Tag Archives: live

I wish I’d had a camera

 

What follows is a true story.

In 2002ish, I was in a band called Gwendolyn Speaks, with some friends who were superb musicians and singers. We were booked to play the Columbus Arts Festival that summer.

Festival performances are a mixed bag. Organizers want live music all day long, but most people are only interested in seeing live music starting approximately at sunset, when the stage lights are on, and the alcohol is starting to flow. As the bigger names get the later slots, this means that you have to be pretty well known to play an evening set. Otherwise, your crowd looks like this:

Woot!

Well, Gwendolyn Speaks was not a big name in Cincinnati, much less in Columbus, so our set time was something like 1pm on a Sunday. Predictably, the area in front of the stage was pretty empty. There was a steady stream of, say, moms with kids, who would stroll by, listen for a few minutes, and then move on. But there were two guys who “looked like musicians,” sitting and watching our set. One was in black jeans, a black sleeveless shirt and black skullcap. The other had a Hawaiian shirt and very tall hair. I figured maybe they were playing on the same stage later.

On that same date, there was a guitar show scheduled on the opposite side of Columbus (these happen twice a year). Now, knowing that not many people were going to be present at our show, I was mostly hoping to finish the set and leave quickly, so I could find a cool bargain at that show.

It was also at this time that I was using a pretty complicated rig, though I may have been actively simplifyng it. In any case, I was almost certainly using two UK-made Vox AC15 amplifiers, running in stereo.

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[Two things: (1.) I believe I may have been a front-runner in the Cincinnati area for using AC15's. They weren't being used by many people. Then I got mine, and suddenly everyone started getting them. (2.) Yes, I know these aren't AC15's. ]

At the conclusion of our set, I went straight to work, tearing-down my gear, and loading it out to my car, which was conveniently parked right near the stage. As I was heading back to the stage for another armload of gear, our bassist said something like “Billy Bob Thornton is over there, and he wants to meet you.” I laughed, because, come to think of it, the guy in black DID look a lot like BBT. It was a good joke from Pete the Bassist, who was usually clever and understated like that. So I walked up to the stage front to meet the guy.

It was actually Billy Bob Thornton. The actor. The real guy.

I shook his hand and said hello. He had a tattoo on his right bicep that said “Angelina.” As you may remember, he and Angelina Jolie were married there for a bit. This meeting was like a month before they split up.

Anyway, turns ut that BBT is a musician (a drummer – make your own jokes), and he and his band were actually performing later, though on a different stage.

If you were a man, it was easy to watch a Gwendolyn Speaks set, because our two lady singers, Tara and Carrie, were quite lovely. And Pete and Scott and I were all music geeks, so we tended to infuse the catchy pop songs with some nice flourishes.

So, not surprisingly, BBT loved the show, and he and his guitarist (Hawaiian shirt guy) said they loved my tone and playing, and wanted to ask some questions about what I used. So, long before there were YouTube videos and guitar sites devoted to this sort of thing, I gave a “Rig Rundown” to Billy Bob Thornton and his guitarist.
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After a pleasant chat, we all went our separate ways. I headed off to the guitar show, where nothing memorable happened. For the remainder of the day, several of us just called each other and screamed into the phone; “Aaaagh! Billy Bob Thornton! Aaaagh!

“Aaaagh!”

This was back when cell phones did NOT come with cameras. So of course no one took pictures. Who takes pictures at a Sunday afternoon gig? Well, the next day, I stopped at a gas station and bought a disposable camera to keep in the car, just in case. For you youngsters, a disposable camera cost a few dollars. You would take a bunch of pictures with it, then take the whole camera in to a place (say, a pharmacy or grocery store) to get the pictures developed. They would discard or recycle the camera, and you would get your pictures. I am surprised to learn that they are still around.

Also at this time, my wife had a tendency to steal whatever camera I owned, take photos with it, use up all the film, and then lose/ruin/misplace the camera. So a disposable camera seemed like a great idea for me. I kept one in my car until she found it, stole it, took a bunch of photos, and left me with no camera. This happened several times.

Thus, despite my best efforts, here’s another “big fish” story:

A year or two later I would find myself on stage with The Pointer Sisters.

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Yes, really.
Of course I had no camera. Of course.

 

Ankles, Aikido, and Amplification

So I had this lingering sore foot/ankle/leg thing…
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On March 9, a doctor cut into my ankle to repair what had turned out to be a pretty major injury. I spent a month (March-April) with no weight on my left foot, then started hobbling a bit. I’m now walking normally, mostly.  With the help of my physical therapist (a friend since 7th grade), that ankle getting noticeably stronger and more flexible every day. All of this is good… actually it’s better than normal, and I’m grateful. I now have an awesomely gross scar to horrify the squeamish.
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As a result of my ankle injury, I had become progressively less active, and not able to spend much time out and about with my family. I gained weight from being sedentary. Honestly, I gave up on taking care of myself. That has all changed. My diet is better. I’m sleeping normal hours. Last week, I even walked the dogs with my sweet little wife, twice. Life feels like “normal” is within sight.
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Wait, there’s more…

One of my great loves, aside from music, is the traditional martial arts of Japan. I’ve been an eager student of Aikido since I was 21, and started Iaido back in 2004ish. After my injury (which had nothing to do with martial arts), the first thing I had to stop doing was all the lateral movement in Aikido. Iaido stopped a few months later.

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This past week, I not only did some Aikido training, but I did a small demonstration of Aikido within a broader presentation at the church where I work. So not only am I physically active again, I was able to bring a thing I love into the job I do. The last time I did anything like that was back when I was still directing music there. I had to let the music role go, when I moved in to my creative “Production Director” job, last year.
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Well, one of the things about musicians is that, in the summer, they want to play all these festivals. I suppose the money is good (back when I did it, the money wasn’t great, and I didn’t like the heat and hassle). Anyway, because of that, there’s a need for a substitute guitarist. So I will be subbing in on guitar in a week-and-a-half.
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That’s June 9. Also on June 9, there’s a big event at the Aikido dojo. Also-also, my acoustic duo has a gig that night. I may have over-committed.
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So… as it pertains to June 9, I might be going too fast. But after a year-and-a-half of slow motion, I gotta believe this is all understandable.

Have you ever been sidelined for an illness or injury, and had to wait it out? How did you cope during the interim? Have you ever been sidelined because of a role-change, and had to watch others do what you started? What was that like? Finally, have you ever overcompensated by over-committing? What safeguards did you put in place to prevent it from happening again?

Sprich, mein volk!

The goings-on of May

There are several creative-type things I like to do.

It may have come up in conversation that I play guitar a little.

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I’m hilarious, aren’t I?

I also sing a little, write songs, record & music. I’m a decent audio engineer and editor too. Sometimes I do voice-over work, or commercial production. In the past, I have done some acting on stage and screen. I tinker, a tiny bit, with video and graphic design/presentation. I write, and I think I have two novels in me, but I’m reluctant to put any energy toward them.

So when I write, it’s usually in blog form, which takes us to this writ.
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Being a classic ADHD (not so much the H part) sufferer, it’s difficult to focus on something unless I can HYPERFOCUS. Get me working on any of these creative exercises, and I can lose a whole day.

At the end of 2017, I shared a fairly large pile of recordings with the world, which I put on my website, and called “The Sincerest Form of Flattery, Vol.1” These are just cover songs I recorded for fun, to share with friends. Obviously, the name implies that there are more to come, and I truly intend to do so.

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Ouch. Yeah.

Realistically, it’s May now, and I haven’t put much energy towards those new songs yet. Getting back into creative music mode in the studio has been a hard engine to start. I’ll blame ankle-surgery, but there has been a fair amount of binge-watching Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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So whilst I’ve been putzing around…

A friend of mine who lives afar had mentioned several times in the past, that it would be fun to work on a music project together. Well, he popped the question, and I accepted. So, even though this is a very busy (and tired) time, I forced myself to sit down and ride the music wave last night. The hardest part is swimming out into the proverbial ocean. So I swam, and I listened, and I thought a slide guitar might be a nice interpretation.

Two and a half hours later, I came up from the depths, to get a breath of air.

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Whoa.

It’s fun to be back in the saddle, making music for someone -even if it’s just one song- again. How nice to shake some of the rust off of my modest (at best) slide guitar skills! Of course I used my Telecaster. Of course I did! Well, the intonation on it is all out of sorts, the strings are old, the volume pot is busted, and the whole damn guitar is noisy. Of course I used it anyway.

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I finished a basic rhythm track (which may have been unnecessary) and a slide solo, and threw some ad-lib slide parts here and there. I will probably do some better ad-libs later. Then I get to do some studio singing, which I haven’t done in like six months.

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On the periphery of all of this, I’m now performing somewhat regularly in an acoustic duo called The Mood Rings. We keep getting gigs offered to us, and having great ease booking new ones.

A few years ago, I was frantically busy with music stuff just to keep my name recognizeable, and my income steady. Now I get to do it for fun and inspiration.

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I wouldn’t change a thing… except that I’d like to be performing with an electric guitar a little more.

We’ll see what the next half of the year brings.

What’s your creative outlet? Do you do it because you love it, or because it’s an obligation?  If you could do something else, what would it be? Do you create because you love creating, or because you want recognition/fame/money? ‘Fess up.

Small Steps, Stomps, and Stages

Greetings, Friends.

It’s been a bit since my last writ,
And I’m glad to be a-typing.
See, I hurt my ankle (tendons mangled!),
So to work I’ve been a-Skype-ing.

Yeah, I haven’t done much lately. I injured my ankle a while ago, and was foolish to think it would just get better on its own. Finally, at the recommendation of a trusted teacher, I visited his favorite podiatrist. Ill at ease about the whole thing, I expected a protracted process of “Hmmm… yeah, not sure what’s going on here. Let’s try anti-inflammatories and rest, and you pay me an exorbitant office visit fee… and see me again in 2 weeks.”

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Well, he walked into the room, and within seconds, knew from the angle of my foot, and the description of the injury, EXACTLY what had happened. To be sure, he ordered an MRI for me (my first!). He was right. It’s busted. Course of treatment: surgery. Heal with STEEL!!

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So several stitches, a couple of screws, and 24 staples later, my ankle is fixed, but it will be recovering for many more weeks. That hasn’t stopped the kid from trying out new gear, no, certainly not.

Prior to surgery, I knew I’d need motivation to get me moving and being productive again, so I ordered an ELEVEN Rack (without Pro Tools, because I’m an individual) to get me excited about recording guitars WITHOUT amps for a good long time (Can’t lift an amp on crutches!). It arrived fasted than expected, giving me about a day and a half to play with it. I still don’t really know how it works.

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I just started moving around again, and have recorded a few tracks with it. I will share some serious insights, once I get more familiar with it.

Not long afterwards, I went crazy and ordered the Superego+ pedal from Sweetwater. It arrived 30 hours later. I’m using it with my acoustic duo.

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Oh yeah, by the way, I’m now in an acoustic duo. We call ourselves The Mood Rings (this was a band name I was using back in the early 2000′s), and we have played one whole gig so far. It was so well received that we got two more gigs out of it, that same night.

As a result, we have a gig this Saturday night. I will still be one-footed, so my buddy Andy has to carry all the gear. I can’t believe he agreed to it.

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Guitarists – What Do You Take From Your Influences?

What Do You Take From Your Influences?

I was 11 when I learned Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” Up to that point, I really had no concept of what could be done with a guitar, and I was stunned by the beauty of this music I had never heard. To this day, Jimmy Page remains my biggest influence, though I don’t really sound anything like him.

It was sixth grade, and it was as if a veil had been removed from my ears. Suddenly I was REALLY HEARING the music on the radio. The next year, MTV went on the air, and suddenly I could SEE Rock and Roll… and guitars; beautiful awesome guitars! Prior to this, and even for several years after, it was almost as if showing rock bands on mainstream network TV was inappropriate.

 

MTV didn’t have enough material to fill their programming time, so they showed concert footage. It was there that I saw The Who for the first time, and Rush and Triumph and Van Halen. Through produced videos, I saw Lindsey Buckingham with Fleetwood Mac, and some teenagers called Def Leppard and U2. As MTV grew, guitars seemed to wane in importance as the 80′s went in the direction of Madonna and Michael Jackson. But by then, I was a guitarist, tried and true.

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I have three main spheres on influence on my playing: classic rock, shredders and early metal, and what I once heard someone call the “guitar anti-heroes”

The classic rock genre is easy, because it’s where I started. There’s Page and Hendrix and Clapton, Brian May and Pete Townshend and Alex Lifeson. Lifeson in particular carried me into and through the 80′s, where the others didn’t do much that was new or different.

It was Van Halen who changed the game for me (and millions of others). The early metal bands caught my ear, particularly Iron Maiden with Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Vivian Campbell’s work with Dio floored me, and then Vai and Yngwie and Satriani appeared and floored me again. I thought I was doing well keeping pace with them (for a teenager) until I discovered Nuno Bettencourt. That’s when I knew I couldn’t keep up. The consolation at that point was that I had a girlfriend who was WAY more interested in my songwriting and singing.

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It was then that something clicked for me. It was all about “the hook.” Peter Buck and Lindsey Buckingham and The Edge and Andy Summers and Mike Campbell and modern Alex Lifeson all suddenly made sense to me. I started writing guitar hooks into each song, and people really connected to that. When I ended up in the band I toured with, it was because my guitar hooks gave voice to the instrumental passages where our fantastic singer wasn’t actually singing. Every part became identifiable.

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It was Page that taught me atmosphere and the incorporation of unusual chord voices. Hendrix taught me soul and swagger. Clapton gave me heart. Brian May gave me dexterity. Alex Lifeson gave me unconventional thinking.

Van Halen gave me freedom. Vai let me get weird, and Satch pointed out the beauty of melody. Nuno made me reach farther to reconcile funk with rock, and have fun with it. Peter Buck brought me back to the value of a jangly rhythm. Lindsey showed me how to get out of the way of the song. The Edge taught me how to make small things carry a big sound. Andy Summer let me use my jazz training to up-end stale pop formulas. Mike Campbell taught me how to write phrases that speak without words, in the middle of wordy songs.

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I finally got the chance to put it all to work, to take it all out into the world, sort it out, and apply it in front of hungry listeners. I think it worked. I had a pretty good run with it. I developed a style that reflects those influences and became a pretty unique blend of them all.

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Who are your main influences, and what did you take from them? How do you apply it to what you do? How well does it work? I’d love to hear about it.