Monday, March 31, 2008

(Money) Makes Me Feel Like Dancing!

Please note: the following is Part 2 of my life in music - the disco days

Rhapsody’s song list was extensive. We had to know at least four 50 minute sets worth of material. Occasionally we would have to include a dinner set, which would usually consist of lighter (cheesier) songs. Our set list was a mixture of disco hits, current Top 40 hits, hard-core funk tunes, ballads, a regionally required beach song or two, and if we were asked to rock, well....we could pull out Steve Miller’s Jet Airliner when needed. I know....sounds horrific, but what the heck, we were a business and we aimed to please.

Just about all of the disco hits of the era were there; Turn the Beat Around, Don’t Leave Me This Way, K.C. and the Sunshine Band medley, Bee Gee’s medley, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing etc...and etc.....John loved to get funky and we could actually get down hard on tunes like The Isley Brother’s Fight The Power, Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music, and Tower Of Power’s This Time It’s Real.

Those were the tunes that I actually loved playing. John was a formidable bass player, and while I can’t remember if I have ever told this to anyone, but hard core funk was right in my wheelhouse, and probably my favorite genre to play. The crappy songs in our set were for the customers, we were paid to make them dance and/or enjoy their dinner, the funk tunes were there for us. Most could be heard on the radio, and John spent many hours a week reading the current Top 40 charts, buying the singles he thought would work, and choosing which ones we would learn. It sounds really ancient, but we traveled with a portable record player!

Some of the slightly obscure songs were Con Funk Shun’s Ffun, Can’t Stand The Slaughter (Tower of Power), Starrgard’s Which Way Is Up? and Look Thru My Eyes, an incredible slab of funk by Chaka Khan/Rufus. Some of the horrible tunes were Grease, Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do (vomit), Evergreen (lots of vomit) And heaven help us all, I believe I have already mentioned the dreadful Leo Sayer song! While it is certainly very easy to deride these tunes, and disco tunes in general, I must say that most are extremely well constructed songs containing sophisticated chord structures, dense harmonies, cool bass lines and the well known, but generally written off simple drum parts. The beat was king, relentless and steady, and John pushed me into the role of intense timekeeper. We could play around and get creative on the funk tunes, but the disco tunes had better never waver in the tempo department. Believe it or not, at one time I was money as a human metronome !

Before we actually played out, John informed us that as a favor for a good friend, we were going to do a couple of shows featuring this good friend of his, in our first set. The guy was an older man (mid-30's?) named Joe, and he was getting ready to go to prison (!) for smuggling pot in his private small aircraft (!!). Joe played guitar and sang, and the 2 numbers we featured him on were Bad, Bad Leroy Brown and Kenny Roger’s awful but insanely popular Lucille. Yikes! Fortunately, Joe was a tremendous showman, and I’m here to tell you that he could work the living crap out of a crowd with just those 2 songs. Sometimes he would go off on a storytelling binge and draw the tunes out into epic proportions. The Southern folks ate it up! I still crack up at the glances John and Pam would give me as we would find ourselves vamping for 10 minutes on the not very adventurous chord changes in Lucille while Joe told some hilarious stories!

With the 2 favor shows done, Joe was off to prison. He was a great character and I witnessed firsthand what it takes to win a crowd over and to be a professional showman. I thank you for that, Joe. I’m really glad I had a chance to play with you!

We were now ready to hit the road, and man, we hit it hard. Since I was now self-employed (and a card carrying union member!), I had to keep pretty meticulous records of the gigs, the pay, and hang on to all receipts for things such as dry cleaning my lovely jumpsuit and disco shirts, meals etc....Believe it or not, I still have those records, all handwritten on note cards!

Shows included weekend engagements at exciting and exotic places such as the Clemson S.C. Holiday Inn, the Lake City S.C. Country Club, a week at the Greenville S.C. Holiday Inn, a grueling but very eventful 2 weeks in Opelika, Alabama at the People’s Choice Lounge embedded deep within the bowels the Ramada Inn.

In December of 1977 (I was initially wrong about the date I joined the band - my previous post has been corrected), we played more profitable one-night stand Christmas dances. 10 of them, as a matter of fact (including the very hard to get into Slug’s Top Of The Tower in Charlotte!), ending the season with a week at the Fireplace Lounge at Rock Hill’s own Best Western.

From August 10 to December 31 I made over $3200. Rooms were free, meals mostly discounted or free, and when I was not on the road, I lived at home with mom. For what seemed like a first time occurrence, we were both happy about my career in music. Money talks, baby!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Big Brother Shot Chronicles

Thursday night I went with some friends to my first NBA game. Golden State Warriors vs Portland Trailblazers. Golden State won. I’m not much of a basketball fan, but the concert...oops...I mean the game was free and I can now say I have seen at least once, all of this country’s major sports; baseball, basketball, football and hockey. I can also now say that I don’t care if I ever see another one. Television will do just fine.

I’m not anti-jock, I truly love hockey and I used to love football and baseball. I still enjoy watching the Oakland A’s on occasion, and I was a Raider fan (before insanity ate all of Al Davis’ brain cells), but now my attention is devoured by the San Jose Shark’s ( Pacific Division Champions!!!!!) quest for the Stanley Cup. I just hate going to arenas, stadiums, rinks and ballparks.

I have always heard that hockey is the best game to see in person. In some aspects it is - you get to see how fast and strong the players are, and seeing the whole rink, you can see how the coach manages his player’s shifts etc...blah blah blah. I’ve seen it live twice now, and I much prefer it on TV. I find I get too distracted by the rock concert setting (esp. basketball - there was not one moment of quiet at the Warrior’s game. Every second was filled by horrible loud music, a very annoying MC, and stupid free stuff handout contest giveaways etc...). I miss the commentator’s analysis, slow-mo replays, reasonably priced beer, and probably most of all - my own private bathroom.

I also hate crowds, being stuck in traffic jams and of course the ridiculous prices on everything regarding a major sporting event (even though the Warrior’s game was free - parking was still $15, beer was $9 but oddly, a jumbo dog was only $4.50).

There were 2 pretty great things about the Warrior’s game; at halftime, these tiny little kids came on to the court and played a very abbreviated pseudo - game. It was so damn cute! They were both boys and girls, and none of them seemed to be over 3 feet tall. Seeing them run the whole length of the court, heaving the basketball up towards the NBA regulation height basket (and sinking many shots!) was pretty awesome. It must have been a huge thrill for them!

The other cool thing was that this was the second major sporting event I have been to with the bass player of Big Brother and the Holding Company. Now that’s cool!

Monday, March 24, 2008

It's All About The Guitars!

For a drummer, I sure have lots of guitars. Someone recently asked about them, so I thought I would share...

First up is my Ibanez Artcore AF85. I have always wanted a hollow body electric. I love the clean jazzy sound it has, but love even more the cool natural crunch it can get when I run it through my distortion pedal. There’s this earthy chunk it can get that I find very pleasing to my ears. You can hear the wood! (note to self: Hear The Wood would be a great album title!) If I could record and/or play it loud enough, I’m sure it would be fairly easy to coax great slabs of feedback out of it also, but living in a condo kind of crimps that style.

I really love Gibson 335's, but they were way out of my price range. I tried a couple models by Epiphone, but wasn’t thrilled about the hardware. I saw this baby in the store, tried it out through an amp and fell in love. It exudes a very warm, natural sound, seemed to stay in tune ok, and best of all, it was around $400 new. Bought it about 3 years ago. Oh yeah....looks great, too!

Here’s a tune from I Am Atomic Man! that hopefully, you can hear the qualities I’m talking about. I used it for the rhythm guitar part (not the most ideal recording situation - low volume recording in the condo!), but still, nice and...earthy. To hear the wood , please click here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Oh Boy! It's Easter.....

God I hate Easter. I’m sure I will now be destined to spend eternity in a hellish world of pastel colors, the most horrible chocolate in the world, and the foul stench of hard boiled eggs. In order to possibly save my soul from such damnation, I’d better qualify that opening statement; God I hate Easter - The Holiday.

As a child, it meant going to church. Sunday school was the norm for my family’s kids, but church was for special occasions; weddings, funerals and Easter. I remember vividly one particular incident from my childhood that has stayed with me ever since. My mom took me shopping for a nice Easter suit to wear to the upcoming Easter service. I was excited to actually get a suit that was going to be all mine, and not some hand-me-down from my older brother. We settled on a nice lime green 3 piece that included a reversible vest! I was stoked and felt very grown up in it. I actually looked forward to going to church that Easter to show off my new couture look.

At the end of the service, we were all filing out of the church and we stopped for a moment to say hello to the preacher, Dr. Fogerty. Once I had shook his hand, I turned to walk away and fell down the cement stairs, landing hard on my hands and knees. I was fine, but my new suit now had two bloody holes in the knees. Looking back now, I am rather surprised that the holes didn’t magically resurrect and close and that the blood did not turn to wine. Father forgive me!

But the holiday part of Easter is what really disappointed me. Sure, it’s fun to dye eggs (sort of), but to hide them, maybe find them, and then eat them has got to be the most horrible holiday treat I can imagine. They’re eggs, dammit! The chocolate sucks, too! Mmmmm....hard, inedible milk chocolate. The hollow bunny ears maybe, but trying to chomp down on the dense body of the creepy little rabbit was near impossible.

My buddy Robert has a very cute rabbit, and there are many wild rabbits near my workplace, but I swear to God there is not a more horrifying childhood image (non Brothers Grimm, of course) that I can think of than the Easter Bunny. They possess gigantic come hither eyes that say “ I may just eat you! ” They certainly have the teeth to do it, too. Yikes. Go away bunny, and take those awful stinky pastel colored eggs with you.

As an adult, I wonder why I don’t get a 4 day weekend. Our counterparts in the U.K certainly do. I’m sure France takes the whole damn month off, and God knows what they do in Italy. Here, we work. We do get lots of religious themed flicks on cable, but I’ve seen Charlton Heston part one too many seas for my liking. Imagine how much better it would be with CGI!

I do enjoy movies about resurrection, though. George Romero set the standard with his Living Dead series. Matter of fact, one of my all-time favorite movies is his Dawn Of The Dead. “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth!” Hope that doesn’t apply to Easter rabbits.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Shake Your Damn Booty!

Near the end of 1977, I received a telephone call from John N.. If you’re keeping track of all of this, he was the extraordinary bass player from Ebenezer’s Rock Hill rival band Caution. Simply put, he asked if I would be interested in filling the drum spot for his Disco/ Top-40 band Rhapsody. The timing could not have been better! I was quickly running out of interesting classes to take in college, plus (most importantly) I had just turned 21 and my Social Security checks had ceased magically appearing in my mom’s mail box.

I did need to think about it, though. This was a business offer as much as it was a music offer. Rhapsody would be performing a lot. We’re talking about being booked weeks at a time, mainly in hotel lounges. We would be traveling throughout the Southeast, and for the first time in my life I would be leaving mom and my girlfriend for extended lengths of time. I’m sure my girlfriend took it worse than mom did. Mom was probably glad to get rid of me and frankly, she was excited about the fact that I would be earning a relatively good living! I’m sure it caused a stink with my girlfriend, but the years gone by seem to have left little memory of what went down. Maybe that’s a good thing.

The fact that it was a Disco/Top-40 band may have given me a tiny bit of “what the hell am I doing?” thoughts, but I was ready to take the huge step into learning how to use my musical talents in the real world. Danny and Jimi from Ebenezer had already joined the same type of band. I actually auditioned for them but didn’t make the cut - the main dude (who reminded me a lot of Steve Martin pretending to be a lounge singer) opted for a very good drummer named Bill Stowe (who went on to be one of Charlotte’s best studio drummers). Not a problem, and since I had accepted that I’d probably never be a Rock Star, Rhapsody sounded like a great opportunity for me to play with great musicians, be a professional and most importantly, keep the learning process going.

John’s offer to me was that I would be a salaried musician, earning between $150 - $200 a week regardless if we had gigs or not! Not a bad selling point. I agreed for an audition and here I was again, driving the 20 minute drive back down to Rock Hill S.C.!

Rhapsody consisted of a very gorgeous and sexy female singer named Pam. Believe it or not, she was now the second ex-Miss Rock Hill S.C. beauty queen I have played with! She had a giant smile, knew how to shake her booty and her voice was....fine on the pretty material and at times..adventurous on the funk tunes, but that was ok. Mike played guitar and shared the lead vocal duties. He played quite well and had a great voice. As I said, John was the bass player, sang backing vocals, was the leader of the band, and also worked the lights, monitors and P.A. from the stage!

The audition went well and I accepted the offer. One of the first things that helped all of this new reality really start to set in was that I was given the previous drummer’s disco jump suit. Good God! It was a black one piece with a cut-out front and huge bell bottoms. It came with 2 shirts; one was a baby blue satin number with a frilly chest thing going on, and the other was a polyester paisley print, but thankfully, lacking the frilly front. The drummer before me was a very tall and lanky guy so you can imagine the hilarity that ensued when I tried it on at practice. Jesus.... The crotch hung down to my knees and the legs were way too long. We all had a pretty good laugh! Fortunately, Pam was a bit of a seamstress and offered to do the best she could. Well, it turned out even the crotch was up my ass, the legs were too short, but it would have to do. The insanely goofy jumpsuit would spend most of it’s time sitting behind a drum set, so what the hell...

I had to learn around 40 or 50 songs. I also had a new task to deal with, and that was to be a backup singer. I had never done it before, but I knew I had an ok voice and I was excited to sing . This was a real job and I was expected to do whatever my new boss asked of me, be it wearing a uniform, singing backup, playing whatever songs he chose, and to look like I loved what I’m doing ( but to never show up Pam). I was fine with that. The rehearsals went well and we were ready to disco down and shake our booty. Look out Holiday Inn lounges! Rhapsody is on it’s way for your dining and dancing pleasure!

* A note about the photo - it’s the only photo I have of the band and it does not represent the personnel that were in the band when I joined. It does represent the members that were in it for most of my time in Rhapsody with one very major (and funny) exception; the guy in the top left was the photographer! We were being booked as a 5 piece band (which was important as far as the money we would earn) and the 5th player was not yet hired at the time of the photo session!
From left to right, Top row: Photographer, John N., Richard G.
Bottom row: Me, Pam

Friday, March 14, 2008

It's All Good!

Ok, breathe deeply...Damn! What got into me? Anyway, it’s all better today. 2 days ago at work, we got in 8750 lbs. worth of Elliott Smith LP’s! That’s about 5000 copies of XO and Figure 8 each. Selling like hot cakes.

The San Jose Sharks are on a 10 game winning streak!

I’m going to seriously start recording my next (virtual) album. It will be called Tone X. It will not be based on any particular theme, but it will contain love songs. The one I’m working on now (drum machine programming) will be an epic of raga-style groove, trippy lyrics and hopefully a mind blowing wall of sound.

Here’s a picture I took in Point Richmond a couple of weeks age. Calm. Very calm.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Man..I don’t seem to have much to say, lately. Things kinda suck, so I need to do something to get out of this funk. Work is hard. Politics are hard to swallow (but I gotta say to Nancy Pelosi - You Go Girl!) Too bad Hillary and Obama didn’t take your advice and cooled their respective jets...Republicans are seeing a bit of light now, in an election that was pretty much in the bag for the Democrats, but now, due to 2 enormous egos and vicious campaigning by both, it ain’t a sure thing. Oh well. Whatever. The cost of living will keep going up, my paycheck will keep shrinking, and Stacey and I will argue over what cat food will taste the best when we “retire”. Golden Years. Right. Golden Shower Years for the quickly disappearing middle class. Thanks Bush. You’ve stolen our money, worked hard to keep the rich wealthy, and destroyed relations with most of the other nations on this planet. Eat me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Oh My God, It's Beatle Bob!

Imagine my surprise to see a story on Beatle Bob in today's Chronicle! What a freak...but he was pretty fun to watch. He attended a Loud Family show in St. Louis, in 1998(?). Also attending that night were Stacey's folks. I wonder what they enjoyed most:
1. Their son-in-law's performance?
2. Beatle Bob?
3. The opening punk band that sang songs about incest?

Here's the article - I just could not get a link to work.....

Alan Scher Zagier, Associated Press

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The musical icons who called this city home could fill a history of American popular song: Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, Scott Joplin.

Now, another ambassador of the St. Louis scene is drawing attention on concert stages from Austin, Texas, to Amsterdam.

He doesn't sing or play an instrument. Instead, the gangly, 55-year-old overgrown adolescent known as Beatle Bob just may be the world's only full-time concertgoer. The nickname is a nod to the bowl haircut he's worn since the Fab Four first rocked his world during junior high four decades ago.

Robert Matonis beams with pride about his single-minded devotion, a streak of seeing live music every single night since Christmas Eve 1996. That's more than 4,075 shows.

Beatle Bob puts the fanatic in fan, calling his need to rock 'n' roll "part of my lifeblood."

His dedication, musical knowledge and geeky cool-by-association cred has led to cameos in music videos and hosting gigs at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, South by Southwest, Glastonbury, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and more.

He dances like a man possessed. Hands flaying, feet shuffling, happily out of rhythm and blissfully oblivious to other audience members - including those whose views he blocks.

He almost always dances alone, usually right in front of the stage. And while the full-time fan has his admirers, plenty of other music lovers are fed up with what they consider churlish behavior.

"If you go to one or two concerts a year, he's fun to watch, like a sideshow," said Wade Alberty of St. Louis. "But if you go to a lot of shows, he can often be in the way more than entertaining."

Alberty grew tired of it. So he started an online petition and Web site imploring "Beatle Bob (to) sit down!" Nearly 300 like-minded fans signed on, offering unflattering stories about their own encounters.

"It's as if he tries to make a spectacle of himself instead of just enjoying the show," said Alberty, a writer and computer programmer. "I go to concerts to see the band. I don't go to see him."

Beatle Bob says he just wants to blend into the background - no easy task for a 6-foot-4 beanpole whose wardrobe consists of vintage suits and comfortable dancing shoes.

"It never fails to amaze me to get all this attention just for dancing," he said. "When I start dancing, people get over their own fear, and they come out on the floor."

Beatle Bob's encyclopedic knowledge has earned him plenty of admirers among working musicians.

Bill Davis, a New Orleans singer and guitarist for Dash Rip Rock, is among the fan's fans. The band even recorded a song, "Do the Beatle Bob," as an homage to his oft-kilter, rhythmically challenged dancing style.

"Beatle Bob would just come up with us on stage so often we just wrote a song for him," Davis said. "I do think he's sincere. He's got a deep knowledge of music."

Matonis' connections in the local scene led to what Davis called one of the highlights of his 30-year career - a chance to jam with the late Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry's piano player.

New York filmmaker Jenni Sterling has spent several years trailing Matonis for the upcoming documentary "Superfan: The Lies, Legend and Life of Beatle Bob."

Love him or loathe him, Matonis is truly one of a kind, she said.

"I think he's a pretty harmless, sweet guy," she said. "He has a childlike enthusiasm for music. ... But I recognize he can be a little frustrating if you see him every night."

Matonis' murky personal life only adds to the uncertainty. He claims to work with troubled teens as a state social worker, but government records show no such connection. He doesn't drive, instead taking the bus or bumming rides off friends.

His closest companions don't know where he lives, and Matonis offers no clues in a series of interviews. When hitching rides, he usually asks to be dropped off at a 24-hour diner or supermarket, or near his mother's house in suburban St. Louis.

At concerts, he usually scores a spot on the guest list by declaring himself a radio DJ or music writer. In some cases, the magazines he professes to write for have been defunct for years. Radio stations where he once worked disavow any current connection.

Matonis deflects questions about the inconsistencies in his background. He insists it's all about the music.

At a time when his peers are signing up for AARP, Matonis has no plans to slow down. He doesn't drink, smoke or eat meat, instead finding sustenance in black coffee with Equal and grilled cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread.

"As long as there are good bands out there, I'll keep going."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Mike Smith R.I.P.

When I was 10 years old, the greatest rock singer in the world was Mike Smith of the Dave Clark 5. Period. Matter of fact, I pretty much thought the Dave Clark 5 were the best band in the world. The Beatles were getting the hype, but according to the rock press that I read (Gloria Staver’s 16 Magazine), all British Invasion bands were more or less equal and in constant state of competition!

I loved them all; Herman’s Hermits, Freddy and the Dreamers, Chad and Jeremy, and their photos were pasted or taped to every inch of my bedroom walls (to my parent’s horror, but not because I was in the process of losing myself forever to rock & roll - they were more concerned with the poor paint job on my walls!). But the Dave Clark 5 were my fave. Matter of fact, the DC5's Greatest Hits was the very first album I ever owned.

I still have it. It’s mono, the cover is about as worn as a cover can get, and it is absolutely unplayable, but I will never throw it out. It put me on a 42 year path I never strayed from and never will. To my 10 year old ears, they rocked more than the Beatles. Their songs had a powerful propulsion about them that appealed to me. A combination of elements made that true.

Dave Clark’s drumming was a primary factor. His simple beats propelled the music. His snare drum cracked in a glorious blend of reverb and style. Ringo’s snare thudded to my ears. Charlie Watts’ snare sounded ok, but I just didn’t get a sense of drive that I got from Dave’s sound.

Their sound was also driven by the unique combination of production (lots of reverb) and instrumentation. They had a sax player! Add Mike’s hot-teen-combo organ sound, and you get something that was a little different than most other Brit Invasion bands. It honked, it rocked and it drove. It was relentless.

But it was Mike Smith’s vocals that put them over the other bands for me. He had a growl, and at that time I didn’t hear Paul or John growling. Mike also had a little bit of devilish bad boy in his eyes. He wasn’t as threatening as any of the Rolling Stones, of course, but it was there, and it made a mighty impression. Mike Smith was the best singer on the planet, the DC5 were the best band in the universe and they forever changed my life.

Here’s to you, Mike Smith. I’m truly sorry that the last couple years of your life sucked so bad. I’m sorry you didn’t get to live to see your band be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’m sorry I never wrote you a fan letter. Your voice is embedded into my 51 year old soul. I feel like a kid again.