled intentionally to make a point. I think that we have reached a stage in popular entertainment where a bushel of tinsel, a few shiny ornaments and a pile of blinking lights tossed onto a hat-rack can be admired as if it were a real Christmas tree, complete with the obligatory oohs and ahs. Is anyone paying attention to the fact that we as an audience are being entertained by flashing lights and shiny things?

This week's Guest artist was Andrea Bocelli. The popular Italian tenor is nearly single-handedly keeping alive the art of actual singing on the infertile desert plain of the music-buying ear. How it came to pass that we didn't witness sextet su-idol-cide after his vocal performance escapes my understanding. Instead, we saw a group of potentially talented yet obviously un-seasoned, in some cases horribly under-trained and painfully unaware individuals hugging and slapping high-fives as if there existed some rag of an idea that this was common ground. It is as if the beer boy leaped out of the stands, grabbed the ball and declared, "Move over Kobe, this is how we do it in Madison Square Driveway!"

If an individual is born with a gift, and that gift is recognized, encouraged and educated, that individual may someday be deemed to have "talent." And if that talent is combined with hard work, determination to excel and the focus of a strong will, that talent my find itself worthy of public display. Education and hard work, pursued by a moderately gifted individual will always have genuine and lasting results. An individual of a more gifted nature who bypasses hard work and education and is lured by tinsel and shiny lights, may truly believe those who call him a Christmas tree. But when the lights go out and the tinsel falls to the floor...well, the public is cruel. And nobody will pay the price of admission for very long just to see a hat-rack.

Learn something, work hard and practice. Not everyone gets to be famous.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

My Favorite Bass

My favorite bass is a mid-60s Fender Jazz. It was originally sold during the time that Leo Fender was in the process of turning over the keys of the Fender factory to C.B.S. I bought it in 1973 for $150.00 to clear a debt and at the time, thinking it was rather ugly, I thought I would hang on to it until the seller had the money to buy it back...WRONG!I took the bass on a road trip and fell in love. Luckily, the $150.00 never came back to me and the bass stayed. Unluckily, at least from a collector's point of view, I still thought the bass was ugly. I decided that I was much smarter than Leo and made some design changes. Can I get a "what a dope" from the congregation? Had I left it alone, it would be worth 12 to 16 thousand.

I started by sanding off a perfect nitrocellulose sunburst finish and oiling the bare wood with Watco walnut oil...NICE! Then I decided that Fender really blew it with their bridge design. So I bought a Leo Kwan Badass bridge in Lawton, Oklahoma. By the time I got around to installing it, I was playing in some dump in New Mexico and realized that the model bridge I had was made for Gibson basses. Problem solver that I am, impatient as I was to customize my bass, and bored as one can be in a motel room on Rte. 66 somewhere in Shithole, New Mexico, I carved out the footprint of the wrong the wrong place, and installed it (see my post entitled "Do It Right Or Do It Twice"). Yes, Swiss Army Knives are cool tools, but no, they can't replace a router. After fighting the intonation nightmare of my misplaced bridge for a few nights, I fixed the placement problem with the aforementioned router...I mean army knife. And that's the way it stayed.

My next bit of brilliance I'll blame on Jaco Pastorius. I've often wondered how many perfectly good basses he fucked up with that goddamned solo album of his. Here I was, playing in a club band, singing half the night and I thought it would be a great idea to rip out my frets and surprise the band with my brand-new Jaco sound. Jesus! Good thing I'm 6'7" and they were scared of me or they would have beat the hell out of me on the spot. They had every right to. I ordered a new neck the next morning.

As the years passed, that bass became an extention of my hands and we became inseparable. I have had many arrows in my quiver but this one has always hit the mark. It is still without a proper finish, still has the wrong bridge (but in the right place) and I'm on the third neck, a "62 Fender Custom Shop reissue. It has become a family member returned from travelling a world of wild adventures. Missing an ear lobe and a few teeth, one leg carved out of a table leg, but with great stories to tell in an old familiar voice. The old girl is ugly as ever...and I love her like the moment I met her for the first time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


There exists in our society a rather twisted sense of entitlement. How does it come to pass that so much talent rises out of the ashes of disadvantage, and so much mediocrity issues from areas of society which ostensibly hold all the right cards in the economic-socio-political poker game of our everyday lives?

I believe that the answer to these questions rests in the availabilty of choice. I had an acquaintance who lived a life of nearly limitless economic priviledge. On the surface, one could only surmise that the choices he was required to make throughout the day would be life-enhancing and pleasant, without the sort of economic pressure you or I would experience while deciding which bill to leave unpaid if we wanted to go to the movies or out to dinner. In reality, this person's life was a priviledge-induced living hell of inconsequential decisions based on choices which had no impact or life-changing implications whatsoever. The deepest question that I can imagine him asking himself is "Do I look like who I think I am trying to act like?" The crises he faced had to do with the label on the inside of his shoes, or the casual arc of his vulgar jewelry which required hours to get just right. Just the right quasi-beat-up jacket from the hippest (most expensive) designer. And then, oh my god, which car to drive to the designer coffee monger. He manufactured all these major decisions to hide behind so he wouldn't be faced with the truth, which was, if time were money, he was on equal terms with the guy in the "real" beat-up jacket who lives in the bushes behind the designer coffee monger and turns in as many empty plastic bottles per day as it takes to curl up with a warm bottle of cheap wine.

So why is it that the basketball team from St. Buffy's in the suburbs absolutely shits their collective break-away warm-ups when the visiting team shows up in mis-matched rag-tag uniforms, one gym bag for the whole team and wearing street shoes? Hmmm...maybe it's because while St. Buffy's was raising money washing Volvo wagons and selling protein-enriched granola bars and smoothies at the country club cotillion, the visiting team was playing on a decrepid asphalt court with chain nets, not a designer sportdrink in sight, against tattoo-encrusted ex-cons with the smell of real sweat and the sounds of sirens and semi-drunken sideline referees in the air.

Some elements of society have more choice. That is an immutable fact. It seems to me that when the variety of choices we are asked to make is limited, we do more with less. "Who I am" or "what can I become" tend to be more life changing questions than "do I look hip while acting busy." Having your ass handed to you on the playground by a kid in beat-up wing-tips and complaining that you could have won if you had your $200.00 sneakers is just begging for a head slap with the "it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools" paddle.

James Jamerson recorded more hit records on a single instrument than most people could name. Jaco Pastorius played one type of bass with such mastery that he could pick up any instrument and you knew it was him. Kip Keno outran the best runners in the world...and he didn't wear any goddamned shoes at all!

We are all entitled to 24 hours per day for every day on the planet. We are also entitled to use those hours however we see fit. This proposition is much like the story of the man who would inherit a vast some of money if he were able to spend it all in a given time frame. Time is a commodity which MUST be spent. How we spend it defines the value of our experience. This is the extent of our entitlement.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Rule Number Three

Do It Right Or Do It Twice. This is my third rule and it has served me well over the years. Whenever I'm doing a task of a repetitious nature or something delicate which requires full concentration, I repeat rule number three as an inner mantra. When Mark Knopfler came to Shangri La to record the "Shangri La" album, his engineer and co-producer, Chuck Ainlay had a few reservations about the technical compatibility of the existing studio wiring with the digital equipment he was bringing in. His concerns became veified when we began to interface his equipment with the recording console through the patch bay. Our entire studio was wired "out of phase" with current recording standards. As we were under the gun to get set up, we did the best we could with adapters, but I knew that as soon as time permitted, I would have hundreds of solder points to rectify. Chanting rule number three kept me focused and ensured that I only did the job once.

My belief in rule number three is based on two things. First, human beings are made up of approximately 70% water. Second, water seeks its own level. Now I know that you are saying to yourself, "What the hell does that mean?" Well, (pun not intended) water flows downhill according to the laws of gravity. It takes the shortest possible goes wherever it is easiest to go. And when it finds a level surface, it can't seem to make up its mind on a direction and meanders until it loses impetus and evaporates. If water is channeled or focused, it can be a powerful force for change, witness the Grand Canyon for example. Now as a human being, and recognizing that my body, organs and brain consist of 70% of a substance that has the ability, when focused, to be a powerful force for change, but can, when unchallenged, lay about idly until consumed by the air around it, I have come to realize that there are choices to be made. A puddle in the driveway is the essence of laziness. It will bask in the sun until it is absolutely consumed by its own ennui. But wash your car in the driveway and see how energetically the runoff charges down the gutter, happily clearing away the pavement.

Rule Number Three represents my concept of staying focused on a task until it is finished. It is the difference between executing repetitious actions mindlessly just to get them over with, or concentrating every drop of water in me to see to it that a Grand Canyon is created.

Try it. When you need to do three sets of six reps at whatever weight you're working with, when you need to get in an hour of boring scales, when you absolutely have to completely rewire a studio...say it. Say it aloud until it becomes your mantra...Do It Right Or Do It Twice.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rule Number Two

It Is Always Simpler Than It Seems. This is rule number two. It doesn't matter what I do, what I have to learn, what I need to accomplish, this second rule of my personal operating system has always and in every case proven to be absolute. Some people call it the "AHA!" moment, or the "instant of recognition". I prefer honesty, no matter how painful or humiliating. I call it the "come-to-my-senses-quit-spinning-my-wheels-and-realize-that-I think-I'm-smarter-than-how-simple-this-is" moment.

To illustrate this, let me tell you what has happened in EVERY case when I teach the basic fingering for a two octave major scale to a guitar student. Now, first of all, beginners have a habit of pointing whichever fingers are not actively playing a note at the sky or across the room, anywhere but the fingerboard. I remedy this by assigning simple mechanical exercises which, if attended to, will allow the fingers to adopt "motor memory" and assume the proper positioning to play notes as opposed to pointing out of the window. Invariably, during the process of choreographing the "steps" required to finger the scale, the student says something like, "I can't do it" or "this is so hard". That's when i pull out this little bit of information that is so obvious and yet seems like such a dark secret. The guitar, like all musical instruments, was invented, developed and manufactured BY humans to be manipulated (from "mano" or hand, therefore handled or hand-led) BY humans! If you hold the guitar by the neck like a baseball bat as if you were choosing up sides on the playground, you're more than halfway home. I ask the student, "How could the guitar possibly evolve through the years as something more difficult to manipulate than a video game?" Enter the "AHA!" moment.

But that's never the end of it. In my years of teaching, i've found that, by and large, the more intelligent the student, the more fertile the ground for "AHA!" moments. "Smart" people just seem to have a propensity for over-thinking. Sometimes I start a lesson by having the student play a simple scale or chord progression as a warm-up while reciting rule number two in rhythm. It doesn't really work...but it's fun to watch.

As a father, teacher and musician, I've found rule number two to be an invaluable tool. When faced with a prohibition against something like playing with knives or gunpowder or leaping off of the roof into a pile of leaves, a child may complain "that's not fair". My answer would be, "It's very simple...LIFE isn't fair, get used to that simple fact and you'll have an easier time of it." When your car won't start after you crank the engine for fifteen minutes, running down the battery, remember that it's really very simple, your car is BROKEN! And unless you are a mechanic, no amount of wire jiggling, tire kicking or colorful language spouting, no matter how much fun it is, will get the car started. Think simple, call for help.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Rule Number One

Rule number one is:Put It All In. This single little tip will sometimes make the difference between succes and failure in any endeavor. As Mark Twain wrote in Pudd'n-head Wilson's Calender, "Put all your eggs in the one basket...but WATCH THAT BASKET!". Of course, sometimes you'll crash and burn, sometimes you may miss the final shot and lose the game, sometimes you may take chances, or say and do things that result in your "friends" or associates thinking that you've lost your mind. Well...FUCK IT...and fuck them! If you crash and burn, at least you will have flown. If you miss the final shot, you WILL have been the fulcrum on which victory and defeat are decided. And you will find that "friends" are always ready and willing to seek your guidance and leadership if only to have a hedge on all bets if and when a given proposition goes into the tank.

Now make no mistake, this rule carries with it immense responsibilities. You can't expect success in any venture without the proper preparation. "Putting it all in" is the final step in a long process. To be a great athlete, to be the one with the ball in your hands as the clock ticks off the final seconds, you had better been born with the physical gifts associated with your chosen sport. You had better have done the required research in order to educate yourself in the finer points of technique, be it strength, footwork, eye-hand coordination and so forth. You had better be practicing MENTALLY as well as physically...every waking moment, as well as dreaming every night, visualizing yourself taking that last shot. And if you do the work, you had better KNOW that you are the one who DESERVES to take that shot.

Some choose to deride this attitude by calling it arrogance or selfishness. These are commonly known as "fans" or "audiences". A great player, whether in sports, music, poker or even business might be dependent on "fans" or "audiences" or "consumers" for their livlihood. But again, make no mistake, Great players do what they do for the THRILL of it. Great players PUT IT ALL IN.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

First Post

This is where I intend to inflict my wisdom upon an unsuspecting public. The trouble starts soon...NOW!