The Ongoing Confessions of a Classic Rocker (and Funketeer)

I’ve said it before: it all started when the opening chords of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” hit my eardrums in first grade. I asked my Mom to get me a guitar, and we went down to the music store in downtown Painesville, Ohio and rented a student-sized classical guitar. It didn’t sound at all like George Harrison’s Gretsch Country Gentleman, but I stuck with the lessons for a little bit, sort of like Huck Finn with his readin’ and cipherin’.

In high school, my first set of after-school guitar teachers were Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Jimmy Page and Frank Zappa. More followed, of course, as I discovered more players and more styles. Electric guitar consumed me. I drew doodles of guitars and band logos in my notebooks at school. I bought the rock thing, hook, line and sinker.

Growing up in Cleveland in the sixties and seventies, I soon caught fire with all the funky jams that were filling the airwaves, and grooved to Sly Stone and James Brown and Stevie Wonder. In fact, I turned away from guitar and ended up becoming a funk keyboardist before deciding to relocate to Boston to attend “the Berklee School” (as FZ would call it).

Fast forward all these years – I did not end up with a paying job in the music industry. I work the nine-to-five gig like everyone else, and I am blessed with good employment. Funny thing is, I am finally at a place in my life where I have the opportunity be a composer and producer. I suppose I could have been all along, but Johnny has pushed me and put the mission squarely front of me, and I accept it whole-heartedly. Now’s the time.

I really want to make this record – and I use the slang “record” in the sense of historical document; we’re not planning on publishing vinyl. It’s the snapshot of us, here and now, for ever.

I am so very grateful to everyone who has pledged money to us so far. Please help us with one more push – turn a friend on to us, forward this message, pledge another five bucks. Please.

And thank you, thank you so very much. I’m so grateful to have you all as friends.

You can contribute to the record here.

Nostalgia and mixing.

I saw a picture I took in Paris two years ago, a picture of the Pantheon dome with the French flag flying in the foreground. For some reason I was transported back to my little Jimmy self, when I was about 10 or 11.

I used to be passionate about atlases, maps and flags, and when we travelled to Europe to live, I used to pore over the National Geographic Atlas of the World that Mom managed to lug with us. I had a collection of little European flags on sticks, and when extremely bored I tried to imagine allegiances to either the French flag Рin case we stayed too long Рor the British flag, because the au p̬re that kept tabs on us turned out to be a patriotic right wing opera student from the U.K. I wonder what ever happened to her. She was never very skilled at putting on lipstick, she used too much and it seemed to flake all the time. It was literally frightening.

This might have been stirred up by my listening to the second Blood Sweat and Tears album yesterday, hoping to find some secret mixing tips. You know, the one with ‘Smiling Faces’ and ‘Spinning Wheel’. Or maybe you don’t. In any case, I was disappointed with the studio approach – the sound was kind of bland and under-produced to my discerning, ruined twentyfirst-century ears. I did hear a few old favorite horn riffs though, which may be the source of formative material in my thinking that’s part of what makes the Johnny Blazes horn work I do sound the way it sounds.

I am prepping to confront the next round of creative challenges when we drag the band back in to the studio in about a month. I want to enter the arena better prepared than last time.

There’s another thing nibbling at the corners of my temportal lobe. I’m reading Donald Fagen’s book ‘Eminent Hipsters’, a ropm through his upbringing, thinking, and tour bus journal from a low-budget pass through America he made with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald. There’s all sorts of Cold War nostalgia and science fiction galore in that work, which speaks directly to my tail-of-the-boom inner child. Again, hoping for mixing tips or the occasional tidbit of studio wisdom, I’m instead feasting on DF’s steady diet of paranoia and mistrust of the wealthy. It’s good stuff, especially for me, but I get discouraged when I let myself think for even a moment that I am, like Donald, too old to be doing this stuff. So, forget it. Time to keep rocking.

Son of a daughter of the Depression era

I just noticed something strange.

I’m about to embark on some musical transcribing, which will involve consuming several sheets of Berklee 12-stave paper (M1). I find that I still have a gut reaction to using a lot of staff paper – my gosh, can I afford it? What if Berklee stops making M1 pads and I can’t get them anymore? I like that paper so much – what if I’m using up the last of it?

This is plainly ridiculous. I’ve survived the days since it was a hard decision between buying a pack of smokes or a pad of paper to do homework on.

Sometimes I feel like I’m the last, or next-to-last, generation who will need actual paper and pencil to assist me in my mental rummaging. There’s something bittersweet about that.

Enough procrastination. Time for ear training homework.

Personent Hodie

Personent hodie
One tradition I keep this time of year is performing with the Early Music Players at Theodore Parker Church, my UU Alma Mater. Or something like that. Its a long story.

Anyways – the players are a bunch of recorder and string enthusiasts who assemble at least once a year to perform on Christmas Eve before the church service begins at 5 pm. We’re always augmented at the last minute by the extremely talented and experienced Tom Zajac, who plays just about everything ancient and has a very sensitive ear. He’ll arrange things on the fly for us during the penultimate rehearsal, and we always seem to pull together and make some very special Christmas music.

We get the majority of our material from a book of carols arranged for recorder, and some of the selections are quite old. One old tune caught my ear this year, and so, I decided to pursue it.

So here it is. Now that I listen to it, I see that I’ve once again abused my trademarky tampura-like drone thing, just like I did with Red Serpent. (A voice says, ‘Same key, too.’) But I guess it’s one of those spots-and-leopards things. Plus I couldn’t resist the temptation to become a chorus of monks.

Here are the Latin words I found. All the English translations are really bad, so I am going to leave you to ponder the magnum mysterium on your own. Or you can wikipedia it.

Personent hodie
Voces puerulae,
Laudantes iocunde
Qui nobis est natus,
Summo Deo datus,
Et de vir- vir- vir-,
Et de vir- vir- vir-,
Et de virgineo
ventre procreatus.

In mundo nascitur,
Pannis involvitur,
Praesepi ponitur
Stabulo brutorum,
Rector supernorum.
Perdidit spolia
princeps infernorum.

Magi ires venerunt;
Munera offerunt;
Parvulum inquirunt,
Stellulam sequendo,
Ipsum adorendo.
Aurum, thus, et myrrham
Ei offerendo.

Omnes clericuli,
Pariter pueri,
Cantent ut angeli:
“Advenisti mundo:
Laudes tibi fundo.”
Ideo, gloria, in excelsis deo.

John Winston Lennon

Smell is the sense that triggers the most vivid memories.

The year is 1964, and “Meet the Beatles” sweeps the United States like a fire cleansing a mountain. Even the sleepy village of Painesville, Ohio gets scorched. By summer ’64, little six-year old Jimmy here probably listened to that record a hundred times. A thousand. I wanted to grow my hair long. I wanted a grey collarless suit with black piping. By the fall, I had convinced Mom to get me guitar lessons.

The big store in downtown Painesville was Carlisle’s. It was your classic department store, everything from fashions to appliances, and it was so big that it had a front door on the town square, and a back door that gave out into the parking lot on East Washington Street. Right next door to Carlisle’s was the only music store in town – I think it might have been called Pfabe’s.

Mom marched me in there and rented a nylon-string guitar. It came with a leather strap. She bought the requisite Mel Bay big-note primer and a couple of really thin picks, and I was on my way.

I can still remember the smell of that guitar and its leather strap.

John Winston Lennon, it’s all your fault.

I wanted to play “Tell Me Why”, and all I could coax out of that guitar was a single-note rendition of “Red River Valley”. I wanted to rock “Twist and Shout”, but those flappy nylon strings made El Kabong noises. I tried a G-chord, but my fingers were too small.

The lessons stopped when we moved around, but the influx of Beatles records didn’t until “Let It Be”. I was a Manson-family fearing young teen hippie by then, protesting the war and trying to play drums, and the hot summer riots were only just beginning to recede in the rear view mirror. It was Nixon-time in the U.S, and Kent State lay before us. Paul “quit” the group, and I was just sad, but I can’t say I was surprised. We all knew it – the Beatles were spent.

Years later at parties, if someone asked me “Beatles or Stones” instantly I’d blurt “Beatles!”, as if anyone could ask such a thing. Really.

John, I love you, and I love the guitar the way you do. Every once in a while, I come across a guitar that has that same old deep wooden smell, and I think of you. You’ve taught me so much. How can I ever repay you?

Stating the obvious

I spent the day doing nothing.

(Oh, I’m sorry – maybe that should have been a tweet?)

I’m feeling these days that blogs are as dead as Flash, but recently I saw a tweet heralding the decline of Twitter. All things must pass, I guess.

But in the throes of my nothing-doing today, I spent a good amount of time practicing finger-pickin’. See, I never learned finger-style when I was growing up and spending all my free time jamming out to my Clapton, Hendrix, Who and Zappa records. (Yes, records.) I didn’t invest any time in learning how to finger pick like James Taylor or Paul Simon or Leo Kottke or John Fahey or Jorma Kaukonen or… well the list goes on and on.

Note to the young: don’t put off learning how to finger pick, just because you think it’s hard. Or lame. Or “not your style”. You’ll thank me later. Um, unless you don’t actually play guitar at all, in which case you won’t. Thank me later, I mean.

Part of my problem I guess was not having a mentor or coach or someone to point me in the right direction. In the spirit of “it’s never too late”, I have undertaken to get at least some rudimentary chops together. It has been hard work, and my fossilized brain seems to work against me all the time. But here’s a link to my virtual coach Mark Hanson, who stops through perennially to give a concert at TPCUU. He has totally got The Stuff, and he’s written several books and produced several DVDs that will help you get on your way, too.

Because I think it might make a difference somehow, I wrote down a 6/8 pattern I was working on today – just so Mr. Grey Matter wouldn’t forget. (But – will I remember to look HERE for it when I need this information next?)

6/8 fingerstyle pattern

I confess – I have always had a problem with paper management. I still do. My apartment has little hoard stashes of piles of paper that need to be gone through and tossed into the recycle – or shredded before being tossed into the recycle. Well, maybe I’ll shred a handful or two tomorrow – between guitar breaks – before I go back to work on Monday.

Feels good to have a day off.