Friday, September 26, 2008

"We Are Love" update

I've gotten most of the lead guitar stuff down on tape, and I'm pretty excited about it! There's a rather lengthy lead break (for me, at least), and it came together just fine. Most of it is kind of a big, delayed, and hopefully melodic thing, done on my Gibson SG. There is a one measure (!) blazing scale/run in the middle of it that I had to drop in separately. That took me about 25 minutes to get right. It stands out pretty well because I recorded it dry, with no delay at all. Recording this at low volume came out well.

Recording the distorted and (hopefully) BIG rhythm guitars did not turn out so well, but I have neither the gumption, or the money to rent a studio and crank my Fender Princeton amp to where it should be to get a good sound. Ideally, you should hear the fullness of the amp, the...wood ("he said...wood") of the guitar and the echo of the room. Recording at such a low volume, you're basically hearing a great guitar played through electricity. Not a great sound, really. But there it is....

Surprisingly, I will not put any keyboards or synth or samples on this particular tune. Just a wall of guitars, bass and drums and vocals. Need to mix things up a bit. Also need to clear my lungs out a bit before I start doing the vocals.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wrasslin' The Bastard


Yep...Gil must have been doing bass tracks today..but I may have a decent track down, on my new song We Are Love. I'm not sure, though..I need to clear out my ears and head and try to listen to it without my usual "optimistic ears".(I once cracked up Kenny, the Loud Family's bass player by admitting that when we were in the studio I would get into my "defensive drumming" mode, which meant that I would play a bit more conservatively than I would like to, but I thought it would be best just to get through the song without any FU's. Sad but true!)

"Optimistic ears" is the recording mode I get into when I've played a part more times than I can stand and think I may have it down with just minimal FU's and tuning problems. I make my ears gloss over any little thing that would stop a real musician in his/her tracks. I'm neither that good or that patient, and since I've just spent the better part of my Saturday writing and recording this confounded bass part, my ears were primed to do their thing. Bottom line - it'll just have to do.

It wasn't an easy part to play. I seem to frequently steal ideas from the Rolling Stones (!) of all bands. They love sliding bass and/or guitar lines, and so do I. Not just little wimpy whole step slides - we're talking whole dang length-of-the-neck slides. Not easy on the fingers, especially if you're playing bass. And especially x 10 if you're playing my bass: The Bastard.

It's a Charvette, by Charvel. Sounds like some fancy French perfume, but it's a cheap bass that was preferred by heavy metal hair bands in the early 90's. I was looking for a bass and a co-worker told me that his bass player was looking to sell his for cheap ($100), and that I should come out to their rehearsal studio in Oakland and check it out.

Cool. No problem. Until I started to drive there.

It was dark and I was in my little silver Honda Civic. I have never in my life been that deep in ghetto-land. The directions took me to a "main" street that I had to follow for about 20 blocks. There were stop lights at every intersection. On every corner there were 10-25 of Oakland's finest home-boize giving me the big stare-down. Honda, don't fail me now! It didn't, and in spite of my fearful white-knuckle drive, nothing happened at all.

I finally found the rehearsal space. More like a compound, actually. There was a fence with razor wire around the whole building. I buzzed the buzzer, my buddy came out to let me in ("thank you!") and the dude with the bass came out and showed me The Bastard.

Apparently, he had a crazy girlfriend that went nutso on it with a pair of scissors. There were gouges and slash marks covering just about every inch of it. Oddly, this was now the 2nd guitar or bass that I knew that had a history of a crazy girlfriend carving out a little bit of rock and roll angst on some poor little instrument!

Anyway, it played ok. Way better than any of the several bass guitars I had been borrowing from friends to get through my recording projects. I bought it, covered it with stickers, and still have it, still use it, still curse it at every intonation problem that it has (which are many, but oddly, today I noticed that if I took out the drum track, the tuning sounded better (!) between the guitars and the bass. Must be some weird overtone from the reverb on the kick drum...). Swear to God, next lottery fantasy is a new bass. I hate The Bastard.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Digging Gold

I am so glad I sold my stock holdings last Friday and bought all that gold! Speaking of gold, Scott Miller's take on the best of 1993 is pure gold.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Times Are Tough

Saturday night, someone stole a bag of groceries from my wife. There was no threat of violence or anything like that, and the bag only had about $5.00 worth of bananas, plums, okra and tofu in it, but it was indeed stolen.

She had stopped next door at a large shopping complex to get her nightly fix of tapioca tea, but decided to stop in the grocery store and pick up some food. She then went to the tea shop, set her bag down and turned to the counter to pay for the drink. When she turned back around, her groceries were gone.

The very kind hearted man that runs the tea shop went looking for the culprits, but could not find them. On the way to her car, my wife told a security guard what had happened and he told her that people are now driving up to shoppers that are carrying bags of groceries in the parking lot and snatching their groceries before speeding off into the night.

This is the first time in all of my 52 years that I have had this happen to someone I know. Things are really getting pretty bad out there.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"We Are Love" Guitar riffs and Drum beats

I have started work on the song We Are Love and it's progressing nicely! The drum and rhythm guitar tracks are done and on tape.

It's a long song that relies heavily on a middle section groove-thing with an extended lead guitar "solo". Since I'm not a good enough guitarist to just lay down mighty slabs of spontaneous and blistering improvisation, I had to work out the solo in advance, tape it on my tiny micro cassette recorder and learn the darn thing note for note. It came out pretty well, though. Muy caliente!

I had to figure all of this out before I could program the drum machine. I had to know exactly how many measures the solo was going to be. I have been burned pretty bad in the past when I miscalculated the measures and ended up having to finesse, in a fairly clunky way, a solo to fit the space I had already put on tape. Yes...I'm far too lazy to re-do the drum programming...

I thought it would be fun to make a quick and informal mp3, explaining how I come up with drum beats to go with the guitar riffs that make up the basis of this song. Of course it turned out to be a hellishly complicated and time consuming process, but I went for it anyway. I'm sure there's an easier way. Scripting it out might help. Jeez, I sound like a dork.

This is the mess I made yesterday to make this little ol' mp3 Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wake me when it's over.

Palin's "pole" numbers

I just don't think I can do politics anymore.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Note: This post is to be considered part of my ongoing life in music series even though there is nothing about music in here. I'm including it because this event directly put things in motion that would send me along on various paths that would indeed shape my musical future. Some of these roads were wonderful and fun, and some were not so wonderful, but seemed fun at the time. But most importantly, I've been wanting to write this chapter for a very long time.

In the spring of 1979 my mother died. Unlike my dad’s sudden death, we had advanced warning that her esophageal cancer would be terminal.

Mom started to have a series of health issues from around the mid 70's, namely stomach ulcers and appendicitis. She drank and smoked way too much, and had major stress anxieties. So do I, but at least there is better chemistry out there to help folks like me that just have a rough time of dealing with it all.

I learned of her emergency appendectomy while my girlfriend and I were vacationing in San Francisco. I think I got a call from one of my sibs who told me of the event, but also learned that the surgery went well and there was no need to cut short my west coast trip. What I did do before I returned to Charlotte was to remove my shiny new earring stud from my ear lobe knowing that it would upset mom. If she wasn’t ill, I would have kept it in and dealt with it upon my return, but since she was sick, I felt it was the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, her stomach disorders continued and she was back in the hospital for more tests. This time she was diagnosed with cancer. She called me from the hospital to tell me the news. (at this point it was just her, Caesar the dog, and myself living together). I hung up the phone and fell apart. I fell apart in a big way. For days. I was just so frightened for her, and I was alone.

The doctors decided that possibly, there was a surgical way to remove the cancer. It would be a major operation that would essentially remove the diseased tissue and replace it with tissue taken from somewhere else. I don’t remember if any synthetic tubing was a may have been.

The surgery was scheduled and it was going to take several hours for the procedure. My brother and sister (and maybe their spouses) and I sat in the hospital waiting room hoping for the best, but once the surgeon came down about 45 minutes after it began, we knew something was wrong. Basically, they opened her up and saw that it was a hopeless situation - the cancer was everywhere. They then closed her back up.

Once she recovered and was sent home, it was time for me to get my ass in gear and be strong. Basically, I was now her hospice worker. I knew she was dying and I would be the guy to hopefully help her get through this the best I could. I think that my...mourning had been done upon the news of the diagnosis. I was now ready to give something back to my mom, other than the disagreements and fighting that seemed to have defined our relationship. It was a very contentious way of life, but that was to end. I was about to get schooled in a most profound way. For once, even though it took the presence of death and dying, I was on the verge of learning a mind-blowing fact about the character of my mom, and the character of myself. It was heavy shit.

Up until then, I think I thought of my mom as being weak - the way she coped with my dad’s death, my sibs moving on, and of raising a rebel hellion (me) by herself. She was drinking too much and seemingly always having a petty argument with me about things that I deemed stupid and superficial - hair, clothes, appearances, girlfriends, friends, my music. These threatened her. What would the neighbors think? What would my grandfather think? How was I going to earn a living playing music? How would I build a comfortable future and prepare for a reasonable retirement that was so sought after, yet obtainable in the upper middle class values of that time? (Of course now, retirement is a pipe dream and as far as my hair goes...well, nature won that argument!) I fought these issues hard. I just could not see the relevance. She was wrong. She thought I was wrong. Neither of us gave an inch.

I did do the right thing when I quit Skyline. I had to be at home to help mom. In the following few months before mom passed away, I learned some life changing things that I was oblivious to at the time. It wasn’t until around 15 years later that the most valuable lesson sunk in to my mind and my heart. I actually didn’t think I could even put it into words until the last year or so, due to the reflections on my life I’ve written about in this blog.

What I now realize is that not only was my mom just trying to protect me, but she was undoubtedly the strongest person I have ever known.

Cancer of the esophagus is not a fun way to die. It should be a painful and horrific event on the human body. In the few months that I was alone with her, not once did my mom ever let me see her in pain. The only moment that came close was one day she was walking towards me in the hallway, winced a little, clutched her stomach and then turned around and walked back into her bedroom. That was it. I think my brother told me years later that she even refused to take most of her pain medication that was prescribed for her. I really was expecting the worst, but her inner strength spared me most of the trauma that I thought was inevitable. She was protecting me - her youngest child, with courage, strength and compassion. I now know this. My mom wasn’t weak at all. My mom was the strongest person I have ever known. Tough lesson to have learned so far after the fact, but it’s there now, and it is unshakable. In dying, she gave me more than she will ever know.

Mom died a few days after all of our family and her grandchildren visited one last time. She collapsed in the front yard, went into the hospital and was gone in a matter of days. A nurse called and told us that we should come in. We knew what was up. We went to the hospital and the nurse told us she passed away in her sleep. We went to her room and she was lying in her bed. I’d never seen a dead person before - my mom gave me a choice about seeing my dad in his open casket and I gratefully declined, but here she was, with no life left in her. I bent down and told her that I loved her and kissed her on the forehead.

The other day, my boss asked me if I missed my parents. My dad has been gone for so long and died when I was so young, it’s hard for me to think about missing him. But I also find it hard to miss my mother. She’s there in the mirror every single day - and unfortunately, at present, I just see her anxieties, her inability to cope, her drinking, and her smoking. I just hope to the high heavens that someday I will be able to see just a fraction of the strength that she so compassionately and courageously showed me.

Rest in peace, mom. I now know that you did the best you could. Thanks.