Words, Mostly Words, Poaching and the Ocean: Ain’t No Man of the World and Whales Count

14 Apr
Surf BeatlesWhenever I hear someone say that they don’t like the Beatles, or the Beatles are overrated, I think, “Fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I think you’re batshit crazy, and that’s…OK.” It is only music after all. As a budding young songwriter at the age of 14, I was influenced by dozens if not a hundred different artists, but none more than John Lennon and Paul McCartney, both collectively and separately, for wildly different reasons.

Up until a certain age, I just assumed that songs credited to Lennon-McCartney were pure collaborations; I had my suspicions about “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude”, which even to my nascent ears, didn’t sound like something John would have had a hand in – and I was right. So when I discovered that the majority of those dual-credited songs were written by John or Paul – an event triggered by hearing “Got to Get You into My Life” in 1976 – a light went off in my head.

Surf Beatles 02To put it bluntly, in the beginning I was a “John Guy” and the bias remains, but nowhere near as polarizing as in my youth. John sang the first Beatles song I ever heard, “Twist and Shout”, and wrote all my favorite songs including, “I Am the Walrus”, “In My Life” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” – a song which blows me away every time I hear it, 40 years and countless listens later. Paul wrote some unbelievable stuff, too. “Helter Skelter”? That’s a hell of a jam right there – and I’m not disparaging of his work in anyway. In fact, Paul may have been the most talented dude in the band.

However, just as (in my opinion) John never wrote a “Yesterday”, Paul never pulled off a “Happiness is a Warm Gun”. When it came to their solo careers, again, both guys made some incredible music, but I never owned a Paul solo record, or anything by Wings, until I was in my late-20s and going through a crazy vinyl phase. Ronnie Kwasman of Bob and Ron’s Record Club convinced me to get a copy of Paul’s first solo record, and I’m glad he did.

Surf John WallsMeanwhile, I will readily concede that a lot of John’s solo work is subpar; sometimes it sounded like he was phoning it in; for instance, the song “Steel and Glass” from Walls and Bridges; and when you do a duet with Elton John (“Whatever Gets You Through the Night”), I think it’s reasonable for a fan to have questions. His cover album Rock & Roll is nice – I really like the Sam Cooke/Little Richard medley which includes “Send Me Some Lovin’” – but from personal experience, doing an album of covers usually means you’re running out of ideas. Meanwhile, Double Fantasy wasn’t that great, and it wasn’t until Lennon was murdered that the critics went back and changed their two-star ratings to four-stars across the board.

All that said, Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band is an eternal Top 10 record for me. [No. 4 on my all-time favorite albums list.] Some records are kind of a chore to get through – especially double albums. Great records always end too soon. That’s the way I feel about Plastic Ono Band.

Surf Ono Band

John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band (1970)

To get back to the John vs. Paul debate, whereas “Yesterday” tugs wistfully at the heartstrings, I always thought “Imagine” was an infinitely sadder song. While I agree that the peace-to-the-world trope of “Imagine” may have been a bit of hippie propaganda, what lies beneath the surface is real and true. It is easy to imagine there’s no heaven. He was right. It is easy if you try. The tragedy of the song lies in its optimism, its potential of Utopia, which is never going to happen. It’s sad to imagine a different world. This is the one we’re stuck with.

To put it simply, Paul’s music was “too pop” for me to try and emulate as a beginning songwriter. It wasn’t until I was much older that I really began to appreciate what he was doing, but still, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is one of my least favorite songs in existence and if the A.V. Club ever called me to do a Hatesong, it would be one of the contenders. And those mid-80s collaborations with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder? You don’t want to know what I think about that.

Surf Beatles Straw

The Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever” b/w “Penny Lane” (1967)

While I gravitated towards John’s lyrical imagery, I was repulsed by Paul’s sentimentality and storytelling. When I took into consideration that Paul’s “Penny Lane” – a beautiful song nonetheless – was a double A-side with “Strawberry Fields”, there was no question in my mind which direction to follow.

It was 1984 and I had only been writing songs for a year when I had a minor epiphany about lyrics, triggered by McCartney’s “Rocky Raccoon” from The Beatles (aka the White Album). That song became an example of what I didn’t want to write. You could throw “Ob-La-Di” in there as well. Simply put, I didn’t want to write songs that went: “Listen to my story about a man named Jed.”

That was campfire bullshit. “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt/That’s my name, too…” I wasn’t down with that, you know?

Furthermore, even though I dig a bunch of his jams and bow before his greatness, Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” was another classic example of the story-song – that I consciously tried to avoid. Arlo Guthrie and Alice’s Restaurant, for chrissakes. Shut up. As a budding songwriter, it was a major crossroad. And I learned an incredible lesson. The most important part of trying to write a John Lennon song is acknowledging that you will never write a John Lennon song.

Surf Beatles RockyWhile I have always admired certain songwriters who could tell stories in their lyrics, from start to finish—Dylan, Springsteen and even Tom Waits and Lou Reed to a certain extent—in the early stages of my development, I aligned myself more closely with guys like Jim Morrison and Robert Smith, whose lyrics relied more on imagery than a logical trajectory. Those dudes, whether they would have ever admitted it or not, wouldn’t have careers if not for John Lennon.

The further I got into punk and alternative rock, the more I realized that the lyrics could be secondary to the spirit of the song. The Sex Pistols?!?! “Good grief!” said Charlie Brown. I had zeros in common with the Sex Pistols but I was completely onboard with: “Fuck this and fuck that/Fuck it all fucking/Fucking brat!” Count. Me. In.

R.E.M. was also huge influence in that regard, and ironically, Michael Stipe has gone on record that he never really cared for the Beatles.

Surf Murmur

R.E.M., Murmur (1982)

From the New York Times:

It surprised me to read that you say the Beatles were virtually of no importance as an influence. You actually compared them to elevator music.
Stipe: I still get death threats about it from Beatles fans. The point that I was trying to make was that I was three years too young for them. I grew up in an era where the Banana Splits, the Archies and the Monkees were the music that I listened to. The Beatles were the music that was playing in the background. By elevator music, I wasn’t being insulting. I’ve sat down with Yoko and Sean and Julian, and they joked with me about elevator music, and I turned bright red and they said, “It’s O.K., we understand.”

I’ve heard it said several times, and for the most part it’s true: Lyrics don’t always read well. That’s OK. They make sense when you’re listening to the song. It took a long time before I understood this, and began to forgive bands who didn’t include a lyric sheet with the record. They were actually doing us both a favor. I’ve seen the lyrics to R.E.M.’s Murmur.

It was also circa 1985-86 that I entered a poetry competition at UW-Whitewater and won an honorable mention. Poetry. Enough said.

Surf SmithIn the end, Robert Smith was my main lyrical influence during those formative years. Many of my earliest songs were attempts to write a song from The Cure’s Pornography (1982). The band’s next two records, The Top and The Head on the Door, were equally impressive.

Frankly, I’m always happy and excited when somebody asks about my work, but it rarely happens. So rather than wait for people to ask, I just go ahead and tell them. That’s what this right here is all about. And then, someone asked. That’s actually quite a nice feeling. Thanks, Robert Schramm. To be fair, Bob and I go back to high school and we’ve been having an on-going musical discussion for a while. Among his musical endeavors are a folk-blues band in Germany, Bobby and the Brawlers, and you can check them out on Reverbnation, too.

Bob’s Question: “I’m curious as to why you were interested in or willing to do the direct lift of lyrics from other songs/movies.”

The Too Long; Didn’t Read Answer: Writer’s block, Bob.

The Underlying Truth: Stealing from our predecessors is one of the core principles of rock and roll music.

The Contrary Position: Nobody would have noticed if I hadn’t pointed it out.

It has only been the last six years that I have been getting paid to write anything. It just so happens to be words. That’s been a positive development, but it’s a job now. Obviously, I still love writing whether I get paid or not, but just a little bit of the fun as been sucked out of the experience, mainly because nowadays I write a lot of stuff I couldn’t care less about. That’s the nature of the game.

Surf BrainThey say there are two sides of the brain, right? And each side has domain over certain skills and whatnot. For me, doing this kind of detailed writing – blogging, essays, stories, etc – uses one side of my brain. Music uses the other side of my brain. My brain hemispheres are divided: Words/Music: Concrete/Abstract. Meanwhile, it’s the same for writing prose versus lyrics. Each activity or discipline is dominated by its parent hemisphere. Some people can turn them on and off like a switch, but I can’t.

I’ve had to learn this the hard way. Unless I’m disciplined, everything is too scattered to make sense. In my creative life, it’s a very definite choice: Pick one side, give it 100% focus, finish it, and move on to something else – which is exactly what I’ve done with In the Spirit of Almost. That’s my artistic m.o.

From 2008-2012, for the most part I was removed entirely from music, and I concentrated on publishing my written work. That means I hadn’t written a song since – eh – call it late 2007. While one of the first things I did upon arrival in Taipei is buy a cheap-ass beater guitar, I rarely even tuned it up, never played it, and wound up giving it to my photographer friend, Ian Kuo. In 2010, I returned from a trip to the U.S. with my 12-string and some other gear in tow – all of which was used to record In the Spirit – but it was sort of a “just in case” decision; there was no plan to get back into music, let alone Aztec Hearts.

Long before my wife gave birth to our son, she wanted to know what I was going to tell the kid about my life. Would I encourage or discourage him to pursue music(?) – a lot of questions along those lines. It forced me to consider my past and to a certain degree my legacy, which however slight, has a profile. When I felt like I was ready to start making music again, it took a while before I could even pick up the guitar. Unlike a lot of other things I write about, there was no moment like, “One day I just decided to…” There was a transformation.

Almost Cover 003 with logo no title

Aztec Hearts, In the Spirit of Almost (2014)

Above all, I didn’t want my musical legacy to end with the second AH record, Bigger Brighter - I had to do something else, even if it was the last thing I ever did. A bookend on my career, I guess.

Beginning in early 2012, I went about re-learning how to play guitar, and played a show in June – my first public performance in six years!

Ten years ago, prior to embarking on the Aztec Hearts journey, I did a lot of writing but it was strictly for utility or pleasure. Even with a degree in creative writing, there didn’t seem to be a career in it, unless I wanted to teach creative writing, and I didn’t. In those days, a big chunk of the songwriting process took place in the practice space. I would come up with the jams at home, but we would flesh them out in practice.

At the same time, I could freely improvise a melody over whatever riff we were working on. I got a ton of melodic and lyrical ideas from spitting them out on the fly in practice. Then I’d go home and write them down.

pnt 1

Painting by Billy Dolan (acrylic on posterboard, date unknown). Used by permission.

Technically speaking, Aztec Hearts has never had a practice. When I started making the first record, I didn’t wait to record a song until the lyrics were finished; I just tracked whatever I heard and said, “Eh, I’ll come back to the words later.” That worked out pretty well the first time, since I was still tuned in to the whole lyric-writing mode. But it got sketchy on the second record because I had fallen out of practice. I had been ignoring the Golden Rule: Write Everyday. In fact, the songs that got ditched were the ones I couldn’t come up with any words. At the same time, I developed a different routine which is still in place.

Have you ever told a story, or remember having told a story, but go back and find no evidence of telling it? For instance, I have a very persistent memory of telling this story in writing and in person, on several different occasions. My friend(s) have no recollection of the tale, and no such document exists. It’s entirely possible that I told the story at the end of a long night of drinking, and my friend simply doesn’t remember. It’s also very possible that I wrote the story, but trashed it somewhere along the way. The latter is much less likely, since I tend to save everything and trash only the absolutely nonessential stuff.

The point isn’t that I’m irritated to be recounting a story I swear I’ve already told.

On this one particular evening came on the heels of several unproductive sessions in a row. Somewhat of a consequence of my environment and circumstance, I’d fallen into a solid routine of writing and recording between 6:30 and 10:30 p.m. or until the first bottle of wine was drained—whichever came first.

November Photo Camera Dump 262

One bottle limit during tracking – listening back is OK for the second bottle.

Three hours was generally the line in the sand; anything after that was usually a bad idea, both lyrically and technically; like driving, drinking and digital recording are incompatible. Anyway, generally speaking, after work I’d turn on the machine, let it get rolling, check the levels, and listen back to what had been done the night before. The wine didn’t get opened until everything had passed a double idiot inspection.

The song was “Ain’t No Man of the World” and the vocals from previous session were so bad that I took the rare liberty of deleting them after the first pass. They were so terrible that they needed to be eradicated right then and there. And that was the moment of impact when I’d finally hit the wall. The desperation kicked in. What am I going to do?

Before I began working on lyrics, I did a full sweep of my writing catalog dating back to 2002. For every song or story published, there are a dozen that never saw the light of day. The search compiled approximately 32 pages of unused material, which I then printed out and used as “scat sheets”, wherein I would play the backing tracks and sing-speak random lyrics to see if they fit.

Just another night of going nowhere, fast.

When I found a line or a melody that worked, I’d write that down on a separate sheet and use it as an anchor. It didn’t matter if it was part of a verse or a chorus; the lyric was just a point of reference, like a point of perspective for a painter. Having used this process many times in the past, it’s been an effective way for me to fight through writer’s block.

Not this time. The writer’s block kicked into overdrive, and it got so bad that I found I couldn’t even plagiarize myself. And it occurred to me that one of the problems was the “cheat sheets” themselves. There was a good reason why most of those lyrics had never been used—they were crap; mainly written during periods of heavy substance abuse, and man, it showed. Time and time again, I’d sit there and think, “What the fuck is this? What am I even talking about?”

Gathering the cheat sheets scattered around the room, I decamped to the balcony and set-up a little station with the wine, an ashtray, and stool. The burning of ghost money is ubiquitous in Taiwan, so just about everybody has one of these red urns somewhere in their crib. For the next hour, I sat there are burned the cheat sheets one by one, so as to minimize the smoke. I suppose I could have just tossed them all in at once, splashed some oil and lit a match, but that would have caused a big stink, someone would have complained, and I would have heard it about in the morning, for sure.

Surf Ghost 3

Burning of ghost money aka joss paper.

But it was kind of nice. I’d read each sheet one last time, curse myself, spark the lighter, and toss it in the urn. For once, I kind of understood the ritual.

Many of my lyrics tend to jump from one image to the next, sometimes without relative context. That’s really not how I think and it’s definitely not how I normally write, but that’s how I write lyrics. Another problem with lyrics is that I don’t have that much to say, particularly in the realm of things better said in a song. When I was young and full of myself, I actually believed that I had SOMETHING TO SAY. I truly believed that I had something that EVERYONE NEEDED TO HEAR.

As you write more songs and begin to hone your skills, stringing lyrics together becomes second nature. You figure out how to construct verses, choruses, bridges, intros, outros… Once you’ve developed a personal template, it eliminates a lot of static noise in the background. At the height of my songwriting prowess, 1990-1999, writing lyrics was just as easy as coming up with guitar riffs. And then, a confluence of events threw me off balance, destroyed my template. It was just like starting over. [Extra credit to anyone who catches that reference.]

So this night I’m working on “Ain’t No Man of the World” and following the burning ritual, still nothing was happening. Good grief! Looking for something I’d written a few days earlier, I began shuffling through the sheets on the music stand, and I came across the lyrics for “Beautiful Girls” by Van Halen – my all-time favorite song – which I’d recently been goofing around with. It was one of those songs that I really enjoyed playing in private, but wouldn’t dream of playing in public.

Surf Beautiful

Van Halen, “Beautiful Girls” (1978)

Anyway, that’s when I had a light bulb moment. Why not just sing these lyrics over the song and see if you come up with any melodic ideas? If something sticks, I could simply rewrite the words.

Much to my surprise, singing “Beautiful Girls” over the music to “Ain’t No Man” worked out pretty well. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it sounded pretty cool. Too bad David Lee Roth wrote the words and Van Halen owns the copyright. Anyway, the title comes from the chorus of “Beautiful Girls”:

Here I am
Ain’t no man of the world
All I need is [my] beautiful girl

To make a long story short, I wound up trying this method with a handful of other songs, notably “O Mercutio”, “Kung Fu Gringo”, “Face”, and “Right Now You’re Feeling Me”. This was a turning point. Once I got a line or a melody going, everything went a lot smoother, and I felt like I was back up on the lyric writing bicycle.

For the most part, the process was totally random. I poached everything. One of my favorite instances was singing “Born to Run” over “O Mercutio” – I should have kept the original of that. It was funny.

Kansas, U2, Led Zeppelin, Barney (“The Airplane Song”), The Beach Boys, Henry Miller Sextet, The Cure, The Glove, Bob Dylan, Van Halen, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Mike Post (“Theme from the Greatest American Hero”), R.E.M., Frank Sinatra, The Eagles, Evita (“Don’t Cry for Me (Argentina)”, and The Beatles were just a few of the artists that I used during the process.

Surf Wilson

Wilson Pickett with Jimi Hendrix

In all honesty, I am one of the worst lead singers in the history of time. I don’t want to be singing these songs, I’m sorry. Being a lead singer just happened by default. Back in 1984-85, I wrote this song called “I’d Like to Be” and somebody had to sing it. I was 16 at the time and had no idea I would be doing this 30 years later. Over the years, I have prodded and cajoled my band mates into at least discussing the prospect of finding a real lead singer, but they have steadfastly refused. “No way,” they’ve said, “you’ve gotta do it.” If you’re reading this fellas – and you know who you are – just imagine me playfully punching you in the throat right now.

Ain’t No Man of the World

 

 

Surf ImpactGiven its sheer volume, next to gravity, the ocean is probably the single most powerful force on the planet. Even though we’ve given names to certain areas, it’s easy to forget that it’s all just one ocean.

From being born and growing up near Lake Michigan, to living in San Francisco, and now an island in S.E. Asia, my entire life has been spent near large bodies of water – for the last 15 years, the Pacific Ocean. It has had a direct and major influence on my life, which manifests in some strange ways.

In between the recording of the first two Aztec Hearts albums, my friend and band mate Chris Lanier encouraged me to try surfing. Before you think, “Wow, yeah of course, why not?” remember that I was in San Francisco and the water temperature out at Ocean Beach is generally between 52-57ºF. That’s super cold. In fact, it’s so cold that Bay Area surfers almost as a rule wear 4/3mm wetsuits, and some even go with the hooded wetsuits and booties. I know I did. [For reference, the thickest wetsuit made is 6/5mm, and used for diving in Arctic conditions.]

Surf SuitFurthermore, bear in mind that cold water is denser than warm water. For example, water at 55ºF has a density of 0.9994 g/cm³, while water at 65 degrees has a density of 0.9973 – which might not sound like a lot of weight until you put it in a much larger perspective. A cubic foot of water at 50ºF weighs nearly three pounds less than water at its boiling point; and about a pound less than water at 100ºF, which is just below the average temp for a shower.

Meanwhile, water does something really strange around the 39ºF point – it starts to become less dense. An ice cube at or below 32ºF is less dense because it has changed from a liquid to a solid, and its molecules have formed a different pattern. Thus, ice floats because it is slightly less dense than the surrounding water.

tl;dr: Cold water is way heavier than warm water.

One morning around 7:30, the phone rang and I knew it was Lanier.Surf water temp

“Hey, the surf report says it’s going to be head-high out there [at Ocean Beach]. You in?”

Head-high means the height of the wave was just above shoulder level. The surf report wave height indicators included waist-high, shoulder-high, head-high, and over-head.

The previous night was a typical mix of booze and drugs that went until 3:30 a.m. Technically, I was still drunk, but the dope had long worn off. In other words, I should have stayed in bed, but being a newbie, I was plagued by an eagerness to learn. This would be my fifth time “in the water.” The sun was shining, so I counted myself in.

A big part of surfing is learning the terminology that goes along with it. Waves, conditions and behaviors all have unique names, and until you learned them, you might get lost in conversation with another surfer. For the most part I had all the terminology dialed in, but since I really hadn’t done a lot of “surfing” at this point, much of it didn’t apply to me. However, there were a couple of terms that I was more than familiar with. Let’s start with paddling out.

Surf OB

Typical conditions at Ocean Beach, S.F.

The paddle out at Ocean Beach was known for being unpleasant, especially for beginners, and is noteworthy for its strong currents and waves. The water is cold, due in part to a process known as upwelling, in which frigid water from below the ocean surface rises to replace the surface water that moves away from the beach as a result of the Coriolis effect. The rapid rip currents and cold water make the ocean dangerous for casual swimmers. Thank you, Wikipedia.

Imagine we are standing on the beach at the edge of the tide. The sand is wet beneath our feet, which are gently kissed by whitewater foam. With surfboards tucked under our arms, we begin wading out into the water. It is about 15-20 yards [this varies due to the tide, of course] before the water is waist-high and we encounter smaller waves or bigger waves breaking down, sometimes in multiple directions. Breaks are formed when waves gain enough height to have a Face. We are now using our surfboards to get over or through the waves. This is called Inside and generally defined as the area between the Impact Zone and the shore.

Another 25 yards of working against the tide and the waves, we are now in the Impact Zone, an area where waves are breaking the hardest and most consistent.

Surf Inside

You DO NOT want to get caught up in that.

“Often when a surfer gets stuck in the Impact Zone, it is difficult to paddle out past the breaks.”

Conditions can be rough – even lethal – and this is where many surfers ditch their boards and dive under the wave. If you don’t get past the Impact Zone quickly, you will get washed back Inside – provided you don’t get caught in the Middle: the no man’s land between the Break and the Impact Zone; the one place you don’t want to be.

For explanation purposes, we’ve successfully made it through the Impact Zone and we’re Outside: farther from the shore than the area where most waves are breaking. This is where we want to be. There’s nothing but open ocean – and Hawaii – all the way to China. Here the water is calm, and we are now happily lying belly down on our boards, paddling toward the Line-up, where most of the waves are starting to break and where most surfers are positioned in order to catch a wave.

My first two paddle outs were failures and I never got past the Impact Zone. Third time was the charm. My fourth session was successful and I caught my first wave.

Surf Line-Up 1

Knee-high conditions at Ocean Beach. Notice the line-up.

On the morning of the fifth session, the surf report may have under-estimated just a little bit. Conditions were over-head and bigger than I’d ever seen. At first, I expressed my doubts. Lanier shrugged and said, “Well, you don’t have to go out. Never know until you try.” So I put on the wetsuit and began the paddle out.

Lanier basically powered through the Impact Zone and was Outside before I even hit the water. The last time I saw him, he was already in the Line-up. As I slogged my way into the Impact Zone, I started to regret the decision. Basically, the worst thing that can possibly happen to you at Ocean Beach was now happening to me. I got caught in the Middle.

The waves generally came in sets of three. Outside, you could see them come rolling in from a fairly good distance. Inside, you hardly saw anything at all, mainly because you were underwater most of the time. It really was like being trapped in a giant washing machine. After ten minutes of trying to punch my way through the Impact Zone, I changed my course and headed back toward shore. I was exhausted.

The Middle doesn’t let you out – in either direction. The rip current is so strong that you might make a few yards toward shore, only to have it suck you right back in. You do that for 20 minutes and unless you’re in top physical condition, you’re going to have problems. And even though I was in fairly decent condition, I was no match for the ocean that morning.

There were a few occasions where I got hammered by incoming waves and didn’t know which way was up. There were moreSurf OB 2 than a few occasions where I was underwater so long that my life flashed before my eyes. At one point, unable to corral my surfboard – thankfully, still leashed to my ankle – figured, well, this is it. This is how I die. Surfing. Or rather, not surfing. Drowning.

Lanier told me later that he saw me go Inside and didn’t see me come out, so he figured I had given up and had beached myself like the previous times. And there was nothing he could have done anyway. You’re on your own Inside.

Finally, I managed to get out of the most violent part of Middle and maintain possession of my board long enough to spit up all the water I’d swallowed into my lungs. My limbs might as well have been frozen. Hanging on with every last strand of life, I didn’t pray or anything, but I was hoping to God that another huge set wasn’t going to send me to a watery grave. I just held on to the board and relaxed on impact. The waves just kept coming and I remember thinking that drowning at Ocean Beach would be one of the dumbest ways a person could die, and that thought kept my fighting spirit alive.

Surf WipeoutThe timeline shows that I was in the water for approximately an hour. Eventually, the tide pulled me south and away from the break. I emerged – literally crawling on all-fours at Lincoln Way, having entered the water at Balboa Street – about a 1/4 of a mile. The board was still leashed to my ankle and beached a few feet behind me. I was alive, barely.

I lay face down on the wet sand for a while. Every ounce of energy was spent. Every breath took effort. Now I faced the daunting task of walking – in a 4/3 wetsuit, carrying an 8′ longboard – a quarter-mile back to where Lanier’s car was parked.

Lanier and his local buddies were already at the car with towels around their waists when I finally came dragging up the beach another 45 minutes later. “What happened to you, man?”

In the following weeks, I went back in the water a few more times, but I was pretty much done with surfing. Eventually, I sold the boards and the wetsuit. In light of the experience, it didn’t teach me to respect the power of the water, because I already did. Like using drugs, the risks of Ocean Beach are inherent. From the near-drowning episode forward, whenever I went to the beach, I would feel and acknowledge the vast, uncaring forces within the ocean. The power is certainly unknowable – like the size of the universe – but by throwing yourself at its mercy, you certainly get a first-hand appreciation of how it could and would kill you in a heartbeat. That wasn’t a bad feeling, it was just a unique perception that I didn’t have before.

CliffMore than anything, I came away thinking that surfing would be fun if it weren’t so damn cold and dangerous. And besides, there’s a very short list of guys who’ve ever been killed while playing guitar.

Though I have said that I wouldn’t address the lyrics except to point out instances of cribbing from other songs – which I forgot to do on the last pair of tracks, c’est la vie – it wouldn’t be a breach of protocol to say that “Whales Count” is mainly about my relationship with the ocean as a metaphor for drug addiction. Meanwhile, I had originally presented this song to an acquaintance in Taipei because of a shared personal history with substance abuse. He agreed to write lyrics and sing on the track, but that never materialized.

Anyway, the recording of “Whales Count” was probably the least troublesome of all the tracks. Almost everything was first take except for the guitars in the bridge, which I fussed over for a couple of days. For what it’s worth, this is one of my favorite songs I’ve written over the last 10 years.

Whales Count

For My Brothers in California: In the Spirit of Almost and Right Now You’re Feeling Me

7 Apr
MattOB

Ocean Beach, 2006

In honor of my brother Matthew Tucker on his birthday (April 6), the first of today’s tracks is a showcase of his talent. I don’t normally do this but I would urge the reader to read the story all the way through.

This is the way I remember it. Matt was a reserved but friendly 19-year-old kid when we began playing together. It was very late 1988 – early 1989. Darien, IL – a western suburb of Chicago. Matt’s sister Sue was in my graduating class at Hinsdale South H.S. and the Tuckers lived across the street from my girlfriend. Meanwhile, the Tuckers were close with the Daly family, who lived directly behind them, and we all knew each other from school. So I was acquainted with Tuckers Matt, Sue and youngest brother Mike, but we weren’t close friends or anything. They have an older brother John, who I think is my older sister’s age. Not sure.

At this point, the band was called Idiot Savants, and it was me on vocals and guitar, Michael “Cal” Callahan on guitar, Randy Edman on bass, and Daniel Callahan on drums. We were headquartered in the Callahan’s basement, and self-recorded a couple of demos before Dan quit.

There were a bunch of drummers coming out of Darien at the time, and Matt Daly was considered “the best”, but he wasn’t available and didn’t have time for slackers like us. Matt Daly was also in my class and somewhat of an inspiration – I decided to switch from drums to guitar since he already had drums covered. Anyhow, it was a small scene and everybody was familiar. Matt Tucker’s name came up once or twice but he hadn’t really been in a band (other than the high school program). None of us really knew anything about him.

 

L to R: Matthew Tucker, Christian Adams, Ron Kwasman, Randy Edman

L to R: Matthew Tucker, Christian Adams, Ron Kwasman, Randy Edman circa 1991

It was Mike Daly – Matt’s younger brother, who had played with us a couple of times – that suggested we get in touch with Matt Tucker, who he said was a monster on drums. A few nights later, I was at my girlfriend’s house, we were sitting out on the driveway, when we heard these drums coming from somewhere in the neighborhood. Whoever was playing was really good. I said to my girl, “That can’t be Matt Daly, he’s at Western [Illinois University].” And she said, no, that’s Matt Tucker.

So I went over to his house and knocked on the door, “Hey, is Matt here?” Sue answered and led me to the basement where Matt and his younger brother Mike, who was still in high school – were apparently taking turns on the kit. I dunno know. Anyway, Matt and I talked for a while and he agreed to give it a shot. It was never an audition or anything. He played for a few minutes and I said something like, “If you’re in, let’s do it.”

Over the next 15 years, the bands changed names or members, but Matt remained on drums. Idiot Savants became Nine Voice which morphed into Brain Kiss, Whitey and Golden Tones.

When I moved out to S.F., Matt followed a month later and we continued with Henry Miller Sextet. During this time, we’ve played [I'm guessing] 150-200 shows and with very few exceptions, if you disregard the fact that we played to empty rooms 90 percent of the time, those shows were always triumphant. At the very least, we were happy with the way we played.

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Nine Voice circa 1989. L to R: Matt Tucker, Christian Adams, Ronnie Kwasman, Randy Edman

Within the first three years of playing in a band with Matt, I noticed a pattern. Most of the bands we shared bills with were pretty cool, and even if they weren’t, we treated them like they were anyway. After our set, once the gear was secured off-stage, we’d head back out into the bar and say hi to our moms or girlfriends or whoever came to the gig. This is the point when dudes from the other bands would intercede and say, “Hey man, great set. You guys rocked.” Without variation, I’d reply with thanks, good luck and I’m looking forward to your set as well. Nine out ten times, they would reply, “Yeah, listen. Where the fuck did you find that drummer?”

Matt was adored by every studio engineer we ever worked with for a bunch of reasons – mainly that the kid was indeed a fantastic drummer, and as an engineer, I can confirm that we love that – but one detail in particular always impressed them. Matt knows how to tune the drums. This is very important. People don’t really understand this, but the drum sound starts with the skins. Meanwhile, Matt also played with other bands on the Chicago scene. He was in demand.

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Matt at Tiny Telephone, S.F., 2001

Personally, Matt and I have been through a lot together; we’ve become brothers. We have been through some shit, my friends. It’s been awesome. He’s a co-godfather of my son and I have been dubbed an honorary member of the Tucker clan for a decade or more and counting. We were roommates from 1997-2003. Though HMS decided to hang it up, nothing changed between us. We’re still brothers. In fact, as part of a much longer story arc, when I left S.F. for Taiwan, it was Matt who took over my old apartment. I was only supposed to be gone two months – six at the most. He was there for five years!

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Whitey circa 1996. Matt in center.

Matt was going to play drums on the first Aztec Hearts record, Dying For You to Hear This (2006), but I really wanted to do them myself. Please understand that I knew Matt would have done a much better job. Though I had opportunities to play drums in the past, I hadn’t been possessed with wanting to really play them in 20 years. At that time, it was something I really wanted to do. Christ, had it been 20 years since I played every day?! So we jawboned about it and Matt encouraged me to go ahead and do it myself – also letting me use his kit and making sure it was tuned up prior to the sessions.

That was a great experience and one I will remember for the rest of my life. However, when it came around to making a second record, I didn’t have the same verve for playing drums. So I called Matt and asked him to come down and cut some drum tracks. He hadn’t heard much if any of the material, and that was a little bit of a concern. It was a deviation from the way we’d worked in the past, bashing things out in the practice space. Anyway, it was a cakewalk for him and we had a good time.

Movie Frame

Henry Miller Sextet circa 2003

Matt played on the majority of Bigger Brighter Faster Worse (2008) including the original version of “Mountains of Honey”, and the song you are about to hear, “In the Spirit of Almost”, which had the working title of “If I’m Going to Hell (See You There)” and didn’t get finished because (A) I couldn’t come up with any lyrics and (B) the studio got shut down.

The drums were tracked using two Shure 57s and a Rode NT-1A.

All of the vocals and some of the keyboard were recorded here in Taipei.

In the Spirit of Almost feat. Matt Tucker

 

In the late spring of 2000, Matt and I had a flat we shared with one other dude in the Richmond District. One day, Matt came home with a kitten and we named him Mao-jai, which is purportedly Cantonese for ‘boy cat’. At some point it became Mao, or Mao-mao, or simply The Kid. We raised Mao together and two years later when I moved into a new joint to be closer to school, Mao came with me. A year later, I moved to the infamous crib in the Sunset, which is where Mao really started to flourish. Ultimately, in early 2008, I made light of my desire to travel in Asia for a few months.

When I decided to check out, I wasn’t worried about money or finding a job. My biggest, number one, overriding concern was: “Who’s going to take care of Mao?” Of course, Matt was still considered co-custodian, and this was one of the selling points when I approached him about taking over my apartment. First and foremost, it was about Mao.

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Mao aka The Kid

All in all, the deal looked to be a win-win for everybody. Matt was looking forward to getting out of Nob Hill and living near the beach. Plus, he would get to be with Mao again. Since we really weren’t sure how long I would be gone, Matt committed to a minimum six-month stay. Mao was also a winner because he got to keep his backyard kingdom and reconnect with his old pal Matt.

I was looking forward to my Asian adventure with peace of mind that Mao would be in good hands. Like the majority of pet owners, Mao was more than just a cat to me, and I was more than just an owner to him. We were friends. We could have conversations. We understood each other. I loved Mao as much as I loved anything in my life.

Mao had almost always been an indoor-outdoor cat. Even as a youngster, we let him out to prowl around the backyard, and later with me – as a pair of swinging bachelors – he existed more as a dog than a cat. He came and went as he pleased, but curled up with me on the bed every night. In the Sunset cave, the back door was rigged to give him 24/7 access, so I rarely had to call for him – or get up to let him out at sunrise. Most nights, he’d see the lights come on and hear me moving around and he’d come bolting in, all meow-meow this and meow-meow that. He had grown into a big boy and could take care of himself against the raccoons, too. He was living The Dream out there. The Kid was the happiest cat you ever saw.

In mid-March 2008, I began simultaneously preparing for my trip and making room for Matt to move in. My landlord let me use the garage as storage, so it wasn’t a massive ordeal, but I had eight years worth of junk stuffed into a two-year box. There were several late-night “drops” at the corner of 48th and Moraga. At the same time, I was selling a bunch of non-essential music equipment on Craigslist, and that was way more time-consuming than I thought it would be. We were trying to make the transition as seamless as possible, but U-haul was going to be involved, no doubt.

IM000515.JPGCats like routine just as much as the next guy and Mao took notice of the activity at the crib. Stuff was disappearing, things were getting moved around. He definitely wasn’t thrilled, but he had rolled with the changes in the past, and he didn’t seem…concerned. Just because he was pissed didn’t mean he was going to sleep on the back porch in protest.

On the evening of March 19, 2008, I returned home from my shift just before midnight, and went about my routine. While I was in the shower, I thought it was a little strange that Mao hadn’t come home already. He usually came in to greet me within a minute or two of arrival. Every now and then he’d be prowling and wouldn’t get back until lights out, but for the most part, he was just chilling in the backyard, guarding his turf. On the nights he came in late, he was always real talkative after those excursions. Anyway, Mao didn’t come home that night. Again, it wasn’t the first time and I wasn’t freaked out. It was just a little odd.

mao1Then next morning when Mao still hadn’t come home, I was definitely concerned. Something wasn’t right.

For the next week I was nearly unable to sleep. Every night I would get home from work and circle the block, calling Mao’s name. Every morning I would get up and canvas the neighborhood, knocking on doors. “Have you seen this cat?” I put up fliers, jumped over fences, and followed every trail he might have been on. Actually, Mao was a lot more popular than I thought. He was notorious in the backyards of the block. Everybody had seen Mao – many times – they just hadn’t seen him in a while.

A week turned into two. Heartbroken beyond anything I’d ever experienced, I mourned Mao in private on a nightly basis. He was gone and I would probably never know what happened to him. It was too late to back out of the trip. It was hopeless. Matt moved in on March 31 and we both acknowledged the irony. The main reason he moved in was Mao, and now Mao was gone. It was bittersweet. The wheel had been set in motion and there was no turning back.

***

Six years ago tomorrow (April 7), I boarded a flight in San Francisco bound for Taipei, Taiwan, on a 60-day visa with an open-ended return ticket. There were no expectations. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized that I probably wouldn’t be coming back – except to visit and wrangle with personal business. Who knows? Maybe someday.

Technically, I have been a resident of California since 1999, though I haven’t been present since 2008. Nevertheless, I have a storage space in S.F. and my driver’s license lists an address in L.A; most of my friends are there, the few that I have left; and when I think of going “home”, I think of S.F. From the moment I arrived, I knew it was the place I had always wanted to be.

California was relatively good to me for the first eight years. It gave me a college degree and many interesting and often rewarding work experiences. The quality of my life improved dramatically. S.F. in particular used to be a magical place, and I feel lucky that I got to live there before the Google occupation. I used to say that I never worked a day in California because every day was like vacation to me.

The only time I dreaded going to work was in the very early days when I got a gig in construction. It was one of those deals where you actually appreciate how bad it was because you’re forced to find another gig, ASAP. Today, I have fond memories of hauling four sheets of ¼ inch plywood, up a rickety ladder on the second floor of a three-flat in 25 mph winds. Good times.

Otherwise, even when I messed up and got in trouble, nothing in California could possibly be any worse than it would be back in Illinois. At the end of any argument, I would always counter with, “Yeah, but the sunshine.” There is no substitute for a beautiful blue-sky day with a light breeze off the Pacific. For many years, I scoffed at the idea of living anywhere else. Why would you? That’s crazy.

The first time I visited Chris Lanier in S.F., one of the first places he took me was to get a burrito at 16th and Mission. He was like, so what do you think so far? And I said, “It’s Disneyland…for junkies and crackheads!”

Somewhere along the way, California turned on me. Or maybe I unknowingly violated one of the unspoken rules. The magical journey became something of a nightmare. Of course, I am not blaming the state for ruining my life; quite the contrary. There was a point – one crystaline moment – when I was walking up Van Ness and I started humming a melody that went something like: “California/Why’d you leave me?” The magical feeling had disappeared. The love had turned to something else.

 

Chef Eric

Chef Eric

My last year in S.F., despite the comedy of errors and the tragedy of wasted opportunity, wasn’t that bad. It was quietly accepted that it was time to leave California – if not, things wouldn’t end well. After quitting one gig and going back to where I’d been working for six years – my quality of life did improve. Over Labor Day, long after I’d shut down the studio, we roasted a 200-pound pig in the backyard to be served at the company picnic. Yep. The chef of the restaurant put the whole thing together. My joint smelled like pork and pig for two weeks after that.

Anyway, I had to get out of there. Several years earlier, I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be waiting tables at 40.

“Right Now You’re Feeling Me” is my California song.

Right Now You’re Feeling Me

 

The first few weeks in Taipei, I was running purely on adrenaline. Within a month I had found a job and a place to live. Things were moving along. Many times I wondered about Mao and several times I cried in private. Meanwhile, I was in fairly constant email contact with Matt and my friends back in S.F. Everybody was really excited for me.

By mid-May 2008, I was over the culture shock and already looking for a different job and place to live. Things were shaking up. On the morning of May 16, I received an email from Matt with the subject heading: Dude You Won’t Fucking Believe It!

When I first saw the heading amongst the other messages, I had a couple of random micro-thoughts. One, something like the house burned down. Two, he won the lottery. Three, one of our friends died. By the grace of God I was wrong. Mao had come home. Nearly two months from his initial disappearance, Matt said that The Kid came in through the back door, meowing intensely. He looked to be in good condition but he had lost a considerable bit of weight.

menmao

Back together again, 2011

Over the next few weeks, Matt took Mao to the vet and nursed him back to health. He was back to normal in time for summer.

He’s getting up there in years, but Mao is still going strong. He still lives with Matt in the Outer Sunset, living the good life. They both are. That makes me real happy, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom, Zombies, Rats, and Tina Turner: The Stories of Kung Fu Gringo and Mountains of Honey

2 Apr
Aztec Pics and Video 050There were two main reasons I started Aztec Hearts – and it’s hard to believe that was nearly ten years ago. Number one, after playing in bands for 20 years, I had grown increasingly wary of the democratic system where everybody had a vote and majority rules. Now, I loved my bandmate brothers and most of the other dudes I played with over the years, but we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, which is only natural when you put multiple personalities in a room with amplified musical instruments and a 12-pack of beer, three to four nights a week.

Aztec Hearts was a manifestation of wanting to do something completely autocratic. It wasn’t so much of a power trip as it was a desire for freedom. Now when you think about it, as a songwriter I had complete autonomy – so it would seem. But every writer knows the golden rules, one of which is: Know your audience. Or in this case, know your bandmates. This led me to the second reason.

Mates

Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel of Mates of State

Although I loved what Henry Miller Sextet was doing as a power trio, I began to tire of the constant masculinity of our music. It wasn’t like I got hit with a Joni Mitchell stick or anything like that. I didn’t want Debbie Boone to sing back-up and play tambourine. Henry Miller Sextet in particular had one gear: rock hard. We didn’t have many ballads or dirges. We were mostly 1-2-3-hit it! At the same time, I was inspired by several bands that had male and female co-vocals, most notably a husband-wife duo called Mates of State – who also happened to be our practice-space-mates. Kori and Jason both sang lead and I loved the context of their sound. But you could look at Fleetwood Mac as another example. Unfortunately, there was really no room in a self-avowed power trio for a female keyboard player. That just wasn’t going to happen.

As I said, HMS had pretty much one sound and we weren’t likely to change – if it isn’t broke, etc. However, at the same time, I found myself writing stuff that didn’t fit the band’s vision. What’s more, I continued to hear female voices in these new songs. Finally, it came to a point where I had all these jams that wouldn’t fly in HMS, so I said, “Now’s the time to do something different.”

Dying For You To Hear This (2006)

Dying For You To Hear This (2006)

This is somewhat ironic to me now, considering how far away this new record is from the first one, Dying For You to Hear This, both in tone and in spirit. Most noticeably, except for one song, a remix of “Sandy Beaches”, there is not a female voice to be heard, and that was sort of a trademark of the first two records.

Upon my wife’s first listen to the new tracks, her initial reaction was, “It sounds more mature, like, it’s harder and more masculine than the other records.” Haha, you’re right, my dear. That’s because there’s no female voice. And it was for this reason that I seriously considered not releasing it as an Aztec Hearts record. But then I thought, “You know what? Most bands go through stylistic changes – even if HMS didn’t – and there’s no reason to abandon the name you’ve been humping along since 2005. Just stick with it. Nobody is going to notice or care.”

 

Sarah L

Sarah Lovan

On the first record, I got lucky and worked with one of the sweetest and most talented people on the planet, Sarah Lovan, who I met through my friend, Max Edwards and Sarah’s husband, Ryan Lovan – I briefly played bass for Max and Ryan’s band, the Minneapolis-based Lifestyle of Wigs. It was an awesome experience (for me) and I was chuffed about the way it turned out. On the second record, Bigger Brighter Faster Worse, it seemed like I’d struck gold again with my neighbor and drinking buddy Susie Smith, but that deal – the sessions and our friendship – did not end on a beautiful note. I’m still very fond of the work that we did, don’t get me wrong.

“Kung Fu Gringo” was one of the first songs to be completed with words and music, and without a doubt, originally envisioned to be sung by a woman – or at least a duet with me. Later on, when I realized that I wouldn’t be working with a woman this time around, I revised the lyrics to make them first-person, and melodically, it’s almost a different song.

The lyric writing ordeal – it was rough. Almost every song was written one line at a time. There were maybe one or two songs which “wrote themselves”; the rest of it was pushing a boulder up a mountain. Some nights I’d get a whole verse, while other nights I’d go back and erase what I did the previous night, changing a few words here and there. All in all, it took me the better part of five months to complete the lyrics and melodies.

Colin SayMoving along, the percussion bit in the verse sounds like it could have been lifted from “Time of the Season” by The Zombies. That part was recorded using Garageband software instruments; I looped a section and ran it through heavy reverb; I was surprised that it wound up sounding so familiar. Meanwhile, the Zombies also had an influence in other ways.

Right about the time I began recording vocals, I was rediscovering the genius of Colin Blunstone, one of the most underrated rock vocalists of all time. Quite by accident, I bought one of those “classic rock” compilation CDs with about a billion songs on it, and one of those happened to by Blunstone’s “Say You Don’t Mind”, which came after his term with the Zombies. Somehow, I had either never heard this song or had never remembered hearing it, but I totally fell in love with Blunstone’s voice all over again. So of course I thought, “Yeah buddy, I want to sing like that!”

Zombies

The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle (1967)

Most casual music fans will have heard of Rod Argent, probably due to his big 1970s hit “Hold Your Head Up”, and some may know that he was in the Zombies and wrote some of their biggest hits. The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle is considered one of the greatest albums of all-time, and Blunstone is probably the best thing about it. Those vocals on “Time of the Season” are pure genius and I long ago started ripping off the call-and-response routine of “What’s your name?/Who’s your daddy?” Anyway, I was listening to a lot of Blunstone and the Zombies over the last two years, so maybe some of that rubbed off. Honestly, I’m clearly aware that I sound nothing like Colin Blunstone, but it is worth mentioning that the overlapping vocal parts were inspired by the Zombies, no doubt about it.

TinaIt’s also worth noting that the opening line is a direct lift from Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” from the Mel Gibson film Mad Max Beyond (1985). How does that happen? It’s something I call ambient association but there’s probably another term for the phenomenon of being influenced by stuff you hear in taxis, supermarkets, shopping malls, and hotel lobbies, which coincidentally corresponds with something that’s important in your life. At the time I heard the song coming from the videoke joint across the street, I was still thinking that I might have a female collaborator in mind. I know Tina Turner was probably too busy to return my calls.

There’s a talented young woman on the Taipei music scene that plays and sings with a bunch of bands. I met her through mutual acquaintances and I asked if she would be interested in possibly singing and playing on some of my stuff. She replied positively maybe and arranged a time for me to drop off a CD of the jams at her crib, which wasn’t far from my pad. In the meantime, we befriended on Facebook and I sent her some links to BSM and my old jams on Soundcloud, but I don’t know if she ever checked them out.

On the day of the drop, I called to confirm our meeting and she asked to re-schedule for an hour later – which I couldn’t accommodate due to my office hours. I offered to email a couple of mp3s instead and she said, “Yeah, sure go ahead” with about the same enthusiasm I have when some random drunk outside Bobwundaye hits me up for a cigarette.

Maybe five years ago, I would have rescheduled and thought nothing of it, but in this instance, I never called the woman back or sent an mp3. Though it wasn’t her fault in any way, the episode flooded my system with all the bad memories of being in a band and trying to make people do stuff they didn’t want to do, or had to be persuaded or wooed or coddled, or any other type of nurturing. It reminded me of doing stuff I didn’t want to do but did it anyway to make the other guys happy; otherwise, I might not have a band anymore.

This wasn’t really about the woman. I realized that I was being quite naïve and pigheaded to think that people would want to work with me when (A) they scarcely knew me and (B) have plenty of other options. It doesn’t seem like anyone is hurting for gigs. On my part, getting other musicians involved was going to take a whole bunch of extra energy and effort that I didn’t have to spare. Forget it, I’ll do it myself, or I’ll do it a different way. Maybe that makes me less of a human being but I don’t think anybody cares one way or the other.

 

Aztec Pics and Video 039

Stuart Morrow’s No Name pedal. Volume, tone, gain. What else do you need?

To change the mood of the story, I had a blast recording the guitars at Up Down Music. I played the Fender Tele through a no-name pedal on loan from Stuart Morrow, into Roland JC-50 and a Vox AC30. The bass went through an Ampeg SVT. Drums were done at KHS as usual, and it was one of the few songs that didn’t require a bunch of overdubs.

For all of the above reasons, “Kung Fu” was the one jam that I was most ambivalent about. Most of the cuts that got rejected were dropped for an obvious reason. There were months after “Kung Fu” was finished when: it was on the record, no it’s off the record, yes it’s on the record, nope it’s off….

And here it is.

Kung Fu Gringo

 

So, as I was saying about the second record not ending on a beautiful note. If the Golden Tones version of “S.L.O.U.C.H.” was one of the biggest regrets of my musical legacy, then collectively, all of Bigger Brighter Faster Worse was my greatest disappointment. It started off with so much promise and creativity, and somewhere along the way, things got really messed up. In two sentences: Drugs and alcohol. They’re great fun when you’re in control; poisonous when you’re not.

Sunset 2

Typical Sunset District homes with in-law apartments

For five years I lived in an in-law apartment in the Outer Sunset of S.F., which I’d basically converted into a low-budget but utilitarian home recording studio-slash-party pad. In-law apartments are common in S.F. and I’ve seen many varieties, but in general these are basically studio apartments on the first floor of a two-story residence, with a separate entrance and most likely situated behind the garage, giving easy access to the back yard (if applicable).

For the first three years, my landlord and friend “Walter” lived upstairs. He was super-cool and frequently out of town. There were maybe a couple of instances where he asked me to keep the noise down, and that was no big deal. Otherwise, Wally gave me carte blanche of the ground floor, including the garage, where we were able to record drums. The backyard was also under my watch.

Bigger Brighter Faster Worse (2008)

Bigger Brighter Faster Worse (2008)

So for a couple of months, the initial sessions for Bigger Brighter were peachy. Things almost started to unravel when I took a new job as the manager of a small restaurant in Cow Hollow, and it completely threw me off balance. It didn’t help that with the new job came a whole new set of drug connections. Two months into the new gig, I basically had a nervous breakdown and resigned. The stress and anxiety beat me on that deal. On the bright side, the owner of the restaurant was a really nice guy and I think he felt sorry for me, but I didn’t expect him to cut me a severance check, which he did. That relieved some financial pressure, since I knew that I was welcome back at my old job. So I decided to take a break for a couple of weeks and chill out.

Mao chilling in the garden(2)

My cat Mao-mao, chilling in the garden

Before long I settled into a routine. In the morning I would work in the garden. Around noon I would get high and record until dinner time. I’d get high a couple of more times during the afternoon, depending upon what substances were on hand. At sundown, I would decide where to have dinner or whether to cook for myself. Dinner would be accompanied by a bottle of wine, unless I was having Indian food, which goes better with beer, if you ask me. After that, I’d get high again and open another bottle of wine. I could usually make it to midnight before being too messed up to operate recording equipment. So then I’d get high again and mosey down to the pub on the corner and play pinball and drink beer with Max, Susie, or whoever was around. Usually around 1:15 a.m., my drug dealer would show up and if I needed anything, the deal was done.

Two weeks turned into three, and it was a very good thing that I got a call from my old job, asking when I was coming back. Within a couple of days I was back at work and as (dys)functional as ever. This was the golden period of the recording process, and right about this time, I started working with Susie on vocals – as opposed to playing pinball and getting hammered after last call.

PeachesSusie was an interesting musical partner. Blessed with a mellifluous voice, she had never performed in public or worked in a recording studio, so it was all new to her. We began working together by singing cover songs – cheesy but fun stuff like “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver and “Reunited” by Peaches and Herb. Eventually, we moved on to my songs and Susie did an admirable job of following my instructions while trusting some of her own instincts.

Though never involved romantically, Susie and I became close friends. Like most friendships, we had our ups and downs. However, Susie was a good influence because she disapproved of my drug use; when she was around I had to keep my nose clean, literally. Basically, I would get high before she came over, but never during the session. Somewhere along the way, there was a fracture. One day we were pals; the next day she didn’t want anything to do with me. I suspect that she heard something about me down at the pub, but I never got to ask her what happened, because a week later, she moved out of the neighborhood. It was a little sad, but I reckoned – selfishly – that I’d already gotten what I wanted out of her.

And then the roof came down. Literally.

Walter took an assignment overseas, so he let one of his work buddies move in to the upstairs flat. Unfortunately, I was not given that option. The new guy “Leonard” was from Chicago, a massive Bulls fan and a major drunk, so we got along pretty well. He never complained about the noise I was making – mainly I suspect because he was passed out – and I never complained about…almost everything he did. Or didn’t do.

The more I got to know him, the more Leonard gave indications of being somewhat off. He was completely harmless and Wally said the kid was wicked smart, but he had some type of anger management issues – scratch that, he had a ton of issues – and I’d hear him screaming and smashing shit up there all the time. It only took one Sunday afternoon watching a Bulls game together before I thought, “Nah, I’m never doing that again.”

Leonard wasn’t accustomed to cleaning up after himself. He would clear his joint of some trash like once a month. Then he went two months without a clean-up and we got rats, so I had to call Walter and break the news. As usual when something like this happened, Wally asked me to call a local exterminator and work on Leonard about cleaning up the joint. Over the years, Walter traveled so much that I became the unofficial caretaker of the crib. So I was way ahead of him.

RatsThe rat infestation came on and escalated like an unexpected storm. At first, I noticed a rotting garbage odor coming from the vents. Then I started hearing noises one day and the next day I cornered one big black rat in my storage closet and beat it down with a post from a disassembled wine rack. Only took a couple of whacks and it was dead, so I didn’t feel bad that it had suffered. My next move was to track down Leonard, who could be elusive at times.

Anyway, the laundry room was upstairs on the back porch, so I was up there once a week doing my stuff. It also allowed me to see through the kitchen window, so I was used to the place in total disarray; but I was shocked at the mountains of empty beer bottles, pizza boxes and fast-food packaging that Leonard has accumulated. Jaysus, had it been that long since I’ve done laundry? It was like a scene from that TV show Hoarders. Stuff was piled waist-high in some places. With a decade of hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Leonard would order pizzas and drink at least a 12-pack every night, but the only bottles in the recycling bin were mine. The once a month clean-up was never a full sweep, either. It was a superficial exercise. Like wiping a window with a greasy rag.

HoarderLeonard wasn’t around that deadly rat day afternoon, but the back door was always open, so I shoved my way into the sea of trash. I took a few steps toward the living room but stopped dead in my tracks when I saw maggots in the sink. I puked a little at the sight, like a controlled retching. Meanwhile, the odor was thick and foul, and I wondered how the guy could live in such squalor. After poking my head in every room to make sure Leonard’s body wasn’t decomposing somewhere in the pile, I beat it back downstairs and called Walter.

“We’re going to need professional help,” I said.

“It’s that bad?” he replied.

“It’s crack house bad.”

Always a good-natured fellow, Walter laughed and said, “Leonard.”

“I’m gonna call a cleaning service. Got one on the hook now.”

“Definitely, and have Lenny pay for it. The kid is loaded anyway. Maybe you can set up a regular service for him.”

Walter had already spoken with Leonard about the garbage situation by the time I tracked him down. Lenny was very contrite and ashamed, and he told me that he’d been having some issues lately – he didn’t elaborate but I had a pretty good idea – and things had spun out of control. Of course, I was sympathetic; my own life had careened off the rails, so it wasn’t like I had any moral or ethical issues with the kid. Anyway, he was grateful that I arranged to have his joint simultaneously cleared of garbage and rats. Life went back to normal, for about a week.

studio 2Following the clean-up ordeal, I vaguely monitored Leonard’s condition. I went upstairs frequently to say hello and check-in on him. An eccentricity of the house was the conductivity of sound through the ceiling and vents, particularly in the upstairs back bedroom. I could hear a sound as soft as whisper coming from that back bedroom, and conversations sounded like they were taking place in my living room – where my studio set-up was located.

Leonard and Walter were using the middle bedroom as a storage unit, so Lenny mainly existed in that back bedroom. He only ever left to watch basketball games on the big TV in the front room. Otherwise he was up there screaming at his computer screen, playing video games and getting sloshed. Fortunately, I only had to hear it a couple of times a week since I worked nights and got home well after he’d slipped into a beer coma.

This one night I wasn’t working – it was like the day we had been declared rat-free and the upstairs flat was still spotless – and I was in the middle of setting up to record a guitar part when heard Leonard turn on the shower upstairs.

At least half an hour later – may have been as long as 45 minutes – I took off the headphones and noticed that the upstairs shower was still running. “Wow,” I thought, “he must having a good time up there!” And then I remembered Walter talking about maybe someday calling a plumber because the basin wasn’t draining properly. On a closer listen, the water flow was continuous – there was no splashing or variation – because Leonard wasn’t in the shower.

“That moron,” I said out loud. “If he doesn’t turn off the water it’s going to…”

And as soon as I said that, a big chunk of my kitchen ceiling came down, followed by a cascade of water. Shouting a series of obscenities, I panicked and pulled my recording equipment as far from the downpour as possible, and then ran up the back stairs, calling Leonard’s name. I opened back door, ran to the bathroom and shut off the water.

I found him passed out on his bed and used my foot to shake the mattress until he was rousted.

“Leonard! Leonard, you fat piece of shit. Wake up!”

Irritated and threatened, he snapped, “What the fuck, man!?!?”

“Dude, you forgot to turn off the shower! It flooded my joint!”

“Oh shit!” he cried and we moved to the bathroom, where the shower basin was still overflowing and water was pooled on the floor.

“Is it bad downstairs?”

“Dude, the ceiling came down!” I continued to curse him for his stupidity.

Once again, Leonard was contrite and humbled. “Are you going to call Walter, or should I do it?”

“You do it.” Man, I was so mad I thought I might throttle the guy.

The next day, I felt a little guilty about going off on him like I did. Coincidentally, a dude I used to work with had just gifted me a six-pack of some kind of brown ale craft brewed stuff (made by his friends) that I had no intention of drinking. Knowing Leonard loved that type of beer, later that evening I popped up the back staircase and offered an apology. He was apologetic as well and we shook hands.

studioset1He said, “Well, now we gotta deal with getting it fixed.”

“My joint is trashed.”

“Walter is pissed.”

“You think?”

The upstairs bathroom was situated directly above my kitchen. My studio set-up was just on the other side of the threshold between the kitchen and living room, so the downpour missed my computer and other gear by about two feet. It only was affected by minor splashing. However, my kitchen was basically destroyed. Half of the ceiling was exposed and water had seeped into the walls, bloating the drywall. The water had also shorted the electricity, which had happened before, but this time, everything on that side of the apartment was fried. The electrician that came around took one look at the wiring system and said, “Nuh-uh, I’m not touching it.” Christ, I was afraid to plug in anything after that.

Despite all the other depravity and stupidity that took place on my own behalf – beyond the flood scene – this event effectively marked the end of Bigger Brighter. The studio was shut down as I put the gear in storage while the plumbers and contractors mucked around for nearly a month fixing the ceiling and the walls. Walter had hired a couple of fly-by-night guys and it was an absolute nightmare on every account. And to make matters worse, they did a horrible job. A couple of weeks after they had cleared out, it happened again – Leonard passed out with the shower running – only this time, the ceiling didn’t collapse this time as much as it started to melt and ooze.

The song I was working on at the time was “Mountains of Honey”.

Mountains of Honey

 

 

Blue Sunshine 1

The Glove, Blue Sunshine (1983)

“Mountains of Honey” was one of half a dozen songs from Bigger Brighter that had music but no words, and eventually got scuttled. The main riff is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, so even though the original 2007 version had to be scrapped, I figured why not give it another shot.

The song also contains direct lifts from a line from:

“Waiting Room” by Fugazi
“Punish Me With Kisses” by The Glove
“Maggie’s Farm” by Bob Dylan
“Twisting by the Pool” by Dire Straits

 

Yeah Right and Son of Yeah Right

28 Mar
Almost Cover 003 with logo no titleNo one has ever accused me of being shy or too timid to voice my opinion. If you ask me a question, I’m going to give you answer, like it or not. However, I’ve mellowed. I’m no longer an outspoken critic of everything under the sun. I won’t voice an opinion unless asked, and even then, you might not get one. Nowadays, I’m more likely to shrug than spit hot fire.

Despite spending a treacherous amount of time on the Internet, reading every scrap of news noteworthy and otherwise, I don’t have a lot to say about modern political and social issues. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care—I do care, a lot more than I want to admit—but I care for the sake of my son. As a parent, I am obligated to understand the world I’ve brought him into. Understanding doesn’t necessarily mean long-winded conversations and playing ping pong with comments on Facebook.

Therefore, generally speaking, I couldn’t tell you my views on the situation in Ukraine because I don’t have any. I wouldn’t waste my breath discussing U.S. foreign policy because it isn’t ever going to make a difference. And I shouldn’t have to choose a side in the on-going debate about what we can or cannot do with our genitals because it’s got nothing to do with me. I’m good, thanks.

DSC02391On the contrary, there is one subject—there are several subjects—which you may not want to bring up with me because I can’t or won’t stop talking. One of these topics is guitar. It matters not what context you want to approach, I will talk about guitars, guitarists, playing guitars, fixing guitars, smashing guitars, buying guitars, guitar amps, strings, straps, picks, pickups, cords, chords, effects, gauges—you name it. If guitar is in the subject heading, count me in.

This is because I love playing guitar. I love playing guitar so much that I go long periods of time not playing guitar because I don’t want to insult the instrument by giving a half-assed effort. When I play guitar that means I play every day for at least an hour, usually much longer. It is something I have done since the beginning. Either I give it 110%, or don’t even pick up the ax.

Agustin Barrios (1885-1944)

Agustin Barrios (1885-1944)

Before I started writing for In the Spirit of Almost, I spent almost a year working on my guitar chops, which involved learning new material as well as re-learning stuff I already knew. For instance, about 10 years ago, I studied the work of classical maestro Agustin Barrios. After two years, I could pull-off some of his more difficult pieces. And then my attention shifted to something else, and Barrios was no longer on the music stand.

A couple of years ago, I dug out the old books and started reviewing the Barrios stuff. Jaysus, what a humbling experience! Most of the melodic and harmonic stuff came back to me in a matter of minutes, but the muscle memory was gone. And then I dug up all my J.S. Bach tabs and good grief! It was one of those experiences that make you think, “Maybe I’m not a guitar player.”

For some reason, I woke up this morning with the theme song to the TV series Green Acres running through my head. It was literally the first thought of the day. As I went through my ablutions, it occurred to me that at some point in the last two years, I had actually learned a fingerstyle version of the Green Acres theme song. And I could recite the lyrics as easily as “Our Father”, no doubt.

Green Acres

Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor on Green Acres

When I was a kid, watching Green Acres was one of those Lady or the Tiger-type choices, and we didn’t have a lot of choices in the pre-cable mid-1970s, especially during summer vacation. If you were lucky, you got Hollywood Squares and M*A*S*H* reruns. But most times you had a choice between the [Chicago] Cubs on WGN, General Hospital, re-runs of Bonanza, and Green Acres. Or you had the black and white Gilligan’s Island episodes you’d already seen a hundred times.

Or Popeye. My vision of Hell was being locked in a room and forced to watch the Chicago Cubs play baseball and episodes of Popeye between innings. Actually, the Nubs are another thing you might not want to bring up with me. So in certain situations, you went with Green Acres. And it wasn’t such a bad show after all. The tropes were sometimes funny; Eva Gabor was real easy on the eyes and Eddie Albert was a decent actor. Plus, they had pigs in the house.

As I was brushing my teeth, I tried to imagine the chord shapes and the picking pattern of the theme song and wondered if I could still play it. So I pulled out the 12-string and gave it a shot. Pfffft. Yeah right. I couldn’t even remember the opening sequence. The guitar went back in its case and I’m not even sure whether it was in Standard or Open tuning. Not one note was played. It was pathetic.

Yngwie

Does this guitar make me look fat? Cuz I feel fat.

One of the most exciting things about guitar is when I see or hear somebody do something that I can’t. It doesn’t matter who is playing what. If I can’t do what they are doing, even if I don’t particularly want to do what they’re doing, I am automatically compelled to figure it out. For example, I remember hearing Yngwie Malmsteen for the first time and thinking, “How is he doing that?”

It didn’t take long before I was perfectly satisfied to let Yngwie and Co. play in their corner of the sandbox.

Leo 6

Leo Kottke, 6 and 12-String Guitar (1969)

On the other hand, one of my all-time top 10 favorite guitarists, and a seminal inspiration for picking up the instrument in the first place, is a dude named Leo Kottke. My uncle gave me a copy of 6 and 12-String Guitar, and it blew my 11-year-old mind. “Holy smokes, this guy sounds like he has four hands!” His style and technical prowess was so intimidating that I thought I’d never figure out what he was doing.

So anyway, I was listening to all kinds of guitar. Everything from East Bay Ray to Vinnie Vincent to Marc Ribot to Lightnin’ Hopkins. The true student can learn something from everyone—something that Mike Watt once said to me (and a nice personal validation).

At some point I got into a Chet Atkins funk, and I spent hours on YouTube going through his career. At random, I came across a clip of Chet playing with a cat named Jerry Reed.

Jerry 01

Jerry Reed (1937-2008)

Jerry Reed! I forgot all about that dude! Jerry Reed, ladies and gentlemen, was one of the most revered country pickers that ever lived. He was a Legend of Legends. And he also had a successful career in Hollywood. A lot of people might recognize him from his various comedic film roles such as Burt Reynolds’ sidekick in Smokey and the Bandit, or the mean old coach in Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy. Anyway, I could go on and on about ol’ Jerry Reed. I love that dude. Here is the best thing I have ever read about Jerry Reed, and it’s in his own words (from his Wikipedia entry):

In July 1967, Reed had his best showing so far on the country charts (#53) with his self-penned “Guitar Man,” which Elvis Presley soon covered. Reed’s next single was “Tupelo Mississippi Flash,” a comic tribute to Presley. Recorded on September 1, the song became his first Top 20 hit, going to No. 15 on the chart. In a remarkable twist of fate, Elvis came to Nashville to record nine days later on September 10, 1967, and one of the songs he became especially excited about was [Jerry's] “Guitar Man.”
Reed recalled how he was tracked down to play on the Elvis session:
“I was out on the Cumberland River fishing, and I got a call from Felton Jarvis (then Presley’s producer at RCA). He said, ‘Elvis is down here. We’ve been trying to cut ‘Guitar Man’ all day long. He wants it to sound like it sounded on your album.’ I finally told him, ‘Well, if you want it to sound like that, you’re going have to get me in there to play guitar, because these guys (you’re using in the studio) are straight pickers. I pick with my fingers and tune that guitar up all weird kind of ways.’”
Jarvis hired Reed to play on the session. “I hit that intro, and [Elvis'] face lit up and here we went. Then after he got through that, he cut [my] “U.S. Male” at the same session. I was toppin’ cotton, son.” Reed also played the guitar for Elvis Presley’s “Big Boss Man” (1967), recorded in the same session.
MenChet

Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins, Me and Chet (1972)

So it turned out that Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed had teamed up in the early 1970s for a pair of albums, Me and Jerry (1970), and Me and Chet (1972). I did not know that. But man, I couldn’t get my paws on those two records fast enough!

The YouTube clip that brought me back to Jerry Reed was a live take of “Jerry’s Breakdown” from Me and Chet, on the television program Pop Goes the Country in 1974.

After a few viewings, I thought, “I’ve never learned to pick like Jerry does” so I found the guitar tab online. Upon first glance, I thought there had to be some kind of mistake. There was no way Jerry was playing those notes in that position. It was absolutely incongruous to me. I tried it a couple of times and put it down. I was convinced the tab was wrong. Going back to the video, it seemed that I was wrong and the tab was right. Jerry was playing those notes in that position.

Um, invest the seven minutes and watch the whole clip. It’s amazome. Awesome and amazing are overused. After you watch it, answer me this: Does it seem like Jerry is jacked up on coke? Cuz it looks to me like ol’ Jerry is grinding – hard.

I must have watched the clip of “Jerry’s Breakdown” for a month straight. One night I kept it on a loop while working on my laptop. At one point, my wife Janice asked what I was listening to and why was I listening to it over and over again. So I showed her the video and said, “Isn’t that incredible?” She wasn’t terribly impressed and said, “What’s the big deal? You can play that.”

I snorted and said, “Yeah right! I’ve been working on it for a month and I still can’t play the damn thing!”

During the course of my attempt to learn “Jerry’s Breakdown” – and by the way, I got pretty close to being able to play it note-for-note – I would get frustrated and start noodling on something else. After a while, I came up with a little riff that vaguely reminded me of a cross between Leo Kottke and Jerry Reed. This little riff would wind up being the opening eight bars of the first of today’s featured tracks. Both of today’s jams are instrumentals, and at one point – due to an epic struggle to write lyrics – the entire album was going to be instrumental. Nevertheless, these two songs were intentionally written to stand alone without vocals.

Yeah Right

 

Once I got a hold of the opening riff, I started branching off in different directions, eventually forming a structure of what might technically be considered a minute-and-a-half “solo.” Unfortunately, I let my ambition get the best of me, and the piece was actually too difficult to play in one take. Whenever I think about getting old, the first thing that pops into my mind is that when I was younger, I could always find a way to get what I heard in my head to cooperate with my fingers. Nowadays I can’t make it through the first half of a song – that I wrote – without making a mistake.

On March 4, 2013, I posted an AH recording update which read in part:

Thursday night was dedicated to getting one solid take of “Yeah Right,” which finally happened—kinda sorta—after 135 takes. That’s no exaggeration; I’ve been counting. Plus, I took an hour’s worth of video to document the process. What you see here is a one 10-minute segment distilled to 3:45. The final take (starts at 1:45) was not a keeper, though it was the closest I came during the first bottle of wine. The keeper came about 35 takes later and having listened to it a day later, think I can do better, so that’s why it’s a kinda-sorta deal.

You might watch the video and think, “It doesn’t seem all that difficult to play. Why is the guy having such a hard time with it?” Well, I’m glad you asked. See, this type of piece—a country-folk-punk instrumental—is kind of new to me in the sense that I’ve been listening to Leo Kottke my whole life, but I never consciously tried to emulate his style. The majority of stuff that I do leaves some room for error; that’s kind of the point, really. There’s space between chords and notes, the rhythm and the melody. If I make a minor mistake, I can go back and fix it; not so with something like “Yeah Right” which has two quarter-beat rest notes in the whole one-minute and forty-five seconds it takes to play.

Fuzzy Fact #1: The take featured in the video – the one I said wasn’t a keeper – was used, or at least part of it was. The majority of what the listener will hear is one 12-string performance (the 135th take) recorded after the video was shut off, and spliced at about the 1:10 mark with the aforementioned non-keeper take. So the streak remains alive. The 135th take wasn’t even perfect. There are several little miffs which the serious guitarists will hear, for sure. It’s hard to say whether I gave up or the song beat me. “Yeah Right” remains undefeated.

Son of Yeah Right or Crawl of the Tapeworm

“Son of Yeah Right or Crawl of the Tapeworm” was recorded with a Fender Tele and a Fender 12-String in three different tunings, but mainly in Open E7 tuning (EBDG#BE) and based in E major. The goal was to cross “Flight of the Bumblebee” with an Indian raga, and regardless of whether or not I achieved anything close to that, I have never, not once, been able to play it all the way through without making at least one mistake.

My take on guitar-based songwriting is that you can never just come up with something out of nowhere. You might come up with some hot new riff that you swear sounds like nothing you’ve never heard, only to realize weeks, months, even years down the road that it was a subconscious cribbing of something you’d heard before.

YertleI’m sure there are plenty of guitarists out there who swear to have never played a cover song or learned a Clapton solo note-for-note. That may be true, but it doesn’t make them any more or less original than the next guy. Music doesn’t work like that. What we listen to is ultimately more influential than what we (learn how to) play. You might not be able to play Clapton, but you’ve heard him whether you’ve wanted to or not. Garbage in, garbage out. So even a purist who only plays what they “hear” is basing their expression on or as a reaction to something they’ve already heard before. It’s like Dr. Seuss and Yertle the Turtle. This is the way it is. There can be no other way.

So the main reason I spent a year working on my guitar skills before writing new material is that I wanted to be able to translate what I would be hearing in my head to the instrument. Even though I’m severely partial to “rock” music, I listen to everything. That includes arias and show tunes and beer commercials.

Alright, to keep it brief, this song is a by-product of “Yeah Right” in the sense that it was headed in a similar direction but influenced by a different set of characters. Whereas “Yeah Right” has a folky feel, “Son of Yeah Right” is more of a hillbilly raga.

Nusret

Nusret Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997)

I’ve been a huge fan of Ravi Shankar and Indian music for decades. I’m also a fan of Qawwali music and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. After the Chet Atkins phase, I drifted over to sitar music, and ventured into Thai psychedelia and places unknown. At the same time, I jumped off from Jerry Reed to Roy Clark.

Sigh. What can I say about Roy Clark that hasn’t been said before and said better? Most of us older folks remember him from hosting Hee Haw, and some of them might recall him playing a banjo once or twice. But Roy Clark was a monster guitar player. I remember seeing him do “Flight of the Bumblebee” on Hee Haw or some other show – it’s not on YouTube – but I saw it, I swear to God. You don’t just imagine stuff like that. Be that as it may, the working title for this cut was “Crawl of the Tapeworm” and a nod to Roy Clark.

So we’ve got all these ingredients in the mix, and it’s threatening to wind up a huge mess, so we stop and start over.

I recorded a three different versions of “Son of Yeah Right” (and two of the papa – forgot to mention that), each with a slightly different arrangement. Obviously, there are a ton of notes in the jam and it was a matter of making all of them fit. The problem was that I liked all of them. So I combined all three versions and chopped ‘em up accordingly.

 

Family Pics and Video 134

Tim Hogan

Tim Hogan played tabla, African drums, and assorted percussion on both songs. It’s actually easier to tell you what he’s not playing as opposed to what he is playing because (A) there were so many tracks that I lost count and (B) sometimes both of us are playing percussion at the same time; for instance, he might be on tabla and I’m on tambourine.

Of all the people I’ve worked with over the years, Tim is probably one of the most reliable. He reminds me a lot of Chris Lanier. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. In fact, he was just one of about half a dozen local musicians that I invited to collaborate with me, and he’s the only [local] who showed up. Now that’s not a knock against the others; it’s a testament to Tim’s ethics. If the others were going to contribute or participate, I would have had to track them down and hold guns to their heads. “Come on, you’re going to do this.” Not with Tim. I asked, he said yes, and we did the sessions.

MBR

Muddy Basin Ramblers, Formosa Medicine Show (2013)

Not only that, but Tim’s a great musician with a unique vision of rhythm and you should check out his band Muddy Basin Ramblers. They have a new record out, Formosa Medicine Show, and it’s delightful.

The intro melody is loosely based on George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You”, my absolute favorite song on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And of course, the vocals on the outro are cribbed from the song.

The opening sample is Wesley Willis from one of his numerous solo albums. [The samples were originally used in 1995 on one of my home demo tapes and I’m pretty sure it’s from Wesley’s Mr. Magoo Goes to Jail.] “Ride them, cowboy!” and “I’m going to shoot your ass down, motherfucker!” There’s also a part where he’s screaming something like, “I am Adam Ant, you stupid motherfucker!”

SS.WesleyWillis

Wesley Willis (1960-2008)

The drums were recorded almost as an afterthought, and it wasn’t until a couple of days later that I came to realize that the beat reminded me of Beck’s “E-Pro” from Guero.

Overall, these two songs were the most fun to write and record, despite some of the complications. As of today, I consider this to be the last Aztec Hearts record. The project isn’t over as much as it has run its course. If I were to do another record (under a different name), I would seriously consider doing all instrumentals. I’m not a very good singer, but that’s a subject for another set of songs.

Slouching Toward Greatness?

26 Mar
The plan to release In the Spirit of Almost two-songs-at-a-time was created in response to obstacles, contingencies, and inner monologues about logic, reason, and rational thought. First and foremost, there are 17 tracks on the album, 16 if you discount the acoustic version of “Mountains of Honey”, and 15 if you consider the “Sandy Beaches” remix, which technically belongs to a different record.

And then it occurred to me. One word. The name of today’s featured song. “Slouch”. This track will correct the balance. It deserves two songs’ worth of attention.

The Portable Thruster and Hyperspace Companion Kit (1998)

Golden Tones, The Portable Thruster and Hyperspace Companion Kit (1998)

“Slouch (aka S.L.O.U.C.H.)” was originally written and recorded by Golden Tones and released in 1998 on The Portable Thruster and Hyperspace Companion Kit, the double-disc set which captured the apex of our creative powers as a musical unit and contains a couple of my personal favorite songs. One of those songs, “S.L.O.U.C.H.”, co-written with Ron Kwasman and Matthew Tucker, happens to be one of the biggest regrets of my artistic life.

Here it is in one sentence: The vocals on the original (“S.L.O.U.C.H.”) version are awful.

[In order to avoid confusion, click here to listen to the original.]

The Portable Thruster was recorded on a lo-fi chain of Tascam 4-track and 8-track cassette machines, bounced to ADAT, and mastered to DAT. Engineer Pete Most once said, “It might not sound all that great, but it definitely doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before.”

The main tonal theme of “S.L.O.U.C.H.” was based loosely on a series of Ronnie’s guitar loops and my bass lines, both of which were improvised. It really came together after I wrote the chord changes on acoustic guitar, and all three of us hashed out the arrangement in the practice space. The loops were pretty simple and it was a really fun and exciting piece of music to work on. The tune is anchored by the live take of bass, drums, and guitar, but the bulk of the song was overdubs and some good and bad decisions.

To the best of my recollection, the idea to distort the vocals came late in the mixing process, and I can’t say for sure who came up with that bright idea. Maybe it’s better if I didn’t know. 50/50 odds it coulda been me.

GTpolaroid06The feeling and emotion of the performance is there, but the execution didn’t come to work. Or it showed up five hours late with a 12-pack. Though I’m my own worst critic, if I could go back and do something over again, it would be FIX THAT SONG. For whatever reason, I let it slide back in the day. Might have even thought it was cool and sounded neat. Doesn’t matter. Too late.

Or is it? Although Ron and Matt played major roles in the recording, it’s generally conceded to be one of My Songs; so there would be no harm in revisiting and revising the jam – they would have been supportive anyhow. So I sad, “I’m gonna do another version” and it became part of the writing phase, as I basically had to re-learn the song from scratch, and transpose it to a different key. And that was fun. Seriously.

Anyway, I didn’t want to mess around with the song’s structure, but I did want to change some of the lyrics and phrasings. There were a couple of bits on the original that made me cringe. With the tangental input of R.C. Beldone, I got rid of a couple of awkward spots, and the final result was something I could live with. In terms of the overall feel, I just went with where I was at the moment – which is what I’ve always done. My goal was never to recreate the original, it was to renovate the existing vibe.

Slouch

 

To the casual listener, the new and ‘improved’ version of “Slouch” might sound a bit cleaner and smoother, with more gain structure. The vocals are not as distorted and screamy; they don’t sound any better – it just sounds like it was recorded in a better environment. This is true, in a relative way.

Most importantly, I am honored to say that the new version features two of my all-time heroes on guitar, Billy Dolan (Five Style, Heroic Doses, Das Boton) and who else? Ron Kwasman (Margot and the Nuclear So n So’s).

After recording the basic tracks, I sent mixes to Billy and Ron, who recorded their parts in Rockford, IL, and Chicago, IL, respectively. For the most part, Billy plays the main lead pedal steel-sounding parts, and Ron is doing all the spacey atmospheric stuff.

Not only are Billy and Ronnie two of my favorite guitarists ever, they are the two best musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Ronnie 1Ronnie is not just a friend, he’s a brother. Though he may be a crazy good guitar player, he is one of the nicest, most humble people you will ever meet. When I needed a place to sleep, Ronnie let me crash at his place. When I needed a job, he gave me one, or got me one. If I was hungry, he would give me something to eat. When I didn’t have any money or any weed, he would pack me a bong hit and loan me some cash. That’s the way he was. If someone was your enemy, he was Ronnie’s enemy, too. If you were down on your luck, Ronnie helped you take the first step back to good fortune.

The short version of this story is that Ronnie and I met in high school and we played in bands together (and separately on occasion) for the better part of 15 years. Our musical partnership created a treasure chest of good music, some of which is still ringing in our ears. Now even though it’s been 15 years since we’ve seen each other in person, we remain in regular contact. That’s what brothers do.

Ronnie is also kind of a sneaky guitar player. He’s one of those rare cats who can get inside of a song and hold it up like air pressure in a bubble. And amazingly, he’s still doing it with Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s. They have a new record about to drop, Slingshot to Heaven, and it’s hot.

After I recorded the skeleton arrangement of “Slouch” on acoustic guitar and bass, the first person I called – the first person I emailed was Ronnie. “Hey, you wanna play on this jam?” Despite being busy with half a dozen projects, he agreed to work on the track. Thanks to Dropbox, I sent him the .wav files, which he dumped into Pro Tools and worked his magic. The result is classic Ronnie.

Bill Dolan - The Man

Billy Dolan

Meanwhile, when I interviewed Billy last year, I did not to ask him to play on the AH record. I thought about it, but I felt like it would be inappropriate. Much to my surprise, Bill brought it up. And I said, startled, “Will you?” He said, “Sure, let me hear some of it,” so I sent him a bunch of tracks and said, “Pick out the ones you want to play on.” Bill picked “Slouch”, unaware of its origins or Ronnie’s involvement.

Then I got Billy’s tracks in Dropbox and they were killer, too. The choice was obvious. Use Ronnie’s tracks or use Billy’s tracks. Or use them both, which is exactly what I did.

Epilogue

It’s funny how off-handed, slight, or innocuous criticisms can worm their way into your memory, and you may never get rid of them.

When I moved out to S.F., Chris Lanier introduced me to his friend, Ross. Chris played drums for Ross’s band: a country-ish, jokey kind of fringe outfit. But Ross was a nice dude and when HMS got their first gig, we asked him to play keyboards for us.

In the earliest days, HMS only had nine original songs to work with, so we picked a few Golden Tones cuts and worked them into our set. “S.L.O.U.C.H.” was one of those songs. One day at practice, Ross said something about playing the ‘John Cougar song’, in reference to “S.L.O.U.C.H.” He said it in a slightly demeaning tone, but without malice. It was kind of snarky – before snarky became a term. Anyway, my first reaction was, “What’s wrong with the Coug!?! Why are you fronting on the Coug!?!” In the end, it was just good-natured back and forth between musicians and forget about it, right?

Ross wasn’t wrong in his assessment. I knew what he was saying. Without Ronnie’s space guitar and the loops from the original, the HMS version had kind of a lazy “heartland” feel.

Even drawing on the memory of a drug-addled, alcoholic mess of a human being, I can tell you exactly what I was going for when I wrote that song: John Cougar drops acid with Robert Smith at a party hosted by Simon and Garfunkel and featuring Van Halen on the main stage. That is to say, I like John Cougar a whole bunch.

The first HMS show was kind of a disaster, and Ross faded out of the picture. As a band, I figured HMS was one-and-done. But then we got another show, and another, and pretty soon, Chris had to make a decision: HMS or Ross. He chose us.

For the longest time, whenever I thought about “S.L.O.U.C.H.”, even though I hadn’t seen or heard anything about the guy in ages, the first thing that popped into my mind was Ross and the snide comment about John Cougar. At any rate, the jam remained on our playlist for a year or two until we had enough material to drop it from rotation. I played it live for the first time in God knows how long on June 8, 2013.

Chris Lanier always told me that it was one of his favorite songs, so that’s good enough for me.

Drum Roll, Please

26 Mar Almost Cover 003 with logo no title
Almost Cover 003 with logo no titleThe vast majority of In the Spirit of Almost was recorded February 2013 – March 2014 on a Roland BR-1180 digital 8-track, using one Røde NT-1A condenser microphone. The tracks were then arranged and mixed in ProTools with a Digidesign Mbox Micro interface. Many of the electric guitar tracks were processed through a Stuart Morrow Volumizer in lieu of amplification. Most of the drums were played on standard (rental) kits; however, several songs incorporate a Roland TD-4 electronic kit. The flutes are real; I bought them at Kultura in SM Makati for 200 pesos a piece. Most of the keyboards were generated by Garageband software instruments, but the piano is legit.

Aztec Pics and Video 045The drums and vocals were mainly recorded in a tiny practice room at KHS Music in Taipei, Taiwan, which charged an hourly rate of approximately $3.00 (100NT). Additional drum and guitar tracking (with amps) was done at Up Down Music, also in Taipei. The recording may not have been possible without the generous hospitality of many folks. Rajah Cheech Beldone gets a Lifetime Achievement Award for loaning me his guitar and bass. Stuart Morrow literally rocked my world by building and giving me a Volumizer. Tim Hogan showed major class by playing percussion on about half of the tracks, and leaving the instruments with me for extended periods of time.

Though they may never read or hear about this, the people at KHS Music Fuxing branch, particularly Kyle and Lulu, went out of their way to accommodate me, sometimes at the last minute. The dudes at Up Down Music were righteous as well. It’s nice when you walk into a room full of gear and say, “Which ones can I use?” and the dude says, “All of them.”

Bobs

Best bar in Taiwan, hands down.

Katrina Ku, Laura Naledi Fan, and Ivria at Bobwundaye in Taipei were angels for letting me play their establishment, and a big influence on my decision to follow my passion.

The cover art is the result of collaboration between myself, Craig Stevenson, and a painting by Billy Dolan, one of my personal heroes who also plays guitar on a track. The photography is also attributed to yours truly.

My dear friend and musical soul brother, Ron Kwasman not only contributed amazing space guitar, but was a great source of support and feedback throughout the recording process. Check out his band’s new record and go see them when they come to your town.

Last but not least, the record is dedicated to my loving wife and best friend Janice Nilo Adams, who has been my biggest fan, cheerleader, and advisor since the day we met.

Without further ado, I present the first pair of cuts from the new record.

Rubicon

RafiADF

Asian Dub Foundation, Rafi’s Revenge (1999)

 

A couple of years ago, my friend Chris Fay turned me on to Rafi’s Revenge by British electronica group Asian Dub Foundation, who are widely-acclaimed for their particular mix of rap, dub, dancehall and punk influences, and use of sampled and live instruments. In truth, the majority of so-called ‘electronic music’ is not my thing, and I’d never heard of the band, let alone Rafi’s Revenge. However, upon the first listen, I was really impressed with the jungle-style drum and bass. That led me to check out the rest of the ADF catalog, which is also quite listenable. My thought was: “If I were to start an electronica band, that’s how I would want it to sound.” Minus the rapping, of course.

Can't Stop Beat

The English Beat, I Just Can’t Stop It (1980)

At the same time, I began feeling nostalgic for comfort music, and few bands bring me back to a warm, cozy place as quickly as the English Beat and their debut album, I Just Can’t Stop It (1980). For several weeks, I was listening to nothing but ADF, the English Beat, and for an unrelated reason, Led Zeppelin’s Presence; it’s my favorite Zeppelin record and the only one I have on iTunes, plus it contains three of my all-time top 10 Zeppelin tracks. For the record, here they are (Presence titles in bold).

1. When the Levee Breaks
2. Achilles’ Last Stand
3. Hey Hey, What Can I Do
4. In the Evening
5. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
6. Kashmir
7. The Song Remains the Same
8. Royal Orleans
9. Misty Mountain Hop
10. Friends

Robert Plant Didn't Ruin It For Anyone

Led Zeppelin, Presence (1976)

“Rubicon” was not part of the original group of tracks, and the only song on the record written and recorded entirely in Standard guitar tuning (EADGBE) – everything else is in Open G (DGDGBD) or a variation thereof. The song was written and recorded during the drum sessions for a batch of other tunes, and was one of those jams that took less time to write and record than it did to type that last sentence. It’s as close to one of those mythical “Songs Written in Fifteen Minutes or Less” as I’m going to come.

One Sunday afternoon, I’d just returned from tracking drums at Up Down Music. The Tele sat next to the machine, since I’d been doing guitar tracks the night before. I had this rhythm in my head, sort of a cross between the English Beat and Asian Dub Foundation. The guitar parts came one after the other. It would be generous to say I spent an hour on the structure. In fact, I played it through twice, stretching out the arrangement on the second pass. Then I dialed up the click track, plugged in the guitar, messed up the foot pedals, and that was it—one take. Then I picked up the bass. That took maybe a couple of passes. Then I spent about an hour on guitar overdubs. For the drums, I wanted a raunchier sound, so I went back to KHS. Sometime later, Tim Hogan came over and played tablas and assorted percussion.

The lyrics and vocals took a little more time; maybe a week for the words. At this stage, I was still working out some of the kinks with my guitar set-up. The end of the song features a brief reference to U2’s “I Will Follow”, which is one of the first songs I learned how to play note-for-note on electric guitar. Meanwhile, the riff at the every end came as a result of messing around with guitar effects on the lead track. Any knucklehead who has ever twirled a knob on a delay pedal knows “The Edge” setting.

I’ve made a decision not to discuss the lyrics of any song, other than to point out where I cribbed certain lines from famous jams. In addition to the U2 reference, there are two straight-up jackings of “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin and “Point of No Return” by Kansas.

*This does not necessarily mean every song is in the key of G.

 

Face

The original version of “Face” clocked in at just under nine minutes (8:53) and included a three-minute guitar and bamboo flute freakout intro, as well as a two-minute bridge and one-minute outro. All in all, that left about three minutes of actual “song”, which isn’t an ideal ratio for the listener. In the conceptual stage, when artistic energy was free-flowing and open-ended, I liked the idea of a nine-minute jam with maximum weirdness. As time went by, I thought, “Nobody is going to want to sit through this crap. I don’t even want to sit through it.” So when it came time to mix, I simply chopped most of the fatty parts, with an eye toward keeping it under four minutes.

The middle guitar section was partially inspired by Mars Volta and of course, Brian May; however, the main idea actually came from messing around with “Shotgun” by Junior Walker and the All-stars. The rest of the song came from an attempt to write something light and breezy, but not in G major. Sadly, I don’t think “light and breezy” survived the experience.

Aztec Pics and Video 049It took me maybe ten minutes to figure out a couple of things about those flutes. First, they are basically toys. Nobody in their right mind would or should spend more than ten minutes trying to figure them out. Second, because they are toys, they weren’t designed or manufactured to be used as musical instruments. So it comes in a package that says the flute is in the key of C, but it’s actually way closer to C sharp. The B flat flute wasn’t even in a key, at least one that I could identify. It was somewhere between A and A flat. Meanwhile, it makes a spine-tingling screech unless you master its goofy fingering and cover the holes properly.

Anyway, this one has a couple of obvious cribbings. Number one, from the aforementioned “Shotgun” by Junior Walker. Number two, a line from “Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe it or Not)”, sung by Joey Scarbury; written by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer. There is also a passing reference to “Save it for Later” by the English Beat.

Anomalous Anomalies

25 Mar
In preparation for the release of the new Aztec Hearts record, I was compelled to check the status of all BSM-related Soundcloud accounts, including Golden Tones and Henry Miller Sextet. As many of you know, Soundcloud has a couple of different types of accounts, which vary by price and amount of upload space. Only the flagship BSM account, which was mainly established to host Bob and Ron’s Record Club, has been upgraded to Pro. The others are free, which means they get approximately 120 minutes of uploads. The Pro account is unlimited and I think I pay something like $30 a month, which isn’t bad, I think. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, I’m not much of a “stats” guy, although I do occasionally check to see how things are going on BSM and so forth. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that despite being MIA for seven months, the blog generated a decent (relative) amount of traffic. The whole clicks-listens-downloads system of web metrics is nice, but it doesn’t mean much to the nobodies of the insanityCDworld. And with Soundcloud, it means even less when I’m paying for the music to be free. Whatever. Out of curiosity, I browsed over the stats for each account and I came across a relatively shocking statistic – shocking in my world, not the everyday world of popular digital media.

Of the three BSM bands – Golden Tones, Henry Miller Sextet and Aztec Hearts – and including traffic generated by the Bob and Ron shows, by far the most listened to and downloaded item is a delightful and obscure song called “That’s My Story and I’m Sticking With It” from the equally delightful and obscure Henry Miller Sextet debut album, Start the Insanity Now (1999). You’ll notice that we were billed as “The” Henry Miller Sextet, which was amended not long thereafter.

At 263 listens and a whopping 90 downloads, “That’s My Story” leads the second most popular song, “Gorilla For Sale” (also by Henry Miller Sextet, from the second album) by 200 listens.

“That’s My Story” is a curious case of several anomalies within an anomaly. First of all, only 100 copies of Start the Insanity were pressed and at least half of those were used for promotion. If we sold a copy of that record, it was to a well-meaning friend who insisted on paying in order to “support local musicians”, but in fact, their $10 was most likely spent at the bar within the next 20 minutes of said transaction. Absolutely nobody has ever listened to that record all the way through on purpose. “That’s My Story” was the second-to-last cut on the CD.

Next, the song itself features a couple of musical and stylistic anomalies. One, it is based on a one-bar looped drum sample from an intro to an unidentified Wilson Pickett record. It may not even be Wilson Pickett; could have been any number of soul and R&B records: Sly Stone, James Brown, Santana, War, Stevie Wonder, early Prince…InsanitybackI was listening to all that stuff back then. In all honesty, I don’t remember and I keep thinking I wrote it down somewhere but…Wilson Pickett is the name that keeps jumping out at me. Christ, I mean, good luck to anyone who tries to figure it out, but I really really hope that doesn’t happen.

Using loops and samples is not at all unique to my work; we did a ton of it in Golden Tones and I’ve continued the trend in Aztec Hearts. However, we were mostly using delay pedals to treat guitars and keyboards; we didn’t have an Akai MPC-60. We didn’t really need to sample the drums when we had a perfectly good Matt Tucker on hand. Nevertheless, this particular sample was used in tandem with live instrumentation to form the foundation of “That’s My Story”, and in that way, stands as an anomaly in the pantheon of Henry Miller Sextet. We never did that again. In fact, it’s the only song from the record that we never once attempted to play live or in practice.

Two, it is one of a half dozen songs in my entire 30 years of songwriting which do not have any six-string guitar on it. Zero. It’s all drums, bass, keyboard and saxophone, which was performed by one of the coolest cats of all-time, a dude named Chris Warland, who at the time was the lead singer of a band called Ancient Greeks – who were one of my two favorite locals bands at the time. Chris also sang co-lead vocal and wrote his parts of the verse.

Three, it’s the only song in my catalog to feature saxophone.

And so here it is. There’s nothing else like it on the record, to say the least of the HMS oeuvre.

Back Into the Abyss

25 Mar
The quickest way into this requires an analogy. Returning to blog after a seven-month absence is like diving into a pool of cold water—and the internet is nothing if not an infinite sea of chilly vibes. So you can procrastinate all you want, but it isn’t going to change anything. The water is not going to get any warmer. You know it’s going to be unpleasant. You know it’s going to take time to get acclimated. You just…gotta…do it.

Fortunately, my return comes with purpose and content.

There is new music. Lots of it. First and foremost, I’m thrilled/devastated/bewildered to announce that the new Aztec Hearts record is finished.

Here it is. The record nobody has been waiting for.

Almost Cover 003 with logo no title

Aztec Hearts, In the Spirit of Almost (2014)

One year, one man, one microphone.

In the Spirit of Almost is Aztec Hearts’ third collection of deliciously weird and infectious micro-symphonies, and the first new music in five years. The 17-song playlist includes two covers and a remix of an older song, conjuring lost spirits of the past and emerging slightly worse for the wear, but sounding as radiant as ever.

To celebrate, Black Sunshine Media will be releasing two songs per week over the next two months. Each song comes with its own story, which range from “How-it-was-made?” type spiels to “Where-did-this-come-from?” explanations, and a bunch of other incidental madness.

Next, a series of unreleased Henry Miller Sextet recordings; two EPs (Metal Never Made a Friend, Vol. 2 and The Swan Song EP) and the tragically lost album, Achieve Through Failure. Basically, the second half of the band’s catalog.

And last but not least, there’s “new” stuff coming from Golden Tones. We’ll see and hear a collection of out-takes and rarities, Continuation of a Sunspot; plus, a mini-slideshow of the only existing photos from the recording sessions.lazy-bastard_book-cover_final_21

That’s it for music. On the literary front, there’s a daunting amount of material to deal with, and I’m sort of frozen in shock. So we’ll see what happens. No promises on that account. As far as I know, The Lazy Bastard Guide to Mandarin is still available on E-book and print-on-demand from the International Media Publishing Group. The collection of stories, A Musical Education, remains in publishing limbo, and I’m thinking about posting some of it here.

Oh yeah, I’ve designed a logo. It’s a work-in-progress. Eventually this whole program is going to migrate from WordBSM Logo v2 red 002press to a hosted domain. But I can’t afford to get ahead of myself. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to check me out again, and I hope you come back to hear the new stuff.

Bob & Ron’s Record Club Joins Steve Dahl Podcast Network

1 Jul

Bob & Ron’s Record Club Joins Steve Dahl Podcast Network.

Congratulations to our two favorite record enthusiasts, Bob & Ron! Nice article on the Chicagoland Radio and Media website, announcing the return of Bob & Ron’s Record Club to the Steve Dahl family of radio broadcasting – right back where they started!

Here’s the first half of the article:

“Bob & Ron’s Record Club,” the former WCKG-FM weekend show, is coming back once again and re-teaming with another former WCKG-FM veteran. [Beginning] Thursday, June 27th, “Bob & Ron’s Recod Club” becomes a weekly podcast heard exclusively on Chicago radio legend Steve Dahl’s podcast network.

The show, hosted by friends Bob Ryan and Ron Kwasman, aired on WCKG-FM from 2004-2007, playing rock music exclusively from vinyl albums found in the duo’s record collection of over 10,000 LPs. “Bob & Ron’s Record Club” was an unscripted, improvised throwback to the old “underground” shows on progressive rock FM stations of the late 1960s/early 1970s.

Unlike the top 200 songs done by the top 50 artists now heard on Classic Rock radio playlists, Bob & Ron would personally select rare classic rock tracks from their vast collection of thousands of artists (both known and unknown), along with talking about the artists and the songs played. The conversations would fluctuate frequently between being funny, serious, intelligent, or down at a stoner-level.

Despite the show’s popularity, Bob & Ron’s program went away when WCKG-FM itself went away. (CBS Radio flipped the talk/music format to the AC format known as Fresh 105.9 in 2007.) That severely “harshed the mellow” of the Bob & Ron fans.

In December 2012, Bob & Ron fans were feeling high over the fact that archives of some of the now-classic WCKG-FM radio shows were being uploaded on to the website Black Sunshine Media, which was operated by a mutual friend of theirs. Additionally, a few new shows were done as podcasts for that website.

As of tomorrow, brand new podcasts of “Bob & Ron’s Record Club” will only be heard via the Steve Dahl Network, the subscription podcast collective found at Dahl.com. New podcasts will appear each Thursday on that website for its subscribers.

The Bob & Ron Radio Archives continue to exist in full on BSM.

Opening of the Trail Gallery | Timogan

17 Jun

It’s been a while since Timogan has released any art through Black Sunshine Media. The Taipei Scooter Style project has been the main focus for my visual art creations since December.

That has changed with the release of Trail Gallery, a video documenting an art installation on a trail in Wulai, a district of New Taipei City.

via Opening of the Trail Gallery | Black Sunshine Media.

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