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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Man's Bass

I've been asked about the bass in my profile picture enough times to warrant an explanation and description of what I call "the Man's bass". It earns that name by virtue of the fact that it weighs more than anything I've ever had hanging on my shoulder. But first a word about how it came to be created.

Coming back from a road trip, we had thunderstorms in Florida, so we opted for another flight. I was assured by the airline personnel that my baggage, including my bass, would be delivered to my home upon arrival at LAX. To make a long and painful story short, I never saw that bass again. It was a Fender style but a five-string which I had built myself. A very painful loss...but after a month's hassle, the airline paid a fair settlement. And, as any musician with some extra money will ask himself, I did...ask to spend it. What would I buy to take the sting out of losing that bass? Easy question with an obvious answer. A NEW BASS!

I had taxes due, so I decided to waste my money on the government and build something. I had been repairing and building for years but had always played it safe. This time I decided to make something special. Something that included everything that I admired in as many basses as I could fit into one gig bag. I had a pile of four string basses, good ones, so it would be a five string

I started by drawing up the body shape. I love the simplicity of a Precision, but the comfort of a Jazz. I Have a Gibson Ripper that sits really nicely under my right arm. so, on a piece of cardboard, I marked the position of the bridge, measured where the twelfth fret would be, and traced all of these bodies, superimposing each on the other. I had a Ricky at the time so I tossed it in for good measure as well. I marked each point at which the lines intersected, and erased everything else. These points of intersection became a sort of skeleton for the new shape. One thing I knew from the start, this was going to be a fairly large body, but the contours would be familiar.

When the shape revealed itself, I took a trip to M&M Hardwoods in North Hollywood to see what kind of wood wanted to get turned into a bass that day. I found a killer piece of Zebra wood five feet long. I also found an equally killer piece of Wenge. So I decided to cut the Zebra in half, use the wenge as the center and glued the Zebra on as wings. Now, keep in mind, this was 1 3/4" thick hardwood. Solid...solid and hell. But I was on a mission and I decided that I would remove everything that wasn't a bass from those timbers. I just had a feeling that they would sound good.

I don't like too many five string necks, they just seem to be a compromise leaning away from tone and toward comfort. So I bought a six string neck from Warmouth that was really substantial. It had two truss rods and promised to be quite stable. I re-shaped the headstock to get rid of the sixth tuning machine hole. The neck heel socket is a perfect pressed fit. I rough cut it with a router and carved the final shape with a chisel.

I ordered the electronics from Alembic. As I said, I had all the vintage sounds I needed so I decided to go high tech. I was also on a bit of a Mark King jag. There are filter sweeps and Q switches for each pick up and the final result was everything I had hoped for. As to the pick up placement, I measured the space from the nut to the first fret and this was the space that the coil would be from the bridge. The neck pick up was placed at the same distance from tha bridge as the Major third hamonic is from the nut.

I didn't mention that all the work of carving was done on my apartment floor, at all hours of the night... and I had downstairs neighbors, but they were pretty afraid of me and I think the sound of a router chewing its way through wenge and zebrawood at 3:00 am got to be something that they were willing to deal with.

The upper bout comes to a point parallel with the twelfth fret, and the body extends further behind the bridge than a Fender, so on your shoulder, the bass balances perfectly. I assembled the entire bass to make sure I wasn't wasting my time before finishing the wood. And I have to say that this baby sounded like King Kong's ball's man. I should have stopped right there, but I had decided that I wanted a nitrocellulose finish. So I took it completely apart and shot the lacquer. After two weeks, I rubbed and polished the finish and reassembled the bass.

Being the patient bastard that I am, I took this baby right out on a road gig without ever plugging it in. I mean it was bangin' before I sprayed it, and lacquer would only make it better, wouldn't it? Well shit, it sounded like every Ibanez bass under $200.00!! FUCK! When I got home, I took it completely apart and stripped every molecule of lacquer from every nook and cranny. And so I would learn a lesson about patience, I hand sanded that body with 1200 grit paper for about two hours a day for two weeks. Two rubs with boiled linseed oil and a ton of 2000 grit paper later, that's been the finish for the last eighteen years.

Yeah, this guy is heavy as hell, but the sound is so solid, so tight, so huge and so very musical that it's more than worth it...if you're sitting down.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The First Live Show

The first live rock show that I saw was either '67 or '68. There was a concert club close to my house called the "Purple Haze". It was housed in a building that was once a discount department store of some sort, and real bands with real records on the radio would play one-nighters. In the ensueing years, I would see acts like Paul Butterfield, Moby Grape, and The Seeds at "the Haze", and the spinning mirror ball, strobe lights, smoke machines and especially the amoeba light shows became a weekend staple, but there would never be another "first" rock show. My first featured The Buffalo Springfield, and the impression that show made still stands out in sharp contrast.

I must have been in eighth or ninth grade, and my band, The Blue Bathtub (go ahead and snicker...what was your first band called?) struggled to play "For what It's Worth" which was a popular song by Buffalo Springfield. All of us jumped at the chance to see the band in person. I was already a big fan of Steven Stills, and that night I got a real treat. Neil Young was ill, so Steven, being on his own, just played the shit out of every song of the set. It was the first time that we saw stacks and stacks of guitar amps, and when Ritchie Furray played his signature part in "Rock'n'Roll Woman", it about put my eyes out.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I neglected to say that the opening act was a band called "the Friends and Relations", and they commited the ultimate faux pas. They had great vocals and it was probably meant as a compliment, but they did at least three Buffalo Springfield songs! Years later, I stood with Levi Stubbs and watched The Association play "Don't Walk Away Renee" as they opened for the Four Tops. and as I watched those fucking clowns embarass themselves, it all came back to me. Now, in all fairness, I remember standing there in the smoke and strobes thinking that they played the shit out of "Mr. Soul"...but I was thirteen and knew approximately shit. I had no idea what was going to happen on that stage later that night.

I think that I fell down at least a dozen times that night, trying to make my way to the bathroom or to get a coke. it was my first experience with strobe lights and when they hit hard, I just lost balance and motor skills. I fought my way closer to the stage to watch the roadies set up the stage for the Springfield. One thing that stood out was that there was no shortage of guitars and basses. I thought to myself, how cool it must be to have more than one instrument.

The sheer volume was the best thing I had ever heard! For the first time in my life, I FELT the music. It was loud as hell, but I could hear every detail, every word, every familiar guitar riff. And I learned the value of quality of sound as opposed to quantity. They weren't much louder than the opening act, but goddamn, when they played their own songs, the same songs that the opening band had already played, was really good, i don't know how else to put it. It was really fucking good.

And how could it not be good. I mean, think of who was in that band. Steven Stills and Neil Young did a few good things. Ritchie Furray went on to form Poco. Jim Messina had a bit of a career. Dewey Martin played his ass off. This was a quality band, bursting at the seams great songs and the talent to perform them. And this was my introduction to rock concerts.

I was working on a record about five years ago, and we were looking for a tremolo guitar sound. I have an old blond Showman Head that has a tremolo that practically throbs and I mentioned that harmonic guitar part in "For What It's Worth" and how the sound we were getting was similar. Jamie Shane was playing a red ES355 and he started to grin. You see, he had made a trade with jim Messina years ago, and the guitar Jamie was playing was the very guitar used on the original record!

Well kids, not much in the way of education today, but it was a pretty cool story. til next time...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Last Leg

The last leg of my family's journey to California was punctuated by some interesting events, not the least of these being the ever vigilant search for truck stops, rest areas and tourist traps marked by the extremely welcome "clean rest rooms ahead" sign. Our first encounter with Mexican food in Gallup had rendered all of us eager to make the proverbial deposit at the river bank if you get my drift. But enough of that, it was time to leave the safety of the El Rancho Motel on what is now called "Historic" Route 66 and make our way to the west coast. We didn't know at the time that Riverside, California was an hour away from the beach and we would not actually see the west coast for almost a year.

As we crossed the state line into Arizona, we were rewarded with the daily double, trading posts in both states! The first was advertised as being our last chance to buy genuine "New Mexico Indian Curios" and the second welcomed us to Arizona with a cluster of genuine simulated tepees bursting with the Arizona version of the same head-dresses, tomahawks and keychains found along the length of the highway that crossed Indian country (by way of the Chinese keychain factory).

At one of our rest stops, we found a disturbing sight. A hangman's scaffold had been built in the parking lot for the kiddies to climb and play on as if it were some sort of wild west jungle gym. It was fascinating to imagine the townspeople gathered on a hot afternoon to watch the horse thieves kick the air as a precursor of cable TV. So fascinating that I had a few sleepless nights imagining what it must have felt like, feeling the rope tighten as the trap was sprung, and looking out at the popcorn munching crowd, glad to have something other than a passing tumble weed for entertainment.

After the monotony of the New Mexican mesa country, Arizona did offer much in the way of variety. The climb up to Flagstaff put quite a strain on the old Ford, but we were rewarded with a feeling of actually being in real mountains. The cool pine air was a welcome change and we stopped a while to enjoy the change in scenery as well as to give the car a much needed rest.

The descent toward California became a trip across the surface of some unknown distant planet. There were what looked like plants, but they were strange and otherworldly. and the landscape was one moment the scene of a John Wayne film and another moment, a backdrop of the Martian Chronicles. For an Austrian kid from Cleveland, it was like being in my own technicolor, widescreen movie and I filled the landscape with circling wagon trains, charging cavalry and alien landing craft.

And then we saw the sign we had been waiting for. California State Line! We heaved a collective sigh of relief at being so close to our destination, not knowing that a full five hours of desert stood between us and our new home. My father insisted that Riverside was just over the next craggy mountain but as we passed each peak, another would appear. I remembered a cowboy movie I had seen in which a wagon master had said that the desert air was so clear the mountains looked much closer than they actually were and what looked like something only a few miles away would be a two day march. Frustration and impatience set in. My brother and I really did think that Annette Funicello and a band of bikini-clad surfer girls would appear moments after crossing into California.

There isn't much to say about those last five hours. I've driven the same route both ways countless times over the years and I have not grown to appreciate the Mojave Desert. Maybe someday, they'll finish it with something more to look at, but as it is, I'd much rather fly over it that drive. We eventually found our way to our new home, and over the course of the ensuing weeks, we became accustomed to our new lives. I was enrolled in a school that was built in the Spanish style and began the process of making new friends. My first day was a bit rough. I had incredible gas and when I lost control, I turned to the girl sitting behind me and said, "Jesus! nice one." Everyone laughed and pointed at her. To this day I owe her a debt of gratitude as she saved me the embarassment of being the new kid who farted in class.

And so, that is the story of our exodus to california. In the intervening years, I've lost my Father, had two sons and lived a life well worth the trip. Next blog, I promise, I'll write about music. Peace.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ode to a Cigarette

Ah, the cigarette. My faithful friend in stressful times. The symbol of rebellion as one comes of age. The first kiss of every morning and the last breath of day. Ah yes, the cigarette. I have told more lies on thy behalf than any other. I have expended much creative scheming in seeking a secret rendevous with you. I have spoken up for you as if you were a maladjusted child, pissing on company's shoes, as if somehow, that was excusable. I have always found a reason to include you in every excursion and all my travels, rushing from the game or the plane or the theater to the nearest smoking section, ministering to your needs, like a mother to the needs of her freshly evacuated infant. I have spent, over a lifetime, enormous sums of money on you, and equally stupid amounts on the Altoids that I rationalized would hide your influence on my otherwise sensible choices.

Ah, the cigarette, even as I wax nostalgic... (excuse the pause as I remove the slug-like projectile on my screen which has spastically appeared from the deepest regions of my bronchii)...I remember my first french inhale, my first smoke ring, my first Zippo lighter with the vividness usually reserved for more important milestones. And as I write, deep in the throes of a fierce nic-fit, now I reject you. You must go away from me, never to darken my doorstep again in this life. I shall gather the accoutrements of your consumption together and deliver them to the dumpster. You are banished from the realm. Your perfume is "aroma non grata" and will pervade my closet nevermore. Yes, it will be difficult. When I see your face on advertising signs and concert promotions, I will think back to times when I too, was a Kool guy. But I will steel myself in memories of stomping my feet to stay warm on the frozen sidewalk outside a restaurant as you sucked the life out of me.

As with every major life decision, it would behoove me (God, I love that word! I imagine it to mean that it would be a good idea to put on shoes) to make a list of the positive and negative aspects of a course of action before making a final determination. Ergo, the following "positive rationalizations concerning cigarettes" immediately followed by a de-bunking statement:

1. Smoking makes you look cool. True in the fifties and sixties when every T.V. show was sponsored by a tobacco company and every scene included big stars sucking on a fag, but no longer the case.

2. Chicks dig it. Yeah...but the chicks that dig it smoke...and consequently they taste like shit!

Cigarettes relieve stress. Yeah, for a moment maybe. But run out of them with no stores open til morning if you want to know exquisite stress.

Well, that's three things and I can't think of any more. So on to the bad points.

1. The discovery of tobacco by Columbus and it's importation from the new world to Europe represents the extermination of entire races of indigenous peoples and the onset of slave labor in the Americas. SHIT! That's deep.

A wise old man once gave me an interesting piece of advice. When one puts forth a proposition, a naysayer may say something like, "I can think of five reasons why that won't work". To which the wise answer would be, "Why waste your time thinking of reasons 2 through 5 when the first is quite sufficient". 'Nuff said.