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 meet...uh...my 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 in...at 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 school...in 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.