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?

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