Saturday, March 1, 2014

See You Later, Charlotte..Hello SF Bay Area!

Years ago, I started a My Life In Music blog. If you wish to catch up, click on My Life In Music at the end of this post. Then go backwards. Most of them are there. A few early one's are still on my PC hard drive that I have not gotten around to converting to Apple….Someday..

I don't really remember the demise of The Happy Eggs. We put out a great EP and generally played to packed clubs, but Jamie was putting more time into the extremely popular Spongetones, and my wife and I were tiring of Charlotte's lack of alternative cultural outlets. The New Wave/Punk scene was floundering, the Bible Belt was roaring, and we thought it would be a great time to explore the possibilities of the San Francisco scene.

We had visited the area many times, and my wife had family living there. I had mixed feelings, of course. My roots were deep. But my immediate family had all left Charlotte, so I agreed. It was very hard saying goodbye to all of my friends. I still miss them to this day, but we were out of there. I think it was in 1982.

Once we landed in the Bay Area, we started out in Marin County, in San Rafael. My wife thought it would be a good, more comfortable place for me to adjust. More suburban than city life. It was centrally located to San Francisco and the East Bay. Good call.

We went wild the fist year seeing so many cool bands at long gone clubs: The IBeam, Berkeley Square, On Broadway, The Fab Mab etc…what an experience! So many cool clubs and bands and we absorbed them all with relish.
Of course I was itching to find the right band and dive on in there, so I wasted little time and started to check out ads in the local weekly's and the Bay Area's music scene's magazine: BAM.

I started making calls and going to auditions. I believe the first audition was for a Ramone's type punk band called The Breakouts. They were around my age - mid to late 20's and they all wore the required beat up black leather jackets and torn jeans. They had cool hair. So did I! I thought the audition went well. They were good and professional, but still..punk. I did not get the gig. They thought I pushed the beat too much! Ha! Oh well, their loss. Funny…a couple of years later (after I had joined Game Theory) I ran into Rudy (Breakouts lead guy) and he was cool enough to mention that they made the wrong decision about me! Not very punk rock, but the gesture was appreciated.

At some point I ended up with a gig or 2 with a blues band from North Beach. Don't remember how or why, but it was sorta cool. But I wanted in a New Wave band! I answered another ad that sounded promising. The band was called Floating Nude and based in the East Bay. It featured some pretty good players, esp. the guitar player and was fronted by a Berkeley woman that sang very..spacey over a fusion of space rock, funk and new wave. We rehearsed about 6 or 7 times and it just wasn't cool enough for me so I left. Back to searching those ads!

And then..I found this one:

As crazy as it seems…answering this ad (which I think I found in a record store) ultimately and very convolutedly..lead me to where I am today. This time….I..made the right call.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Why A 55 Year Old Man Has Decided To Get Tattoos

I know, tattoos are old news. Before the advent of Punk and New Wave, tattoos were mainly for sailors, bikers the early 80's I had a couple of friends that started to get some. I loved the concept then, as I do now. It's simple. It's art. And it's very personal. And they do not wash off!

Before you knew it, it became very popular. Rockers, athletes, hipsters and business people all seemed to be getting them. That bothered some folks, but not me. I think it's cool that anyone would make an artistic and permanent commitment, no matter how trendy it all became.

My hesitation was simple. What do I want on my body and who is the best artist to do this? 30 years later, it all came together. I did not take this task lightly. Literally, years (decades) passed before I found the right design and just by happenstance, the right artist to pull it off.

It had to be meaningful (to me) and it had to be executed well. As far as meaningful goes, certain subject matters have been stuck in my brain for years. I just had to settle on the right images. Things that are close to my heart. The subject matter basically fell into 3 categories: Film, Music and Science Fiction (old school, of course....I'm an old school guy!)

Another factor in all of this is that you are not on this planet forever. Life can be cut down short, and I felt that now is the time. You never know. No one gets outta here alive, and dammit, I want some tattoos! Tattoos look best on young, fresh skin and at 55, I have very few places on my body that remain that way! Fortunately, my shoulder has good skin, and my non-driving side (left) arm is OK, so there were choices.

Stacey and just happened to walk in a new satellite location of Sacred Rose Tattoo in Albany. We met Daniel Herlihy and he allowed us to look through some books of the tattooists that worked at that location. His book blew me away. The tattoo my eyes lit upon was such a small and simple tattoo, but the lines were very clean and his colors were great. I found my guy!

I told him about my ideas and he seemed interested in seeing them, thus an appointment was made and now I had to go through my ideas (many images saved on my computer) and choose the one I wanted to start with.

I am a huge Federico Fellini fan. His films wormed their way into my heart back in the late 70's when I took a course in college called "Appreciation Of Foreign Films". We had a wonderful instructor, and the very first film he showed the class (on a 16 mm projector!) was Fellini's La Strada. Not only did I find the movie beautiful and well made, I was blown away by Giulietta Masina's mesmerizing performance, I simply fell in love with her in this film. A very tragic figure, but filled with such a simple warmth, naivety and a superb comic ability that is just heartbreaking.

Our instructor made a special point of describing in great detail of the ultra-fab composer Nino Rota's use of musical themes for each character. Combined with Fellini's images, the music is pure magic for me. Rota served as Fellini's main composer through most of his films and it is a collaboration that I think has never been surpassed.

Thus I knew what would be a meaningful tattoo. Something that would represent this image/music mixture that is so important to me.

As far as determining the image, I was in luck. Fellini was also a masterful illustrator. He has tons of sketches he drew for his characters and these images lend themselves into what what I consider great tattoo subjects - colorful, whimsical, and a true artistic sense. Luckily, the internet is filled with these images. Also, I have most every soundtrack these guy's did, recorded on CD, which are usually loaded up with photo's of Fellini's drawings.

I have an import CD of the soundtrack for La Strada and The Nights Of Cabiria that includes a fabulous drawing Fellini made of himself with Nino Rota. Heart be still! This is it!

I now had all the pieces: the art and the artist to render it upon my skin. I went for it and Daniel did such a great job! It really helped seal the deal when I showed him this image. His eyes literally lit up and he smiled. He loved it and I could see that he did and I knew this was going to work out well. And it did.

I was a little nervous about the pain factor. I know many folks with tattoos, some small, some large, and they all told me that the pain feels like someone is scratching you with a needle (which they are, but the needle is purring away at a million miles an hour!). As it turned out, since this was my shoulder side with no bones to tattoo over (which can be a bit more painful), the experience was not bad at all. Very tolerable. This one took about 2 1/2 hours, which did get a little tedious towards the end, but it was nothing I couldn't handle. And I'm so glad I did.

When Daniel was finished, he wrapped it with Saran Wrap and told me to remove it in about 2 hours. After that, wash it gently with mild soap and to just use my fingers. No scrubbing! The first 2 days I would do this several times a day and apply a light layer of Bacitracin. After that, keep the area clean and apply a mild, fragrance free skin lotion, also several times a day for 2 weeks. Expect scabbing and some color to fall off (and not freak out!). In 3 weeks it was basically "healed" and looked like it should, but Daniel mentioned that tattoos really take about a year to truly heal.

Of course, after the first one, I couldn't wait for the next one, so about a month later I got Gelsomina from La Strada done on my forearm. It's still healing and by God, I've booked my next one. Yep, another Fellini drawing, but after that, I will be done with Fellini. I gotta leave room for my Sci-Fi and music tattoos.

Mid-life crisis - no. Art - yes. And I'm a happy guy.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Happy Eggs (part 2)

The Happy Eggs also did many original songs to go along with our quirky covers. At that time in Charlotte, most bands were expected to play an entire evening - only one band on a bill. This required an extensive playlist. I think at one point we had 4 sets of material that contained around 80 tunes! Eventually, it became more common to have 2 bands on a bill - an opening act and a headliner. This was a good idea as far as I was concerned. It was physically very tough to play this manic music for 4 sets. (I remember I was shocked once I moved to San Francisco to find the common practice out here was having around 4 bands on the same bill). In Charlotte, it was also required that the bands supply the P.A. systems and microphones and sometimes a person to run the sound!

Our originals generally fell into two camps: Jamie usually brought in more pop sounding songs. These were fine tunes, many in the mold of some of the poppier Costello/Nick Lowe tunes that he was into. At times he worked with a very brilliant and funny lyricist named Mark X.. These songs were generally quick, short, maybe a little snotty and to the point. Fine economical writing. A couple of Jamie’s tunes ended up on The Spongetones first album (more on that later!).

The weirder and quirkier tunes were dubbed “Tweco’s Nightmare Music” (Tweco refer’s to a brand name on one of Murphy’s favorite pieces of costume head wear, and regardless of how it really should be pronounced, we called it “tweako” - much more appropriate!) Most of these songs were collaborative in the purest sense. I have very fond memories of being at Jamie’s house for rehearsals and basically we would start sticking together small individual parts that Murphy, Jamie or myself had floating around in our heads. The EP (which I will discuss in detail in a moment) was a prime example of song writing like this. Nothing was too crazy to try, and usually, Tweco himself (Murphy) would be responsible for some of the most twisted stuff we produced. Jamie would shine it all up a bit and presto - new songs!

We would also write lyrics to some of these songs in the same manner. We would sit in Jamie’s living room, drink beer and just throw stuff out there! There were a couple of tunes where we would literally trade off on a line by line basis. There were no rules or restrictions. The crazier the better, and some of this stuff was unbelievably hilarious to come up with and perform. At least to us!

Soon, Murphy started to bring in completed songs and lyrics. They were decidedly “Twekco Nightmare Songs” and a blast to play. I’m sure Jamie would still help polish them off if needed. I only contributed one complete song (which Jamie helped complete), and while it’s embarrassing to be reminded of it today, it was the first original song that I wrote the music, the lyrics and sang lead on!

In 1981, Jamie arranged for us to go in to Charlotte’s Reflection Sound Studio to record a 4 song 7" EP. Mark Williams was the engineer and Jamie was the producer. We were very excited about this because many bands we releasing 7" singles around this time. The most notable being REM’s coveted Radio Free Europe single (which I proudly own!). Jamie’s other band (The Spongetones) had also recently released a Jamie produced 7". That format was the craze at that time and relatively affordable to make.

On this record, all four tunes fell neatly into the "Tweco’s Nightmare Music" category. I think these really captured the essence of the Eggs best. I’m pretty sure Jamie would agree with this, because at that time, he had a more appropriate outlet for his pop songs with The Spongetones.

Here’s a brief run down on the tunes, as best I can remember.....

Wake Up: A great song to kick it all off! A very twisted main riff with the guitar, bass and synthesizer playing in unison with a cool harmony appearing at the last riff. Murphy also gets a very cool bubblin’ synth thing going on in the background. Listening to it right now, I am flat out impressed to the great sound and production Jamie got on this.! It gets real crazy during the verses. The riff switches to 5/4 while I doggedly stay in 4/4. Each line is song by a different singer in this order - Jamie, Murphy and myself. Some very weird backing harmonies by Murphy and Jamie really put this one over the top.

Rippy: After a very queasy intro sung by Murphy, the song launches into a tune about a psycho killer that likes to ride the bus. I’m pretty sure these are Murphy’s lyrics with Jamie coming up with the background vocal parts. This one is very Devo/Talking Heads influenced and I think most of the music is Jamie’s. Murphy's synth parts are inspired and the backing vocals are something to behold. Spot on. This one absolutely killed live.

And Sons Of Baskerville: This one was very collaborative. After a short intro of us making goofy vocal sounds, the song gets under way with a guitar lick in 7/4 that I had zipping around in my head at the time. Murphy adds some choice wolf howling that as far as I know, was the only reference to the Hound Of The Baskervilles that I assume Murphy was referencing in the title! The verse is Jamie’s and the lyrics are all Murphy’s and oddly, this is a sweet love song! Some more very inspired alternating backing vocals, and a nice little instrumental break near the end. The finale has the 7/4 guitar lick with Murphy pronouncing that he “believes in the strength of aspirin” which was a line I had come up with. I’m pretty sure this is the song that due to general weakness I was feeling from dealing with the flu while recording, I had to use double sided duct tape on my kick drum pedal to keep my foot from sliding off!

Fat Man: I think this is the first song we wrote as a collaborating team. I’m pretty sure Jamie had the song, but the lyrics were a blast with each of us throwing out some offensive line and stringing them together. We would usually start our sets with this one. Murphy would tape down a key on his synthesizer on some crazy setting and I would come out by myself and do a drum solo until the rest of the band felt like getting on stage. Not many punk bands were featuring drum solos back then...

At the end of this song there is a quick little hidden track of some of us and our wives murdering the theme from My Three Sons at my house. Jamie's on drums, Murphy may be manning the xylophone, the women are on percussion and I am the one playing saxophone, which was later used on our version of The Resident’s Constantinople!

I really love this record. The writing, performances, arrangements and the production are all top notch. Jamie did a fabulous job on this (with the help of Mark Williams). Though I would have preferred using my drums instead of the studios' kit, I think this is an awesome record. Though I haven't mentioned Kenny (our bass player during this), I would like to say that he did a great job on this record!

Also - if Murphy or Jamie read this and would like to add and/or correct any of it, please do so in the "comments"! I would welcome brain did the best it could on this recording made almost 30 years ago!

The cover art was created by me, literally using old school cut and paste! I had done many flyers at that point, so I offered my services. We released it on Jamie's "Ovo" label. I do not know how many were pressed, but unfortunately, a bunch were lost at Greg Shaw's Bomp warehouse, never to be found. We occasionally get requests for copies of this record, but they seem to be all gone for good. I only have two!

We sent tons of them out to record labels hoping someone would pick us up, but no one did. There was a funny rejection letter from Ralph Records saying more or less "anyone who plays DOA and Timothy is either a real sick puppy or my kind of guy"


Very cool.

If you have not gotten yourself a digital copy of this incredible EP already, I think it's time to Getcha one now!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Happy Eggs (part 1)

At some point in 1980, Jamie approached Murphy and me about cranking up The Happy Eggs again, but this time it was going to be a whole different ball game than the band that made the 12" single. Jamie was interested in turning it into a punk/new wave band. By this time (thanks to Jamie) I had pretty much accepted that this was indeed fabulous music and while of course I cannot remember the particular details of the discussions that followed, the three of us decided that it was a go.

Murphy would be switching over to a monophonic Korg synthesizer, and the three of us would handle vocals. Jamie knew a bass player - Kenny - and he was brought on board. Our goal was to have a blast, play well, be open to any kind of music and have an insane stage-show. It was the Alice Cooper in all of us! We were naturally irreverent fellas anyway, so no music or style would be spared!

We were a bit older and definitely more experienced than most local punk bands in Charlotte. The Milestone Club had given the area youngsters and punk rockers a place to hang out and see great bands. It was a heavy staple in my diet and I could see the scene evolve. There were bands sprouting up everywhere - some awesome and some sucked - but it was a scene and for the most part a lot of fun. But I remember I felt a tad anxious as to how the scensters were going to accept the Eggs. It’s silly of course, but to these kids, the worst thing you could be was to be a poseur, and since it is my nature to worry, of course I hoped that we wouldn’t be labeled as such. After a while, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about what the kid’s thought. While we certainly were not “punks” (we all had real jobs!), we certainly were licking our chops at the thought of embracing the snottiness. Here we were, 3 smart-ass pals since high school, and since the three of us would be sharing the vocals.....we all had microphones.

Good God!

It was decided that we would play a mixture of covers (straight versions or drastically rearranged versions) and originals, and this evolved into quite a repertoire. The covers were insane. There were some straight up covers of punk and new wave songs. Lots of Costello, Police, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, Lene Lovich (!) even some very uncool covers for the time such as Adam and the Ants, which at first made me a bit uncomfortable, fearing that to kids would hate it and give us shit about it. I remember people yelling“Black Flag kills Ants dead” (man..that takes you back, huh?) and that sort of bothered me, but it didn’t take too long for me to get the appropriate "piss off wanker!" attitude and it was indeed fun to get a reaction.

There were also some very..bizarre..covers we would do. Again, some straight some not so straight. Between us, we had many years of being rock musicians already under our belts, so the choices here were quite unique. Some of them were hold overs from our glam rock days and these seemed to fit in quite easily into a punk/new wave context: Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Sparks (I think about 3 songs!) And Alice Cooper. Some didn’t fit in anywhere: The MonkeesYour Auntie Grizelda pops into mind. And there were many that Jamie would do his magic on and reconstruct into new wave madness. He really liked ska beats, so many of these were rearranged into hyper-fast ska beat beauties: Cream’s Mother’s Lament, Mother’s of Invention’s Let’s Make the Water Turn Black, Spirit’s Dark Eyed Woman. He also came up with a very twisted Devo-esque arrangement of The Doors’ Hello, I Love You that was fabulous!

We did 2 versions of Bloodrock’s D.O.A. We were all familiar with it because there was a while when you couldn’t help but hear it on the radio! (I actually saw them open up for Grand Funk). At first we did it pretty darned straight - Jamie wanted a pretty faithful version. We tried. But dammit, there were just too many quiet parts and me and Murphy could not resist the opportunity to kid around with it (remember...we had microphones!). The nature of the song and the lyrics were ripe for fucking with and we were relentless. Finally, Jamie threw up his arms and gave up on doing it straight. He rearranged it into another brilliant Devo-esque and angular new wave classic which clipped along at a pretty good pace so Murphy and I had very little opportunity to throw in our...embellishments!

But it was Jamie’s arrangement of West Side Story’s Jets Theme that to this day, I think is one of the most creative and brilliant pieces of rock and roll genius I have ever had the pleasure of playing. Ever. He took the original and maybe a tiny bit of flavoring from Alice Cooper’s Gutter Cat vs The Jets and stood it on it’s end. It was fast and full of attitude. It rocked hard..It was funny and it really showed what the Eggs were all about. It’s a snotty masterpiece that retains the original spirit and adds a heaping dose of modern (at the time) irreverence. It was in our wheelhouse.

Coming up next - we write the songs, we record the songs, Jamie turns into the busiest man in showbiz and much, much more!

And don't forget! Go here and buy!
The Happy Eggs E.P. on iTunes

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rest In Peace, Jimmy Duckworth

Yesterday I heard the sad news that Jimmy Duckworth had died. Jimmy, and his brother Larry were two of the finest rock and jazz musicians Charlotte has ever known. While I haven't seen Jimmy in about 30 years, the hurt is real.

I first came across Jimmy at one of the Battle Of The Bands showcases that would occasionally take place at the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot. I was very young, maybe 10 years old, but rock music was beginning to settle in my blood. It was the mid 60's and this particular event had little trouble luring me in.

There were bands everywhere! Most were rockin' out with gritty garage rock muscle, some were soulful and some were square show bands. I let myself drift over to the dirtier sounding garage bands. The loudness, the excitement, the gear, and the look were all seductive. Two bands stood out - The Paragons with Pat Walters and Larry's Sound Dept. featuring Jimmy and Larry. Both bands had players that could play and all looked extremely cool. I was in heaven and these were the two best bands in the world! I honestly believe that this is the cathartic moment that sent me on my rock and roll way.

I'm not sure how I got to actually visit Jimmy and Larry at their house (with a couple of buddies), one afternoon. I think we had an older friend that knew them, but regardless, there we were. I remember only three things about that visit.
1. They lived in a split level house. Cool.
2. They had a St. Bernard. Scary.
3. And they had a monkey. A real live monkey. Holy Crap!!!!

Years later, I was fortunate to have a couple of music classes with Jimmy at Central Piedmont Community College. We both performed with the CPCC Recorder Consort which was a blast! It was there that I'd like to think we became friends. Not only was he one of the best guitar players around, he was one of the funniest guys I've ever known. He always looked a bit meek and timid to me, but he had a wicked sense of humor. This led to some very funny (and at times, subversive) moments under the always watchful, yet hopelessly naive eye of music director Mary Lou Pascal!

Around that time we were all shifting into the jazz scene, some more than others. Jimmy was one of Charlotte's best jazz players and for a little while I dipped my toe into the scene playing in the Charlie Estridge Trio. I've mentioned this before, but Charlie insisted that I only play the drums with brushes and that was fine by me. I could fake it better! But there was that one fateful show that on the very first song, all of the brushes disintegrated and fell out of the handles. Both of them. Jimmy was there. Sorry I sucked so bad that night, Jimmy!

Rest in peace Jimmy. You helped this former 10 year old set a course for a pretty decent life in this crazy thing we call rock and roll. You also made me laugh. I know I'm not alone.

And you had a monkey.



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Serious Case Of Classic Rock-itis!

I've been on a CD acquisition binge lately, trading in a bunch of stuff to get a different bunch of of stuff. While most of it is old music, much of it is new to my ears. It's been very fun and rewarding, but it's also a bit overwhelming. There is so much music out there! But I'm down with that. I'm not sure why the bug has bitten me so hard lately, but with the trade-ins and such, I really haven't blown a huge wad of bills on these. And fortunately, I'm very happy with all of them, with just a couple exceptions!

I did a little bit of research on these by visiting various music sites and listening to small samples of selected tracks. I usually buy "blind" (I guess that should actually be "deaf") but this way I can be more informed and it definitely reduces the amount of take backs. I am saddened that most of Argent's catalog is out of print..After hearing bits of several of their albums, I decided I must have All Together Now and Ring Of Hands (in spite of a tune called Cast Your Spell Uranus....) I will keep searching.

There has been only one title I didn't keep, though...(I will duck as I say this)..The Byrds - Sweetheart Of the Rodeo. It just didn't do it for me at this time..and I will probably try it again, but hey, I did keep The Buffalo Springfield CD!

Here are some thoughts on these. A serious case of Classic Rock-itist.

Donovan - Troubadour The Definitive Collection (1964 - 1976)
Groovy: Much of this is new to me, with the exception of 2 45's I had as a kid: Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow. Disc one is awesome. I love Donovan's voice and upon hearing the really early folkie stuff wished that Dylan's voice was as pleasant! The Trip is just the grooviest song ever. London Town is the prettiest song ever. This was also the first time I have heard his version of Season Of The Witch! Thanks to a heads up via Peter Holsapple's blog,
I have now heard the Super Session version (awesome), but the one I was most familiar with was the jaw droppingly bombastic but really earnest version from the Vanilla Fudge's 3rd LP! And I still love Sunshine Superman.
Bummer: Anything containing the words "Barabajagal" and/or "Riki Tiki Tavi". I don't care who's playing on it.

Buffalo Springfield Buffalo Springfield (1966)
Groovy: Half of this record sounds pretty good to me. Lots of guitars and nice vocal harmonies . My faves are Sit Down I Think I Love You, Flying On The Ground Is Wrong and Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It. There's a folkie/pop/country/rock thing going on here and I think they can usually pull it off.
Bummer: The other half of this record. It doesn't sound tight to me and I think it's recorded terribly. To my ears, some of the playing sounds sloppy. I also wish Stills sang leads more. I'm not a big fan of Furay's vocals.

Traffic - Smiling Phases (Compilation 1967 - 1974)
Groovy: Well, most of this is in fact pretty damn groovy. The only full album I was familiar with was John Barleycorn Must Die which I had as a kid. This is a pretty comprehensive compilation and will do quite nicely for the time being.
Bummer: Nothing yet.

The Steve Miller Band - Sailor (1968)
Groovy: My first toe-dippin' into this band, but better late than never! I really love Dear Mary - very pretty chord progression that sounds very Hollies - like, but I'm cool with that. Quicksilver Girl is the standout track for me. Just gorgeous. I thought Living In The USA came from Miller later than this, but it's a good one to show off their more rocking side. Even though Dime-A-Dance Romance borrows...liberally..the guitar riff from Jumping Jack Flash, it's a pretty great tune with a very fine vocal performance.
Bummer: The above mentioned Rolling Stone's riff and I'm not sold on the instrumental fog horn cut of Song For Our Ancestors as being the best way to kick off the record.

The James Gang - Yer' Album (1969)
: I love Joe Walsh. I love the way he plays and I really love the way he sings! As a kid, I had The James Gang's "Third" LP (which I need to find on CD), and of course I was familiar with all those Funk #40whatever songs, but the pleasure for me are the cuts with the pretty melodies and his unusual but very endearing vocals. On this record, my faves are Take A Look Around and Collage. Covering Stephen Stills' Bluebird is a pretty inspired choice, and I'm thinking it works out pretty well.
Bummer: All those irritating little studio soundbites in between the songs. I don't like hitting the "next" button that many times!

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bayou Country (1969)
Groovy: This is my first CCR album! It's taken me this long, but I'm very glad I finally got one! Swampy, snakey grooves and I'm most impressed with Fogerty's vocals. Penthouse Pauper and Born On The Bayou are two great examples of his powerhouse pipes. This reissue contains some live tracks that rock very hard. I'm loving this. Must get more!
Bummer: I never need to hear Proud Mary again, and good heavens - the one chord rhythm guitar track on Keep On Chooglin' ! Poor guy's hand must have been killing him...

Z.Z. Top - Z.Z. Top's First Album (1970)
Groovy: Surprisingly, this album is the one that has completely blown me away. I'm shocked as to how great is. It rocks so damn hard! Of course the guitar work is absolutely searing, but the biggest mind blower for me is the drum sound! The snare drum is right in your face. I really cannot think of any other rock records from 1970 with such a big, almost contemporary sound. Check out Certified Blues! It's huge! But it's just not the drums..the whole band plays really well together, and there's even some very surprising tricky stuff going on, in particular the drums and bass on Bedroom Thang. Very cool.
Bummer: The use of the word "squank".

Joe Walsh - The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get (1973)
Groovy: Of course Rocky Mountain Way rocks very hard. His songwriting is getting a bit more complex on this, and it works for me, esp. on the very fab Meadows, regardless of the Woman From Tokyo riff. It's a hell of a lot nicer here.
Bummer: Sometimes this one gets a little unfocused and maybe too ambitious (Days Gone By dips it's toe into Steely Dan world (which isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't quite work for me here.), but I may upgrade this one to groovy any moment now...I want Barnstorm next!

Jethro Tull - War Child (1974)
Groovy: With the exception of Bungle In The Jungle, this album is new to me. It seems that I am a huge Jethro Tull fan, esp. the first 5 albums, and of those, esp. the first 2. This one sounds good to me - very proggy and ornate. I love Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of The New Day.
Bummer: Though hinted at since Minstrel In The Gallery, Ian Anderson's voice is starting to sound weird and a bit forced. I'm pretty sure this is where I'll stop with Jethro Tull, and I'm fine with that.

Chris Squire - Fish Out Of Water (1975)
Groovy: I got this when it came out and absolutely loved it! My favorite bass player and drummer together! I think it's the best of the first round of Yes solo efforts, and listening to it now, I'm shocked as to how pop some of this sounds! You By My Side is a glorious, bouncy pop tune. Bonus points for Squire's voice, which can hit the high notes as well as Jon Anderson.
Bummer: This time around I find Bruford's drum parts a tad uninspired. Not much meat for the old boy, but the snare sound is still there, tight as a gnat's ass.

U.K. - U.K. (1978)
Groovy: I LOVED this album when it was released. Prog Rock was certainly dying a slow death by this time, so this was a super treat for me. A true proggy supergroup! Of course the main appeal for me was Bill Bruford's drumming. More of his signature snare sound reunited with John Wetton. The playing is awesome, but not as improvisational as King Crimson. In The Dead Of Night is the standout track for me. Lots of prog-riffage throughout with the help of Alan Holdsworth (with a very liquid sounding guitar) and much keyboard coloring and soloing by Eddie Jobson.
Bummer: This time out, Bruford is primarily using roto-toms which display pretty precise tuning capabilities, but they sound a little cold to me. A far cry from his bizarre multiple sized regular toms (not set up in the usual descending size) he used in King Crimson. I also find a little bit of Holdworth's style goes a long way. The noodling and liquid sound is a little too jazz-rock fusion for least for now...

XTC - White Music (1978) they've grown! I love this stuff. Along with Gang Of 4 and Devo, this record in particular convinced me there was a future with no future, for a progressive rock fan like myself. Crazy, energetic and very quirky. Not too far removed from prog rock really, but it was so new sounding and exciting! What the hell???? A cover of All Along The Watchtower? This Is Pop, Radios In Motion...fantastic. Cross Wires...unbelievable. I love this.
Bummer: The crappy bonus tracks that are shoved into the middle of the album. Unfortunately, all other XTC CDs I have suffer from this irritating practice. Hideous.

Jamie & Steve - English Afterthoughts (2009)
Groovy: Well, it's a duo effort by my pal Jamie Hoover and super bass player/writer Steve Stoeckel from Charlotte's insanely popular The Spongetones. These two have been playing together for almost 30 years and it's pretty obvious that they can play and write quite well together! On this release, I'm kind of hearing Jamie in an Andy Partridge mood with Steve being in a very smooth Colin Moulding state of mind. I love Between The Lines and the bouncy Do Be Cruel. A very good release and everyone who is reading this should buy one - it could help us finally getting around to releasing a very nice Happy Eggs CD!
Bummer: I miss Jamie!

Ennio Morricone - Quentin Tarantino Movies (2009)
Groovy: I love Morricone. I particularly love Italian film composers (Nino Rota!). I must have at least 20 Morricone soundtracks. He is so much more than just his spaghetti westerns!
Bummer: I think this one will be traded away soon. Boo! I find this uninspired. Sorry!

The Magnetic Fields - Realism (2010)
Groovy: I love this. I adore this. I'm really glad Stephin Merritt made this record at this time. I suppose The Magnetic Fields will always be judged by their breakthrough album 69 Love Songs ( which I consider one of the best 3 albums of the 90's, along with The Loud Family's Interbabe Concern and The Flaming Lip's The Soft Bulletin), and this new release sounds comparable to me, and I think that's a good thing. The wonderful and glorious chamber music instruments are back and sound in fine form and are breathtakingly charming. I especially love You Must Be Out Of Your Mind, I Don't Know What To Say (with it's fabulously Goffin/King type melody and song structure), and the deliriously beautiful Better Things. Whoa. The cello. The melody. I'm in heaven. On the more adventurous and somewhat goofy side, I adore the absolutely insane The Dada Polka.
Heaven. And it's actually new!!!
Bummer: Nothing.

Crazy. My faves are Z.Z. Top and The Magnetic Fields. Go figure!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Well, there you go. I've graduated! I think I only have two other certificates that have been awarded to me - a Myers Park High School graduation diploma and while I was there, I won a Blue Ribbon Art Award for a linoleum cutting print I did of the coolest art teacher a kid could've had - Dean Barber. May he R.I.P...

But anyway, I'm not planning on resting in peace just yet, and while the above certificate does not give me eternal life, it does close a chapter on this journey that began last May. Good Lord! Next up for me will be a blood test in 3 months to check my PSA levels. Hopefully it will be around the zero range. If not, I'm sure the doctors will have yet another course of treatment to put me through, but whatever. We'll see, but I do feel optimistic. I now just want to relax.

I have avoided mentioning by name the medical group that has been treating me. I thought maybe I shouldn't divulge who they were for some reason or another, but I'm not going to black out their name on my certificate. I have nothing bad to say about them. Aces in my book, from the diagnosis, biopsy, the endless tests and scans, the surgery, the catheter adventures, the Lupron injection and as just completed, the radiation therapy. I trust them and their doctors. Of course it ain't over yet. They may not have cured me, but that's not the point. They've done everything in their power to try to cure me.

But what I want to talk about here are the troops in the trenches. The nurses, the receptionists and in particular, the radiation therapists. These are the folks that do the grunt work. They are on the job 8 hours a day seeing a steady flow of usually very sick and unhappy people. I was extremely lucky to have this particular group of men and women treating me. They responded perfectly to my brand of humor, which I was hoping would help them relax a bit, so I could relax a bit. I learned that this helps me enormously in getting through stressful situations, which became apparent in 1989 when I ended up at San Francisco General Hospital for emergency eye surgery after I got attacked walking poor Stacey (who had only been in San Francisco for about a month!) to my apartment from her job at Tower Records (another R.I.P...)

Long story short, a young man ran up behind us and smashed me in the eye with either his fist or some object. The result was a lacerated cornea that required 10 stitches to close, about 20 stitches in my face, and a 5 day stay in the hospital. He didn't rob us or anything, he just hurt me. Aside from knowing something was seriously wrong with my eye, (it felt like there was a huge chunk of glass from my glasses stuck in there - there wasn't), I was overcome with embarrassment that Stacey now had to deal with this. Welcome to San Francisco, honey. It's really a cool place. No, really!

In the ambulance, I told the attendant that I was really happy that my nose wasn't broken (one of my biggest fears), and he looked at me like I was crazy. "Sir - you have a very serious eye injury!" Oh..ok. Yikes!

At the emergency room, it seemed as if the whole hospital dropped everything and came to my aide. I remember sitting upright as phone calls for eye specialists were placed. Doctors were swarming at my face to get a good look at my eye, as I signed papers saying that I understood I could die during surgery (!), and an anesthesiologist asking me what I had for dinner (steamed spinach and tofu, which fortunately the guy replied with a much appreciated "remind me to never eat at your house!").

The thing that was getting to me was that everyone just looked so damned grim. I know they were just doing their job and wanting very much to save my right eyeball (they did), but it was all too much for me. I raised my hand and said "Stop! Is my other other eye ok?" "Yes" a woman doctor replied. "Then could you all please lighten up just a tad? You're freaking me out!"

I honestly do not remember how they reacted, but whatever happened, I think that I was able to calm down a bit, enough to give instructions to a nurse to please give a phone number to Stacey so she could call my wife (we were separated at that point) because she knew how to contact my family back in North Carolina. Imagine how my poor little morphine addled brain must have tried to process the sight of my wife and my girlfriend both staring down at me as I woke up from surgery!

The point being is that a little bit of levity helps. It's a self-preservation lesson that I have had to call upon many times during my cancer treatments. I was so very fortunate to not have had any significant side effects from the radiation. The doctor told me that I stood up to the treatments "remarkably well", but the tiredness thing could rear it's ugly head after the treatments were over. I'm most pleased that my bladder hung in there like a fuckin' champ even though I now sport a permanent and very strange new...hairstyle...down there..(think Munchkin Merkin...or not....)


But it was still a very stressful 33 sessions for me (too bad I couldn't get one extra 1/3 of a dose in to satisfy RIAA standards!). The endless driving from work to Oakland, the constant battle to avoid constipation, the insane task in arriving with a somewhat full bladder (but not too much!) for the actual zapping, and just plain dealing with something ugly I had to put my body through, yet again.

Yesterday at my last session, I was saying some genuinely sad goodbyes to my therapists, and one of the guys (who is a San Jose Sharks fan!) told me this: "Mr. Ray, not many people come through here joking around with a sense of humor like yours. It was a real pleasure working with you." I told him that I have learned in life to always tip your bartender (this goes back to my Game Theory days when drink tickets seemed to be used up during soundcheck...) and most importantly, be good to the caregivers. His comment really made my day, but it is indeed tempered by the fact that it was the only way I could have made it through this, and most importantly, my cancer never hurt.

I'm a very lucky man.

Unless something bizarre or newsworthy comes up before my PSA test in 3 months, I'm gonna shut this part of Po'buckra down. I'm going to try to get back to more fun things such as pop culture, adventures with Dexter and hopefully resume my "Life In Music" series. I believe I need to start wrapping my brain around my time with The Happy Eggs!

So there you go.

I now know that I could die tomorrow and die as a man that knows he is truly loved. I have received so much love and support from loved ones close and far away. The world is filled with great people whose job is to help you and I can now accept them warmly into my heart. It really is a beautiful thing, and I will do my best to give back. Love makes the world go 'round. Treat others nice, cause you never know when you might need a free beer.

I will leave you with my very favorite quote from this adventure. This was from an on-call emergency nurse during a particularly rough weekend: "Mr. Ray, the doctor says to relax and don't worry. A swollen and discolored penis is completely normal at this time."