Thursday, May 29, 2008

'Nother Guitar

This is my work-horse - a Gibson SG. This was the first really good guitar I bought and I love it. I bought it at Guitar Center (yuck) in Berkeley around 1995. I went in there looking for a Fender Jaguar, found one (around $500), bought it, and brought it home. I love the sound of that particular model and sent it through it’s paces at home. Sounded great but I quickly grew unimpressed with it’s hardware. Seemed chintzy - the metal saddles (excuse my ignorance here - I’m a drummer!) that the strings sit in were just...weak. They would move with just a tiny bit of force, thus throwing the guitar out of tune much easier than I wanted. No problem, Guitar Center (yuck) took it back with no problem at all.

The fellow at the store suggested a Gibson Les Paul and quickly brought me one. It was a beautiful sunburst color and the hardware was certainly more substantial than the Fender’s. Oh yeah, the price tag was a bit more hardy, also. About $500 more, but I played it, liked it, wrote another check for the difference and brought it home.

As I was tuning it, I noticed that it was tuned about a whole step up from what it should be and I re-tuned. Once I did that it would not stay in tune. Tuning is very important to me and the fact that I could not get it in tune pissed me off so I brought it back to Guitar Center (yuck) and told them I would try every dang guitar in there until I found one that I liked. Maybe a new set of strings would have helped that guitar out, but for a $1000 I wanted a guitar that would tune properly! Stupid drummer!

After hours of intense tryouts, I settled on the SG ($1000). I’ve always liked SG’s ever since I saw photos of Cream’s Eric Clapton’s wonderful psychedelic one. What a great looking guitar! The internet tells me that Todd Rundgren eventually bought it, so it’s still in very cool hands! Here's Eric in his best Spinal Tap moment playing and discussing this particular guitar:

The SG has very good, solid hardware, plays great, sounds great and if I ever win the lottery, I want to get it refinished in a similar way Clapton did his. I love everything about this guitar and do not regret a bit that Guitar Center (yuck) sold it to me.

Here’s an example of it's sound. I tried the best I could (for a drummer) to channel Clapton on the lead breaks on this song (from my CD I An Atomic Man!). It’s the primary guitar I used for most of the album, but this track in particular shows this baby off best. Here ‘tis - Maryland Ave. Freakout

*Footnote: even though Scott Miller has exclusively played Fender guitars as long as I’ve know him, he did purchase a nice black SG a while back and while I’ve never seen him play it live, Mike Keneally used it for the hot lead breaks he laid down for us on Nice When I Want Something from The Loud Family’s Attractive Nuisance CD.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Best Power Pop You've Never Heard!

Here is a part of a blog I wrote concerning my life in music on MySpace (late 60's and early 70's):

Meanwhile, the rock scene in Charlotte just kept getting better. More bands were forming, and they were starting to really develop and sound great. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly added keyboardist Henry Steele. Since there were now four of them, the name changed to GBU.
Henry had been in a band called The New Mix, and recorded an album for United Artists. (It was years later that I finally acquired that LP, trading a coveted Bubble Puppy album for it! How cool is that!) The New Mix included drummer Rob Thorne, who would of course end up years later playing with.....yep, you guessed it -Pat Walters and Jamie Hoover in the Spongetones! They also had a very talented singer and songwriter named David Brown. (Remember that name! I swear to God this will eventually all come together and make sense to the whole purpose of these stories! I hope..). Anyway, The New Mix was a nice blend of psychedelic jamming and David Brown's emerging power-pop talents. He had a great voice and he was starting to write really good songs. The song that stands out on that album is a beautiful pop song he co-wrote with Henry Steele called "Nothing Matters More". Very Left Banke, and that ain't a bad place to be! Soon, he would hook up with Pat Walters and form Jeremiah. And that band would release an album in 1971 on the UNI label, and I think the only 2 people on this planet that bought it were me, and ( you probably know where this is going)..Jamie Hoover!

I did not write much about Jeremiah because I never got to see them (I believe at this point they had relocated to New York). I saw their album and quickly snatched it up at Ernie’s Record Shop at Charlotte’s Park Road Shopping Center. I would not be surprised if that is where my pal Jamie got it, also. The selling point for me was that Pat Walters was on it. I’m not sure that I connected the fact the The New Mix’s David Brown was the primary writer. Obviously, the jacket art could be the worse I’ve ever seen, but the treasures inside shine brightly.

I’m going to share one of the best songs, a very McCartney-esque power pop tune that could be the best power-pop no one has ever heard (except of course Jamie and I!). The album has probably been out of print for 35 years and my record is displaying all the typical signs of maximum wear and tear, but this jewel shines regardless.
I Saw Your Picture In The Paper Jeremiah

While I’m at it, here’s my favorite song from The New Mix’s album. Same songwriter, but with a more psychedelic edge due to the fact that it was released in 1968, and that the kids were lovin’ that crazy sound! Still, a beautiful melody rises from this one:
Nothing Matters More The New Mix

Saturday, May 17, 2008

DISCO INFERNO! (My life in music-the Disco years)

No, we did not burn down a room at the Holiday Inn (let’s just say it was a large hotel chain somewhere in S.C.) and it didn’t really burn down, either. It just sort of...melted.

At this point, Rhapsody consisted Of John, Pam, Richard, John V., and myself. John V. was a very young keyboard player from Columbia S.C.. We needed the all important 5th player and while he was indeed very young, he fit the bill well. He was a great player and he helped considerably in filling out our sound. He had a Fender Rhodes, an electric clavinet and a string machine - all of which were required to duplicate the big over-produced sounds of the popular Disco and Top 40 songs of the day.

I have mentioned earlier that Pam had pitch problems, so it was extremely important that all of our instruments be in tune. Poor John V. was constantly spending hours before shows painstakingly tuning his electric piano. That’s not an easy thing to do, but all of the trouble did seem to help Pam with her singing. To this day, I thank John (the band leader) for giving me an ear for pitch, and while I certainly do not profess I have perfect pitch while singing, it’s easy for me to hear tuning problems a mile away!

The band was playing a 2 week engagement at a well known hotel chain in S.C., when the fire took place. This was at the peak of the disco days (at least in the South), and the media had been hyping the rampant drug use that was seemingly such a large part of that culture, especially at N.Y.’s Studio 54. The drug of choice was cocaine, but our drug of choice was pot. Even though John insisted that we performed in a very professional manner, we would all go back to our rooms during the set breaks and bong down. It seemed to help relieve the boredom of playing the same songs over and over again. Shake Your Booty was now challenging and adventurous!

On our last break of the evening, John V. and I walked back to our room to..refresh. We broke out a small pipe, tried to clean all the stems and seeds out of the pot, and took a few hits. Nice! It was the last set of the week (Saturday night), and we were happy to be going home for 2 days before we had to be back at the hotel for one more week of our engagement.

We all went back to the lounge...refreshed... and played the last set. As we left the lounge and were walking in the parking lot back to our rooms, we noticed the unmistakable sounds of emergency sirens. Many sirens. As we neared the other side of the building we noticed that not only were there many sirens, but they were quickly getting closer! Our pace quickened a bit and then we saw smoke. I remember that was when my heart started racing with a pronounced sense of dread. I ran around the corner of the building and I experienced the biggest buzz-kill I have ever felt in my life. Holy crap! My room was on fire!

There were about 5 fire trucks parked in front and several firemen were excitedly knocking on doors to evacuate that part of the building. A fireman with an ax was seconds away from chopping his way into my room! My brain went into hyper-drive at this point and I approached him and told him that I had a key! He frantically asked me if there was anyone in the room, and I told him no. He opened the door and thick black smoke poured out of the room. I saw no flames, but felt the heat. Several firemen went in and my poor pot addled brain was desperately trying to find a way to deal with all of this.

Moments later, a fireman came out of the room with something dangling at the end of a long metal pole. It was the charred skeleton of John V.’s suitcase. All that was left was the frame and handle. The suitcase was ground zero. That was where the fire started. Apparently a burning pot seed popped out of the pipe and landed smack dab in he middle of it. It contained all of John V.’s clothes and burned all the way through. The smouldering fire more or less melted a hole about the same size of the suitcase completely through his bed. The firewall between his headboard and the next room was charred, but fortunately it held. Our TV had melted.

By now, the area was filled with onlookers from the hotel and the lounge. John V. was starting to freak out a bit and I knew I had to come up with something very quickly. Think Gil, think! Suddenly my mind cleared. Something connected. I knew what to say. The manager of the hotel and a fireman approached John V. and myself and asked how we thought the fire had started.

“You know....earlier this afternoon I put a couple of quarters in the bed vibrator and nothing really happened.... except that the bed just sort of made a funny noise”.

They both seemed to buy it! The hotel manager was actually apologetic that he had no more available rooms for John V. and I and that we would have to double up with our bandmates. WTF! Was it really that easy? Was I a criminal genius? Am I going to Hell?

After the firemen left, we were allowed to enter the room and gather any belongings that we cared about. All of my stuff was ok, but it was all very...smoky. John V.s’ clothing of course was no more, but both of us were happy that our alternate band - issued dress shirts (the nice light blue ones with the frilly fronts!) were hanging in the open closet with just a bit of smoke damage. Hopefully, a good dry cleaning or two would remove the smell. It never really did, though....every time I would sweat in it, that smoky smell would reactivate. Maybe it was a message. Maybe my diabolical ease of lying would indeed send me to burn in Hell someday. I hope not. Of course I was very grateful that no one was hurt, and that the fire did not cause anymore damage than it did. Maybe the Disco-Gods were looking after me that night after all!

The following week was mostly uneventful back at the hotel’s lounge. The lounge and the hotel’s staff were a bit buzzed by the events, but there were no repercussions from the fire department or the hotel management. Several years later, I did receive a couple of collection notices in the mail on behalf of the hotel. I did not respond to those, but eventually I got a registered letter from a law firm demanding payment for the damages. I think the bill was for around $5000. Once again, the Disco Gods came down from the heavens to help me out. A relative (lawyer) convinced my mother’s homeowner’s insurance to pay the claim in full. I’m a lucky guy. A very lucky guy.....stupid ol’ Mexican pot.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Noddin' Off At The Movies!

One of my very favorite sci-fi flicks is Battle Of The Worlds. It is an Italian film directed by Antonio Margheriti in 1961. It was released under the title Il Pianeta degli Uomini Spenti which loosely translates as Planet Of The Lifeless Men, but when it was imported to the U.S., it was changed to a much more kiddie matinee friendly title Battle Of The Worlds. This was not uncommon in those days - many foreign films had their rights bought up by American distributors, dubbed, re-edited, sometimes re-scored for the ever popular youth orientated Saturday matinee double feature.

It is set in the future - there are manned stations on the moon (or is it Mars...hell if I can remember!). Scientists on Earth have discovered that a meteor is headed on a collision course with Earth. Crusty old Professor Benson (Claude Rains) takes time out with his endless obsession of writing out mathematical formulas all over the place in his beloved greenhouse to prove the idiots wrong. He loves his greenhouse, his calculus, his little dog and he chews the scenery as much as he chews the ever present big-ass cigar that’s always stuck in his mouth.

He finally leaves the shelter of the greenhouse to cheerfully dress down the leaders of the world, and to tell them that they are ass stupid. Calculus has proven that the meteor will not hit Earth. He proves this by drawing even more formulas on the floor as he cusses out the heads of state in a futuristic video hookup that enables all to see his math wizardry in motion.

Then, things take a turn for the worse, and even Prof. Benson is caught off guard. The damn meteor has gone into orbit and is sending out saucers equipped with death rays to do away with any inquiring spaceship that gets close enough. Damn math!

He begs the powers that be to let him go there on a mission to see and learn what marvels this apparently brilliant alien race has to offer. No problem. He goes, he wanders and he finds a bunch of dead aliens and a super computer that is tirelessly still functioning enough to send out the evil-doing death saucers.

It is really hard for me to try and to sell this film, especially to today's audience. I saw it when I was about 10 years old on an old b&w TV and it bored me to tears. The hero is a mathematician? But it stuck with me. I found a VHS tape of it about 12 years ago and have been absolutely obsessed with it ever since. It’s a public domain eyesore - I have about 5 different versions of it and they all suck, but pure unadulterated deliriousness spills out of the screen every time I view it. It’s another world. A world that for some reason speaks to me. The amazing performance of Claude Rains is hard for me to dismiss. He looks as though he enjoys the...finer things in life - cigars and booze. The bags under his eyes, the disheveled hair, his utter contempt for his fellow man. My hero!

The images are typical of that particular era of Italian sci-fi - obvious plastic models convey the moon base and the spaceships. Long and colorful plastic tubes make up the alien’s inner ship. But it all works.

The sounds in this movie are the kicker for me. Every edit seems to have a different cue or strange, other-worldly electronic sound effect, and each one is a wonderful impression of what the early 60's thought space should sound like. The musical tracks are incredible. There is an opening song, probably called The Outsider that is deliciously eerie and off the wall. This piece puts me into orbit. An orbit that could only exist in 1960. The future was then. And it sends me there. I go very happily.

Here's the Italian trailer:

Here is a recording I made from a VHS tape I have of the title song: The Outsider. Turn off the lights, close your eyes, and take a little trip back..into the future!
The Outsider

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Sacrifice

"I didn't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf," he said. "I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

President Bush
AP 5/14/08

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Fitting Tribute!

Wow. As I slide down on the wrong side of middle-age, I don’t really expect many compliments on how I look or what I’m wearing (except of course,if it is coming from Stacey - but she has to do that!). Anyway, today I wore my Mitch Easter dynamico t-shirt. It’s red, and I think the graphics are great. I haven’t worn it much because I think it’s a bit too small on me, but this morning I went for it.

Today at work, 3 different female co-workers approached me at various times and told me that the shirt looks great on me! These are women much younger than me! And they’re all from different countries! A very cute Hispanic woman told me (in Spanish) that she loves that particular color of rojo.
Our warehouse manager who is a Cajun/Filipino mix told me that the shirt makes me look thinner and that the red really looks great on me! A Chinese/American woman in the Returns Dept. told me the shirt makes me look....SEXY!!!! Holy cow! I'm an International Stud!

What a great feeling to hear all of that. Stacey and I have seen enough of Clinton and Stacy on What Not To Wear to now know that shirts that actually fit, look better. For some reason I think that extra-large shirts look better on me because I stubbornly think that I need to cover up my skinny old - man arms and moderate beer belly. Guess I’m wrong. One of the women actually seemed a little shocked that my skinny little old - man arms actually have nicely formed biceps from lifting all those f%@#ing LP’s!

I think the compliments were due directly to the fact that Mitch’s album is truly fabulous and those vibes somehow mesmerized my co-workers, even though I’m positive none of them have any idea who Mitch is.

Want to feel sexy? I believe 125 Records can help you out. Get one that fits, though. In red....I roar.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mozart and the Sharks

Culture: Good. Last Saturday night, Robert took Stacey and I to the Berkeley Rep’s production of Figaro. It was simply amazing! Great, with a very talented cast and a glorious string quartet lead by the musical director who also played a nice sounding electric keyboard of some sort.

I noticed that he had a video camera pointed directly at himself and I wondered why on earth is he filming himself as he plays and conducts the string quartet? Stacey informed me that there were video monitors out of sight, on stage, that the singers could see and get their cues from. Neat!

What was not so neat was that as the strings were taking their seats after the intermission, the viola player dropped her viola and it broke! Thanks to Robert, we were right up front and I heard the thud of it hitting the floor. Yikes. She picked it up and the fingerboard was separated from the viola’s neck. I gasped and felt really bad for her! She showed it to the lovely and talented cello player and left the pit. The rest of the show was performed by a string trio.

After the show, I went up to the musicians to tell them that I thought they were superb and I asked about the ill-fated viola. They told me that it was not a horrendous problem and could be repaired. Still, I felt so bad for the young lady!

In other news, I’m very sorry the San Jose Sharks didn’t make it past the second round of playoffs (again). It was an amazing 6th game with Dallas that went into 4 overtime periods. Both teams played more than 2 games that night, and the Sharks lost. I’m fine with that, though. They showed heart and had to play all of the overtime without one of their stars due to a brutal, but clean hit by a Dallas player.

I hope the powers that be keep the coach and the players together for next season. Hats off to you, boys. We’ll get ‘em next year!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ebenezer Schooled *update*

*This is a reprint of an entry from my "life in music" blog on MySpace . I have added Ebenezer's publicity shot (from around 1975-ish), now that I know how to do it!

Now that I was in this new and mighty rock band named EBENEZER (which the guys had mentioned was going to be called EBENEZER SCREWZZZ - glad that didn't stick, though the hip rock-ebonics spelling certainly predates metal and hip hop!), it was time to get to work and learn some songs. And what songs they turned out to be! At this time (1975), in the region of the nation is was in (the South), there was a shift in rock band repertoires. Gone were the adventurous and original song lists of the 60's. Bands were now called upon to play mostly covers in order to draw paying customers into the bars and clubs. You could still sneak in a couple of originals and generally maintain a somewhat creative mix of covers. I knew all of this, and I was super excited that EBENEZER was planning on a wide variety of songs from progressive rock, Beatles, and some pretty damned obscure but tasty cover tunes.

In a bizarre twist of fate, I discovered a pretty complete song list of EBENEZER, just a couple of months ago! How lucky was that! My 50 year old brain would have blown a gasket if I tried to remember most of these. Here are some of the ones that I think are worth mentioning:

Lots of BEATLES! Some were done straight - Nowhere Man, And Your Bird Can Sing (not an easy song!), Drive My Car and some that were brilliantly arranged by Danny - Help! (With a crazy little instrumental break that made absolutely no sense at the time I was struggling to learn it!), and a show stopping, scorching version of I Want You (She's So Heavy) that Danny incorporated a bit of a George Benson solo from his version of the song! Sounds kinda icky, but you gotta believe me - it rocked!

To satisfy our proggy side, there was YES's Seen All Good People, Long Distance Runaround and a song that we could just absolutely smoke - Lifetime by a YES wanna be band - FLASH.

To satisfy the club owners we included some of these covers - Ukiah, China Grove and Long Train Running and Sweet Maxine by the DOOBIE BROTHERS, plenty-o-ZZ TOP - Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings, Waitin' For The Bus (hot!), and The Sheik. CLAPTON's I Shot The Sheriff etc...etc...You get the picture!

Now for the strange and eclectic covers that in most cases, I had never heard before - Eagle Eye by TRANQUILITY, Don't Get Mad, Get Even (GYPSY), Somebody Help Me (STAMPEDERS), In The Winter Of My LIFE (IF), Simple Sisiter (PROCOL HARUM) and a very cool song by SUGARLOAF called Don't Call Us, We'll Call You. We all dug STEELY DAN, and we did a wonderous version of Bodhisattva. That song has some amazing guitar going on, but it gave Danny no problem at all. Playing 2 guitar parts at once was a breeze for the guy! Damned obscure, but in most cases these were tasty tunes and at times, very challenging to learn.

Speaking of challenging.... my drumming abilities were tested every rehearsal. Fortunately, Danny had a great knack for coming up with and presenting many very difficult drum parts. These were parts I would have never come up with myself, but he was a great teacher (and could actually play drums), and he very patiently showed me how to play them. Maybe even more importantly, he taught me how to think way out of the box and to incorporate that into my playing. Many of the parts would be simple in concept but difficult to play, such as playing a beat in 4/4, but every now and then, (tastefully of course!), throw in a measure of 3/4 with my right hand on the hi-hats! I thank my lucky stars that Danny came into my life, and the timing was perfect. I was making a pretty big leap musically and professionally. For the first time I was seeing myself not only as a rock musician, but a professional rock musician. I started to see a life in music without all of the Rock Star trappings. I was realizing that more than likely being a real honest to goodness ROCK STAR was not going to happen, but if I work hard and make a few concessions, I might be able to make a living playing music. This was a huge leap for me, and that concept would eventually bring my mom some realistic hope for my future. And that says a lot!

I'm pretty sure that Judi (keyboards) was already gone by the time we started rehearsing in earnest. Dennis was preparing to finish his studies at Berkeley School Of Music, but we managed to learn enough songs for a kind of going away gig for him at the local community college in Charlotte. Unfortunately for him, I believe that was the only gig he would end up playing with EBENEZER. He was squeezed out of the band when he came back for a school holiday. I didn't like it one bit - after all, he was the guy that got me into the band, but as I mentioned earlier, I think some of the guys had been planning this for some time. See you later Dennis...

Speaking of personnel, as with many bands, there are more folks involved than just the musicians. At that time you had to have a manager, road crew, light guy, and a sound guy (all bands were expected to travel with their own P.A.) The more the merrier, I say! We had a great crew that easily incorporated themselves into EBENEZER and were just as important as the band was. And yes, they also enjoyed a good party...

Manager - Mick M.. This was a most fortunate addition for us because not only could he manage, he also owned a music store, which of course came in very handy. He also provided a free rehearsal space. He also had great drugs.

Road Crew - Murphy M.. My best bud from ROCK BOTTOM saw an opportunity to be around great musicians (he shared my enthusiasm for the players), and came on board. I don't think he minded the party aspect, either!

Sound Guy - fella named Bob. Bob was totally insane. Scary looking guy with a penchant for throwing you to the ground, pulling off your shoe, and biting the holy crap out of your big toe. Not a good feeling... but a great sound guy.

Light Guy - that would be Russell. Just by looking at him you would think he was just another stupid redneck from Rock Hill, but get the guy fucked up, and he could be the funniest guy on the planet. Give him some acid, and you would soon realize that he should be ruler of the world.

In another blast of good fortune, I have also recently found a list I had made of our gigs! I don't know how complete it is, but I'm hankering' to go back and revisit some of those shows...I think.
I'm the angelic one in the middle. Jimi the bass player is seated to my left, Danny the guitarist in seated on my right and Frank the singer is standing next to me. Lordy...I was cute!